TFQ podcast, Oscar Robertson (#14) Episode: NBA Free Agency, NFL & MLB News

Blair Miller > THE SHIT SHOW, Oscar Robertson Version (Ep. 14) & Appendix

Recorded Monday, July 7, 2014

It was goddamn humid during The Shit Show this week, but Count Yorga and I (Jerkules) kept the A/C and fans off to give you our weekly scoop on the sports world – uncensored insight, as usual.

Listen to the podcast here

In #PROPS & #DROPS we recognize praiseworthy and shameful deeds in the sports world. We tweet several of them throughout the week. Follow Jerkules and TFQ at-large @TFQuarter, and Yorga @count_yorga on Twitter. Here are the ones that require highlights/links to better appreciate.

#PROPS to Rockets rookie Nick Johnson for this mammoth lefty dunk in the NBA Summer League.

#PROPS to Rangers centerfielder Leonys Martin, who got nasty on his former teammate by robbing Oriole Nelson Cruz of a homer.

#PROPS to the Cleveland Indians for turning a crazy-rare 7-2-4 triple play against the Dodgers. We agreed that there should be an inner #DROPS to Los Angeles outfielder Yasiel Puig for squeezing out yet another brain fart to help the Tribe complete the play. Here’s the play.

As always, we did What I Saw, a news section for more discussion-worth shit that happened over the last week.

Yorga saw Jon Maciel, a pitcher for the West Michigan Whitecaps hit a bird in midair with a pitch. Obviously we had to refer to the ridiculous, cartoonish bird-splosion caused by a Randy Johnson pitch back in 2001.

bird-ball-death

Listen to the podcast here

I saw Saints TE Jimmy Graham get his request to be considered as a wide receiver for a franchise tag denied in an arbitration hearing. We talk about this at length – the legitimacy of the decision, the relevance of it. I refer to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight ‘s Nate Silver, which argues that Graham’s success is largely due to QB Drew Brees. I’m not about to disagree with that claim, but I take issue with Silver’s use of ESPN’s Real Quarterback Rating (QBR) to help determine how Graham might fare with more average quarterbacks. To me, QBR stands as an opponent to the traditional Passer Rating. Cold Hard Football Facts has been making a rock-solid statistical argument about the correlation of Passer Rating Differential to wins and losses for a while.

I saw a ton of NBA free agency action – and the superstars haven’t even decided on teams yet!

I have a new hash tag/phrase for what separates some free agents from others this offseason: #walletdontlie, after Rasheed Wallace’s old “ball don’t lie” saying, which he’d use whenever a player missed a free throw after what ’Sheed deemed a questionable call got the player to the charity stripe. In this sense, if players like Dwayne Wade or others opt for more money and hamstring their team’s roster as a result, or Tim Duncan and other Spurs take less money to have a better chance at winning, well, guys can say whatever they want to the media about being committed to winning, but #walletdontlie. By the way, here’s a great way to describe how Duncan’s wallet don’t lie, how he sacrifices cash for success.

Here’s the box score for our Weekly Woodshed, when the Nats whupped the Cubs 13-0.

Listen to the podcast here

 

 

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What I Saw, Week 6 – 2013

Blair Miller > WHAT I SAW – WEEK 6, 2013

One Legendary Coach Bill Parcells-ism: “I go by what I see.”

Yogi Berra once said, “You can observe a lot by watching.”

This is What I Saw from the past week’s NFL action.

(A list of TFQ’s PROPS from this column will be posted monthly.)

Follow us on Facebook and @TFQuarter

Away from the game(s)

I SAW another exciting week of NFL football.  It’s hard to believe that the season is more than one third over already, but there’s that thing about when time flies, right?

Well, time has flown right into the point in the season where the league picture starts to become clearer, at least in the sense that there is a shitstorm of teams clogged up in the middle whose fortunes remain unclear and a set of teams on the extremes which – barring a historical collapse or rally – you can basically pencil in or out of the playoffs.  A snapshot of the extremes, which lost a team at each end, when the Steelers got off the schnied and the Saints stumbled in New England:

Undefeated Teams

Denver: Spread, schmed.  No, the Broncos didn’t cover a record-high 27-point spread against the Jags.  Yes, they still look like the best offense in the NFL by a long shot.

Kansas City: Arrowhead is bouncing again.  According to the Guinness Book Of World Records, the crowd reached a decibel level of 137.5, eclipsing the previous mark held by Seattle last year, at 136.6.

Winless Teams

New York Giants: 0-6 for the first time since 1976.  If Tom Coughlin wasn’t so respected and owed so much by the franchise, he’d get shown the door in midseason.  Instead, I envision an Eagles-Andy Reid sort of amicable parting of ways.  Only this time the head coach will likely retire instead of leading a rebuilding movement in another city, like Reid has.

Tampa Bay: If this team gave us outsiders any indication of its collective mindset maybe we’d get a better sense of how stale things have gotten there under head coach Greg Schiano.  The second year skipper is well connected in the pros, which might help extend his tenure.  But I hear a clock ticking.

Jacksonville: No previous shitty Jags team has started out with a record as bad as the 2013 edition.  Think about that.

I SAW another piece of evidence for the offensive explosion in recent years – albeit the teams involved have experienced markedly different results.  One has a shitty defense, the other does not.  Period.  At any rate, Denver and Philadelphia join a small group of 4 that includes themselves, the 16-0 regular season Patriots and the 1983 Chargers as the only teams in NFL history to gain at least 400 yards in each of their first 6 games of the season.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW that if there were still somehow doubters within the baseball world that we are in the Age Of The Pitcher, I present to them this year’s playoffs.  The MLB postseason looks more like a set of World Cup scores, with four games ending with a 1-0 score, seven shutouts and 6 more games that saw the losing team muster just one run.  Most of the remaining games have been nail biters too.  I can’t think of another sport that can be so exciting while a team struggles to generate offense as baseball, and this fall is a stellar sample set for that argument.  From opening pitch to closing frame, the anticipation for scoring plays within a sea of K’s and grounders is gleefully palpable.

Byes: Atlanta, Miami

TNF- Chicago (4-2) wins vs. N.Y. Giants (0-6), 27-21

I SAW New York continue its hijinks-laden season.  The G-Men came into Week 6 with 20 giveaways.  They had 21 all of last season.  According to the NFL pregame show Thursday night, those 20 miscues are the most by any team over the first 5 games of a season in 16 years.

The Giants further obliged their opponents Thursday night, thanks to QB Eli Manning’s three interceptions.  That trifecta against the Bears brought Manning’s total this season to 15 – the most picks thrown in a QB’s first six games of the season since Dan Fouts tossed up 16 in 1986.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  The 2-time Super Bowl champion’s struggles this season have prompted a revelation in some circles….

I SAW an NFL Network montage during the pregame show call Giants Eli Manning “one of the most inconsistent QBs in the league.”

Dear Diary, today it finally happened!

Oh, and Thursday’s game leaves few doubters, I’d say.

One of Manning’s most glaring issues this year is making the right decisions when the defense blitzes a defensive back.  According to ESPN Stats & Information Eli managed to throw two interceptions Thursday night out of the mere three times all game that the Bears sent a DB pass rusher.  Manning’s 5 picks so far this season against a blitzing DB are already more than any other quarterback had all of last season.  Those numbers imply that having such a hard time against a blitzing defensive back isn’t commonplace.  The blame should probably be spread around – on Manning for not either taking a sack or throwing the ball away and on the blocking for not picking up blitzes.  Call it what you will.  I call this a team with a toe tag on it already.

Giants Toe Tag

(http://paxarcana.files.wordpress.com)

Can we just write “Giants” on there?

I SAW the Bears snap a 2-game losing streak after starting the season 3-0.  I mentioned above that the Giants came in with a staggering 20 giveaways.  Well, Chicago entered Thursday night’s game with 14 takeaways – one behind the league lead.  In this sense the Bears didn’t capitalize enough against a vulnerable team, but hey – a win is a win.

I SAW PROPS to Bears WR Brandon Marshall, who wore green shoes to raise awareness for mental awareness.  That’s not the PROPS, though it’s worthy.  The PROPS is for Marshall handing out striped green ties to the NFL Network postgame crew, and, in recognizing that Marshall Faulk always wears a matching flower on his lapel, giving the Hall Of Famer a green flower to match his tie.  Not just PROPS; Proper.

I SAW Giants RB Brandon Jacobs jump off of the milk carton and onto the box score with a 106-yard rushing night.  What the what?  Who’s next, Tiki Barber?

New England (5-1) wins vs. New Orleans (5-1), 30-27

I SAW the Saints drop from the ranks of the unbeaten Sunday.  I’m not going to say that New Orleans should be happy with a 5-1 record after the train wreck that was the 2012 season, because even though that’s partly true I also believe that players and coaches are paid to be win-greedy.  But there’s never much shame in losing a close road game to New England.  The only two negatives I saw for the Saints were TE Jimmy Graham’s injury and how the players appeared to be prematurely celebrating a win late in the game.  Oops….

I SAW the Patriots restore a little bit of their clutch reputation with a huge comeback win against New Orleans that came under adversity.

On the matter of said adversity, I’m a bit tired of people sounding like Helen Lovejoy from the Simpsons (Whose tagline is, “Won’t someone please think of the children!!”) “Oh, QB Tom Brady has it so tough with all these unsung young receivers!”  Those same people are likely fond of calling New England a system team, meaning the Pats build a reliable roster and playing style that renders individual players relatively dispensable.  After all, that’s only what head coach Bill Belichick has proven time and time again during his time in Massachusetts, and this season is no different.  Isn’t this team injury-riddled each season, with other players stepping up?  Yes, the offense is missing their starting tailback (Shane Vereen), their monster scorer (tight end Rob Gronkowski), and their Wes Welker replacement has been in and out of the lineup (Danny Amendola, who left Sunday’s game with an apparent concussion) but there’s no shortage of usable parts to plug into those vacancies.  In other words, it’s doubtful that Brady and Belichick have felt sorry for themselves, so let’s not do so ourselves.

That being said, the thrilling win against the unbeaten Saints must have been a breath of fresh air for the Patriots, whose fans were already starting to pour out of Foxborough to change into Red Sox gear and watch their MLB team take on the Tigers in the ALCS.  I’ve been harshly critical of New England’s under-recognized inability to win close and/or big games in recent years. (See last year’s What I Saw Week 6 edition, Seattle wins vs. New England)  On Sunday that didn’t matter, and one of the best quarterbacks of all time notched his 38th win after trailing or being tied in the fourth quarter.  (STATS LLC)  Brady threw a game-winning TD later in the game than he ever had in his career – with 5 seconds left – and rewarded the loyal fans who remained in the stadium.

New England knows it’s a long season and that there are no points awarded in January for feel-good wins before Thanksgiving.  (Belichick is fond of saying that the season doesn’t start until after the US holiday.)  But it’s important for the younger players, who will likely be called upon as the games get more meaningful, to taste these moments.

To support these claims, Thompkins told the Associated Press: “Coach Bill said that it might come down to the final seconds….You had to stick with the system. We just had to go out there and fight to the finish.”

I SAW Saints All-World tight end Jimmy Graham go without a reception for the first time in 46 games.  (STATS LLC)  Graham hurt his foot during the second half, but that wasn’t the big story behind that 0-fer….

I SAW the Patriots defense come up huge against a top-tier New Orleans offense by setting the tone early like it used to during its heyday.  Pats CB Aqib Talib matched up on Saints TE Jimmy Graham all over the field, presenting the star tight end with a size matchup he isn’t accustomed to.  The 6’1”, 205-pound Talib played Graham physically from the start, and held the elite tight end without a catch while guarding him until leaving with a hip injury early in the third quarter.  Talib’s defense was reminiscent of the handsy and bullying coverage that the Pats would exert back during their Super Bowl years – particularly against Marvin Harrison and the Colts in playoff wins.

Peter King of Sports Illustrated, in his MMQB column, was obvious in his praise of Talib but it’s sloppy to explain Graham’s quiet day prior to his injury (foot) by limiting the story to Talib.  After all, the corner missed almost all of the second half.   When Talib went down New England’s defense stood pat and kept their team in the game with big stops of the Saints offense in the waning minutes.

In all, QB Drew Brees and the Saints offense had a surprising 7 three-and-outs, and Brees was held in check.  I took a look back on his career and on Sunday he was held under a 50 percent completion rate for just the 6th time in his whole career, with just one of those having come since 2006.  Brees also failed to throw for 300 yards for almost a calendar year (a 9-game streak).

Unfortunately, the Pats D will have its mettle tested even further….

I SAW Patriots LB Jerod Mayo leave the game with a torn pectoral muscle, which could sideline him for most of the remaining season.  Bad news.  The middle of a defense is a crucial area to hold, and now New England has lost its two best players in that capacity – Mayo and DL Vince Wilfork, who is already lost for the year with an Achilles injury.

I SAW tons of other media sites point this out, but screw it – it’s pretty funny.  Check out local radio guy Scott Zolak’s call after New England’s winning TD.  He’s the guy that refers to unicorns, show ponies and “the beef” (sweet throwback on that last one) during his orgasmic celebration following the score. Hey – this guy’s played in a Super Bowl.  Cut him some slack.  I won’t.   Looking forward to Drugs In The Broadcast Boothgate.  Then I’ll lead the Free Zolak movement.

Green Bay (3-2) wins @ Baltimore (3-3), 19-17

I SAW the Packers show some of the same injury-adversity-moxie they had to call upon during their Super Bowl run to end the 2010 season.  Green Bay had sustained several injuries coming into Sunday, but then lost LB Nick Perry from a decimated linebacker squad and saw wide receivers James Jones and Randall Cobb leave the game with injuries.  The absence of the latter two players left Packers QB Aaron Rodgers with just two wideouts for the better part of the game.  Green Bay gutted out the win – one that could be a character-building milestone, hinting at things to come.  They did it behind some vintage Rodgers big plays, as the QB’s seven completions in the second half totaled 199 yards according to the FOX broadcast.

I SAW the Ravens end a 13-game home winning streak against the NFC while their offense continued to struggle against so-so defensive teams.  This time Baltimore went just 2-of-14 on third downs, averaging 11.2 yards to go on the penultimate down.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  That’s not a winning formula.  Another non-winning formula, according to the same source: Baltimore runners were hit behind the line of scrimmage on 9 of the team’s 21 called rushing plays.  Jesus.

QB Joe Flacco had a good game statistically (342 yards, 2 TDs, 112.6 rating) but even with the return of WR Jacoby Jones from injury he can’t connect with his receivers for big plays.  Torrey Smith had another forgettable game with just 1 catch for 12 yards, which is becoming a huge part of the problem.  I’ve been critical of Baltimore’s dedication to the run game (and I still am) but when you can’t get the ball downfield through the air and you can’t rush with consistency the two deficiencies play off one another and handcuff an offense.  It will be interesting to see if the Ravens offense can find their way out of this demise.

I SAW Packers RB Eddie Lacy have his first 100-yard game as a pro (120 on a 5.2 average) – one week after gaining 99.  Everyone has been saying it for at least a year and a half, because it’s true: If Green Bay can develop a consistent running game they will be very tough to stop.

San Francisco (4-2) wins vs. Arizona (3-3), 32-20

I SAW Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians continue to learn firsthand the long-term issues that have plagued the ’Zona offense for years – since the retirement of QB Kurt Warner, actually.

Coming into this season, Arians was effusive in his praise of free agent acquisition QB Carson Palmer.  From what I’ve seen, the earlier signs of Palmer’s dead-arm syndrome were a false alarm.  His ball still has pop to it.  But this is the same old Cardinals franchise, meaning WR Cousin Larry Fitzgerald and a bunch of subpar Imperfect Strangers.  Palmer just isn’t enough of a game-changer to reverse that trend.

The Cardinals came into the game converting just 9% of their third down-and-long plays.  (FOX Broadcast)  They continued to fail in that department early on, one such play resulting in a safety.  By game’s end Arizona was 5-for-13 on third down overall, which just isn’t going to cut it against an elite Niners defense that loves to play aggressive when knowing they have any room for error.

I SAW that Niners TE Vernon Davis has been rediscovered within the San Fran offense – in a big way.  On Sunday VD burned hard.  He lit up the Cardinals for a career-high 180 receiving yards and became the first tight end to have 60-yard scoring receptions in consecutive games since Bob Trumpy did it for the Bengals for three straight games back in 1969.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

Overall, the San Francisco offense is getting back to its winning identity, with RB Frank Gore toting the rock 25 times for 101 yards behind aggressive blocking from the offensive line and QB Colin Kaepernick doing enough to keep his team in the lead by cranking out his first game in the last five with 200-plus passing yards.  The strength of the Niners offense – and any read-option offense – is balance and strong line play.  It looks like the San Fran coaching staff is getting back to the basics that have made them an A-tier team.

I SAW the Niners defense also returning to its usual ways, forcing 4 turnovers for the second game in a row.  I’ve been particularly impressed with the play of rookie S Eric Reid who not only grabbed his team-leading third interception of the season against the Cardinals, but flies all over the field with a nose for the ball in the same way his predecessor at the position, Dashon Goldson, did.  (Golston signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent last summer.)  Obviously Arizona isn’t the team to challenge San Fran’s recently inept run defense, but one thing at a time.

One piece of bad news for the Niners D on Sunday: DT Glenn Dorsey left the game with a hamstring injury.  Dorsey was already replacing Ian Williams who was lost for the season in Week 2.  One way in which these Niners remind me of the old storied Ravens squad in the early 2000s is how they both relied on stability in the middle of the line to allow the linebackers and safeties to capitalize on their range and playmaking ability.  If the interior of the D line becomes a hindrance for San Francisco it could have bigger consequences than some would expect.

St. Louis (3-3) wins @ Houston (2-4), 38-13

I SAW the Texans cement themselves as the first legitimate snake-bitten team of the season while mired in a 4-game skid.  Embattled QB Matt Schaub came into the game having thrown an interception that was returned for a TD in an NFL-record 4 straight games.  Schaub was responding well in the first half as his team fell to an early lead, but then he went down with an injury.  Determined to carry the torch to help ease his team deeper into the septic tank, backup T.J. Yates came in and served up a 98-yard pick-6.  By game’s end Yates had added another interception and a 45.3 passer rating and the Texans had given the ball away four times in all.

It seems ridiculous to say this – even in today’s wildly unpredictable NFL scenario from year to year – but what was widely considered an elite team during the offseason is now pretty much dead in the water.  And sinking.  Fast.  It didn’t help when the hometown fans stuck their heads up their asses by cheering Schaub’s injury, drawing the ire of Schaub’s teammates, Rams players and just about everyone else.

The offense is killing this team, one that didn’t score a TD against a once-reeling Rams D until the fourth quarter.  And St. Louis was without starting CB Cortland Finnegan as well.  Not good.

I SAW ESPN STATS & Information point out that Texans DE J.J. Watt has played short of expectations this season.  He hasn’t disrupted a dropback in his last two games played.  In fact, the reigning Defensive Player Of The Year has disrupted a pedestrian 5.5 dropbacks all season.  Last season, Watt had 17.5 such plays through his first six games.  (Disrupted dropbacks: sacks, passes defended, batted balls, interceptions.)

I’ve watched a fair amount of Houston’s plays this season, and I can’t agree that Watt isn’t playing as well.  First of all, it’s silly to expect him to match what was arguably the best season ever had by a D-lineman (especially in a 3-4 scheme).  Also, I’ve seen Watt be very disruptive in both the run and the pass in his first 6 games, but the undeniable demise of the Texans passing game and the resulting field position and closer scores have made it harder for the whole defense to get to the quarterback.  A pass rush is often only as good as its team’s lead on the scoreboard.  Watt’s team is proof of that.  In short, he’s still the man, and playing like it.  It’s just not as noticeable on the stat sheet.

I SAW the Rams drop two TRIVIA BOMBs:

St. Louis scored two touchdowns in a 6 second span Sunday (a 2-yard TD pass, followed by a TD on a fumble return during the ensuing kickoff).  The last team to score twice faster was the Panthers against the Cardinals in 2009 when they did so in 5 seconds.  (Elias Sports Bureau)

Alex Ogletree’s 98-yard pick-6 of T.J. Yates (see above) was the longest interception return for the franchise since 1980 when Johnnie Johnson legged one out for 99 yards against Green Bay.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

I SAW that if the Rams can establish rookie Zac Stacy as the starting running back – and he can live up to the responsibility even marginally – it could huge for what has been a woefully one-dimensional offense.  In the last two games the fifth round draft pick has had a total of 32 carries for 157 yards.  That isn’t a whole lot to write home about but considering what the state of the St. Louis backfield was prior to featuring Stacy it’s a godsend.

I SAW need to take the Rams seriously.  I thought this coming into the season, and then they came out flatter than Otto after Ken ran him over with a steamroller in A Fish Called Wanda.  But now the team has reset its perspective, putting the slow start behind them – as evidenced by the “2-and-0, 2-and-0” chants in the locker room after the win, according to the Associated Press.  St. Loo has won two straight after what seems to have been an “it’s a new season” card played by head coach Jeff Fisher.  He is among the best there is in his profession, and you can bet his team is ready to give the opponents on the rest of its schedule a hard time, no matter what the result is in the win column.

Cincinnati (4-2) wins @ Buffalo (2-4), 27-24-OT

I SAW the Bills end a 6-game winning streak against the Bengals at Orchard Park (STATS LLC) by losing another heartbreaker.  Buffalo has now lost its 4 setbacks by 25 total points, but they experienced a pleasant surprise from a player who was on the practice squad a few weeks ago….

I SAW Bills QB Thad Lewis play admirably in relief of injured rookie E.J. Manuel.  The former undrafted Duke Blue Devil has bounced around the league since being signed by the Rams in 2010, and got his second career start Sunday.  Lewis tried to make the most of the opportunity despite facing one of the league’s best defenses in the Bengals, which, by the way, held New England’s Tom Brady to his first TD-less game in 52 tries.  Given that fact, going 19-of-32  (59.4%) for 216 yards, 2 TDs, no INTs, a 100.5 rating – with a rushing TD to boot – is a damn good showing for a guy who wasn’t even practicing with the offense until last week.  He showed unexpected poise by not crumbling under the failure of fumbling the ball away in the third quarter of a close game, rebounding to throw a TD on 4th-and-8 in the fourth quarter while trailing by 14 points, and then tying the game in the final minutes with another.

As is the case in pigskin-cursed Buffalo, Lewis suffered a foot injury but is expected to be able to play next week against the Dolphins.  If he can’t play it’s possible that Matt Flynn of all people – who was just signed on Monday – would be the expected starter.  I haven’t seen the details of Flynn’s new contract with Buffalo, but I’m willing to bet it has a tad fewer zeros in it than that robbery deal he inked with Seattle two years ago.  I feel like Flynn and his agent must’ve carried the cash out of the team offices in sacks with dollar signs on them, cackling all the way….

I SAW Bills QB Thad Lewis receive the sort of praise that really annoys the shit out of me.  Here’s what Buffalo offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said about his interactions with Lewis in preparing him for play after starter E.J. Manuel was injured (via NFL.com):

I was blown away when I first started talking to him.  I started asking him all these questions, and he knew the answers.  I said…’How’d you know all this stuff?’  He said…Well, coach, this is my job.  I’m learning it just like I’m the starter.’

Alright – I understand that to have a guy on the practice roster whom you just signed at the end of August possess a detailed knowledge of the offense while he has to run the opposing team’s scheme against the starting D in practice every week is a good thing.  But it shouldn’t be impressive that a player does his job when he’s paid to.  I suppose this sort of thing happens in all walks of life and it’s a sad sign of a typical work ethic but it’s frustrating to hear praise like the sort Hackett gave Lewis.  I mean, if I was a coach and my guy couldn’t answer those questions, I’d want him released unless he was a physical specimen.

I SAW Bengals QB Andy Dalton respond to recent criticism of his productivity this season while his team’s defense continues to set the tone in games.

For the first 5 games of the season Dalton had been see-sawing between completing at least 70 percent of his passes and then managing just 50 percent or so the following contest.  Worse, he had yet to pass for 300 yards in a game, and had failed to find the end zone in the two games before Sunday’s in Buffalo.  But thanks to improved pass protection and a better showing by the Cincy offense all around, Dalton threw for 337 yards and tied a career high for TD passes on the road, with 3.

At best, Dalton is still a work in progress.  His yardage total against the Bills is just the third highest of his three-year career.  He slumps in the playoffs (mind you, it’s been against the stout D of the Texans both times) and although he doesn’t have the noticeable meltdowns some of his counterparts are prone to, he also seems unable to impose his presence in games as much as a franchise QB should.  It’s too harsh to assess the young quarterback’s presence as a negative for his team at this early stage of his career, but with his defense playing at an elite level and a competent roster around him on offense, Cincinnati’s fortunes depend upon Dalton stepping up his game while his team’s window is open.

Not coincidentally, Dalton wasn’t the only Bengal who stepped out of a slump Sunday….

I SAW Bengals WR A.J. Green have a bounce back game Sunday against the Bills.  Buffalo’s defense came into the weekend ranked 15th in the NFL against the pass, but their (inconsistent) pass rush helps make up for oft-overmatched coverage on the outside.  Green used that as an opportunity to grab 6 balls for 103 yards and a TD after averaging 5.5 catches and 49.75 receiving yards over the 4 previous games.  It wasn’t just due to inferior defensive backs, though.  I thought the Pro Bowl wideout looked much more crisp in and out of his breaks, and didn’t have the same mental lapses he’d been suffering from in recent weeks.  He also reminded us of his talent for aerial end zone receptions with his TD catch.  When Green plays dominant ball, it opens up the offense and makes life much easier for QB Andy Dalton who, frankly, needs that help to play well.

Detroit (4-2) wins @ Cleveland (3-3), 31-17

I SAW the Lions pass a decent gut check, after falling behind 17-7 at the half to a very game Browns team.  Detroit suffered a tough loss last week in Green Bay that threatened to take the team closer to its moribund mindset during last year’s disappointing season than its current rebound feel.  But whatever went on in the locker room at halftime must have worked: The Lions outscored the Browns 24-0 in the second half, largely on the strength of, well, most everybody.  The defense buckled down, 121 total yards by RB Reggie Bush during that span didn’t hurt – nor did QB Matt Stafford’s 15-of-21, 165-yard, 3 touchdown output.  It can be a sign of a contending team to regroup so well after a bad first half.  I thought that head coach Jim Schwartz and his staff might have lost their players during low moments of last season, but it looks like this team continues to be healthier than outsiders perceive it to be.

I SAW the Browns fail to win 4 straight games.  If they had reached that mark it would have been just the second time since 1999.  In this sense, reality showed up in Cleveland on Sunday – in the form of a crazy-dumb “throw” by QB Brandon Weeden.

If you click on the link, you’ll see why I put the term throw in quotation marks.  You might also want a barf bag before you watch the highlight because Weeden tries some sort of backhand-underhand 15 yard flip to no one but Lions defenders that makes Brett Favre’s worst ideas look like genius.  That fourth quarter “pass” is the dumbest “throw” I’ve ever seen in an NFL game.

Weeden hasn’t exactly thrived under pressure.  According to ESPN Stats & Information he entered the week as the NFL QB with the highest percentage of dropbacks sacked or under duress, with 38.  On Sunday he threw 2 interceptions in eight plays under duress.  It’s a mixed bag in terms of the explanation for this.  I see holes in the pass protection, and I see a heavy-footed quarterback who doesn’t get the ball out as fast as I know head coach and offensive guru Rob Chudzinski would like.  Either way, the results are undeniable:

Brandon Weeden With/Without Duress – 2013

Under Duress No Duress
Comp % 30.0 65.5
Yards/Att 3.5 7.7
TD-INT 0-4 4-1

But that’s no excuse for the hot potato he served up as an interception.

I SAW Lions QB Matt Stafford put up his 13th game with at least 3 touchdowns passes, breaking the franchise record held by Bobby Lane.  (STATS LLC)   In five years with just one noticeably above-average receiver, that’s pretty damn good.  In the process, he might have acquired a much-need red zone threat to compliment WR Calvin Johnson….

I SAW Lions QB Matt Stafford connect with TE Joseph Fauria three times for three touchdowns.

TRIVIA BOMB:

Fauria is the first player to finish a game with 3 TDs on 3 receptions since Marcus Robinson (coo-coo-ka-choo!, as ESPN’s Chris Berman used to say) did it for the Vikings in 2005.  (ESPN Stats & Information)

I digress.  Two of the Stafford-Fauria TDs were caught in the end zone.   According to Elias Sports Bureau, the duo is now 4-for-6 on passes in the end zone.  Stafford is just 3-of-10 to all other teammates – including a drop by Calvin Johnson.  Just sayin’.  Maybe the undrafted free agent from UCLA will end up fading into obscurity but for now anything that takes the heat off of Megatron in the red zone is welcome.

I SAW Lions TE Joseph Fauria say this about teammate, RB Reggie Bush:

He’s not a dual threat or a triple threat, he’s a quadruple threat.  He does everything.

I’m going to plead the fifth dimension on this one.

Kansas City (6-0) wins vs. Oakland (2-4), 24-7

I SAW the Chiefs improve to 6-0, largely by making life difficult for Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor.  One way to stymie a young and relatively untested NFL quarterback is to give them tons of different looks, different pass rushes.  KC did this to pronounced effect: 10 sacks and three interceptions forced.

As LB Tamba Ali told The MMQB’s Peter King after finishing with a career-high 3.5 sacks,

We don’t want to give the quarterback time to think.  We bring a lot of confusion. Sometimes it looks like all the pressure is coming from one gap.’’

To wit:

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Kansas City sent 5 rushers or more on 38 percent of Pryor’s dropbacks (18 out of 47), the most he’s faced in his brief career.  The easiest way to confuse a passer with blitzes is to send them from the defensive backfield, which forces less conventional coverage reads for the QB and can actually lead to hot reads for easy gains (a “hot” receiver is one who is open immediately in the space vacated by a blitzing pass defender).  However, an inexperienced player under center often doesn’t make those reads and ends up under duress.  KC sent a DB after Pryor on 7 out of 47 dropbacks and held him to no completions, an interception and five sacks on such plays.  Think about that: seven plays, six of them resulting in either a sack or an interception.  Wow.  Looks like Pryor has something to work on in film sessions.

I SAW that this game is no aberration: The Chiefs defense is for real.  You can say that their disruption of Raiders QB Terrell Pryor on 36 percent of his dropbacks (17 out of 47) comes against a bad team, but keep in mind that KC owns three of the four highest percentages of dropbacks disrupted in a game this season.  And one of those performances came against the Eagles, whom you almost have to have rockets strapped to your backs to disrupt a play in time in Chip Kelly’s fast break offense.  The defensive backs aren’t to be overlooked either.  They are one of the best such units in the league this year, and give the pass rush extra time to reach the quarterback.

In terms of versatility per down, peep this graph from NFL Network:

Chiefs sack graph

To me, this team is actually starting to look more like the sort of team Hall Of Fame coach Bill Parcells would build, as opposed to what we’re used to seeing from Reid and his years in Philly.  I don’t want to take former Giants QB Phil Simms down one or five pegs by implying that he could be aligned with Alex Smith (after all, Simms had one of the most efficient performances in Super Bowl history), but the fact is that both players benefitted from a well-rounded havoc-wreaking defense, a dependable running game, polished special teams…and a play calling strategy that accounted for their lack of a feel for throwing the deep ball.  Whether he wants to or not, Reid can’t open up this offense and start trying to lengthen the field.  He knows this.  He also knows he has a quarterback that focuses on not turning the ball over like a rich man’s Trent Dilfer when the latter was a Super Bowl-winning Raven.  There’s no reason to believe that the Chiefs’ pseudo-conservative approach can’t sustain success.  (Why else does anyone ever support something conservative in the first place?)  But mark my words: their lack of downfield playmaking on offense will come back to haunt them if they face a team with an offense that can take Kansas City out of their comfort zone on the scoreboard.

I SAW what I think is a TRIVIA BOMB, but should really be a CROWN OF SHIT:

According to Elias Sports Bureau the Raiders are the first team to allow 10 sacks, commit 11 penalties and 3 turnovers in a game since…the Raiders, in 1998.

Take that, Trent Reznor.

Seattle (5-1) wins vs. Tennessee (3-3), 20-13

I SAW the Seahawks win their 11th straight game at home on Sunday thanks to a defense that held the Titans offense without a TD.  (Tennessee’s lone touchdown came on a botched hold on a field goal attempt by the backup holder.)

I SAW Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch rule the day with his first career game gaining at least 75 rushing yards and 75 receiving yards.  (His 77 yards in the passing game are a career high.)  It’s funny how we don’t hear much about Lynch, even though one could make the argument that he is the most dependable element of the team’s production on either side of the ball since he arrived in the Rainy City.  Maybe it’s due in part to the lack of focus on tailbacks in this day and age.

I SAW one of the telling differences between an A Tier team and a B Tier team: When a unit from the B Tier faces their adversary, they tend to lie down.  Such was the case for the Titans offense when it ran into the Seahawks defense on Sunday.  Tennessee gained just 223 yards of total offense, RB Chris Johnson was held to 33 yards on 12 carries (2.8 average) and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick managed just 171 yards and a 46.8 rating.  (Sidebar: No team is making the playoffs with Fitz under center.)

Denver (6-0) wins vs. Jacksonville (0-6), 35-19

I SAW the Broncos come out slowly against the Jaguars, which shouldn’t really be that much of a surprise given all the talk about the Vegas-record 27 point spread and how hard it must be for any team to maintain top-notch focus in preparation for such a game.   But let’s not call a 16-point win something to fret over.  Yes, QB Peyton Manning had his first game this season with less than 300 yards and a 100 rating, and threw a pick-6 for his second interception since January.  But come on.  Manning also threw 2 touchdowns to give him 22 so far – the most in NFL history through the first 6 games of a season.

I SAW Broncos RB Knowshown Moreno have a 15 carry, 42-yard, 3-touchdown game against the Jaguars.  Moreno’s impact on this game is telling beyond the stats.  Manning seemed very complimentary and trusting of the back after the game.  The Denver QB often checks down to run plays at the line of scrimmage depending on the defense, and it opens up his options if he is more willing to dial up Moreno.

I SAW the return of Broncos CB Champ Bailey from injury.  While people kept talking about how Bailey’s would improve the pass defense I kept thinking about how badly the perennial Pro Bowler got burned in coverage last season, particularly in the AFC final against Baltimore.  I don’t want to take anything away from Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon in his own return to the field, but let’s just say that Bailey was essentially left on an island against the second year wideout, and….

I SAW Jaguars WR Justin Blackmon snag a league high 14 receptions so far this season, for 190 yards.  I never truly understood the knocks on Blackmon’s on-field performance that held sink him to the 5th overall pick in the 2012 draft.  Yes, I say “sink” because from what I saw of Blackmon’s ridiculously dominant days at Oklahoma State he was a better choice than RB Trent Richardson (Browns, traded to Colts) or OT Matt Kalil (Vikings) – both of whom were taken after quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III but will end up having much less impact in games than Blackmon.  He is a lot like Dallas’ Dez Bryant – a tad undersized but very stout, strong and superbly athletic as a wideout.  He has better hands and focus than Bryant as well.  Let’s hope his off-field issues are behind him.

Even for the Jaguars, this start is historic – the worst the franchise has ever had.  But Blackmon is talented enough that he might be able to keep them in games.  He really has looked that good so far as a pro.  Cecil Shorts III, the Jags’ deep threat wideout, left the game in the first quarter and allowed the Denver D to focus on Blackmon.  The former Oklahoma State star torched the Broncos anyway.

I SAW a POTENTIAL formula for defending Broncos QB Peyton Manning and the juggernaut offense he’s been leading this season.  Jacksonville didn’t come after Manning.  Instead, they flooded the field with pass defenders who played physical ball.  Maybe Jags defensive coordinator Bob Babich went back and looked at some of those old games when New England used to do the same sort of thing to Manning and kill his playoff runs.  I know I would.  Regardless, Jacksonville sent more than four pass rushers on a ridiculously conservative one out of 42 Manning dropbacks.  The result: The team that came into the week leading the NFL with a gaudy 185.6 yards after the catch average managed just 116.

All told, Jacksonville gave up 407 yards of offense, but kept most of the action in front of them, limiting the big plays that Denver has thrived on.  You can bet that the Colts took notice of this in preparation for Manning’s return to Indy this Sunday.

You can consider this over-analysis based on just one game and only about 70 yards less YAC, but that’s what happens when one looks for ways to beat a team that’s looked as good as Denver has looked so far.

I SAW, on the other side of the ball, the Broncos defense for the better part played a lifeless game against the Jags.  Case in point: CB Chris Harris led the team with 11 tackles in the game.  I’ve been saying all season that the Denver DBs would be the Achilles heel of this team, but this is something different, a knock on the pursuit angles of the front seven.  For now let’s chalk that up to a bad game.  Either way, star LB Von Miller returns for next game after serving a 6-game suspension for a violation of the substance abuse policy, and that will make a big difference.

I SAW a TRIVIA BOMB:

Sunday was the first time in his career that QB Peyton Manning has lost 2 fumbles in the same game.  Impressive.

Pittsburgh (1-4) wins vs. New York Jets (3-3), 19-6

I SAW a moment of biased viewing/reporting on my part: It feels good that this matchup is relatively meaningless.

I SAW the Steelers come off a bye and notch their first win of the 2013 season – and their 600th as an NFL franchise.  They had been off to their worst start since 1968.  That season they started 0-6 en route to a 2-11-1 train wreck.  Obviously Pittsburgh is hoping for a better season than that.  I still think the Bengals are one of the best teams in the AFC, but I drink and the win-loss records in the division are closely cropped so there’s hope in Steeltown.  Like there’s hope in the fight against cancer.

I SAW myself assume that head coaches Rex Ryan (Jets) and Mike Tomlin (Steelers) respect one another as defensive minds…but I wonder if some coaches with a more, shall I say, subdued demeanor think, “shit, I have to talk to this crazy jerk for a while now during warm-ups?”

I SAW what might be misconstrued as a pride win for the Steelers defense.  Pittsburgh came into the week as the only NFL team without a takeaway this season, but they picked off Jets QB Geno Smith twice.  That makes sense if you consider that defensive coordinator and Hall Of Famer Dick LeBeau is now 16-2 against rookie passers.  (STATS LLC)

I don’t want to piss on Pittsburgh’s parade, but according to ESPN Stats & Information the Steelers held Smith to about half as many yards (64) passing against a four-man rush as the defense averaged over its first 4 games this season (127).  In other words, LeBeau didn’t too a lot of exotic stuff with blitz personnel; he just called the game with discipline, waiting for the rookie to make mistakes, and Smith obliged.  Call it a capitalization on an inexperienced QB.  Let’s not call it a turnaround for the Steelers D.

I SAW something for any crazy person who would like to question how important QB Ben Roethlisberger is to the Steelers.  TRIVIA BOMB:

According to STATS LLC, Pittsburgh is 14-1 since the start of 2010 when Big Ben has a passer rating of 100 or higher.  (He put up 113.8 on Sunday.)

Philadelphia (3-3) wins @ Tampa Bay (0-5), 31-20

I SAW Eagles QB Nick Foles play a great game Sunday.  The second-year pivot went 22-of-31 for 296 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, a rushing TD and a 133.3 passer rating.

I joked about the chance of Foles taking the starting QB job away from an injured Michael Vick last week – and so did head coach Chip Kelly, as I pointed out – but you could hear the vultures’ wings flapping above Vick’s starting job yet again.

Pundits like to argue that Kelly has to adapt the game plan with Foles under center since he possesses less talent for running the ball than Vick.  However, contrary to what the new young athletic QBs might indicate, you don’t need to be a good downfield runner to execute the read-option offense.  That scheme is mostly about misdirection and timely reads by the quarterback, not necessarily the welcome and added threat of him being able to break off long runs.  Foles has very good footwork (he was, after all, scouted and drafted by QB guru Andy Reid, who has a great eye for that aspect of the position) and if Sunday was any indication (as just one game) Foles is more accurate than Vick with his throws – not just in terms of aiming at targets, but hitting them at the right time and in the right spot to generate yards after the catch.  I’ve often thought that Vick is the anti-West Coast offense quarterback in the sense that he throws to receivers instead of throwing to areas they will run to.  If Foles takes over the job it will either be due to that aspect of his game, another injury to Vick, or a set of turnovers by the veteran QB.

I SAW on the other hand, that Sunday might not be an indication of anything beyond Foles being able to bitchslap the Bucs.  Consider this:

Nick Foles NFL Career As A Starter

@ Tampa Bay Vs. All Other Opponents
W-L 2-0 0-5
Pass Yards/Gm 338.5 219.8
TD-INT 5-0 3-4

(ESPN STATS & Information)

Yeah, so forgive Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is he isn’t sold on Foles as the starter yet, despite a great performance.

I SAW Eagles QB Nick Foles score the first rushing TD against the Buccaneers defense of the season.  For a defense that doesn’t get any respect, that’s not bad at all.

I SAW the Buccaneers drop their tenth game out of their last 11 played.  Ouch.  I’m going to play this card until more people notice/agree, but head coach Greg Schiano looks and acts like George W. Bush.  Now, he’s going to have to put on that familiar Dubya the-sky-is-falling-but-I’ll-still-act-like-a-petulant-asshole persona.  Wait – he already is.  That’s the beauty of acting like an asshole while occupying a leadership position – it does and doesn’t work well.

I SAW PROPS to Eagles RB LeSean McCoy, whose 630 rushing yards and 871 yards from scrimmage are the most in franchise history through 6 games.  (STATS LLC)

Carolina (2-3) wins @ Minnesota (1-4) , 35-10

I SAW Vikings RB Adrian Peterson run for 62 yards on 10 carries while mourning the death of his 2-year old son from a beating at the hands of some 27 year-old prick I don’t want to mention.  If anyone deserves a pass for an off game, it was Peterson on Sunday.  But he put up admirable numbers with that 6.2 average per carry.  Unfortunately his defense sucks and was beset by in-game injuries (see below) so Minny was in too deep a hole in the second half to use AP appropriately.

I SAW an already-undermanned and subpar Vikings defense get further beset by injury.  Rookie CB Xavier Rhodes sprained his ankle, LB Desmond Bishop is lost for the year with an ACL tear (I call him Arch Tutu…not sure how many will get that…) and most -ahem- hurtful to Minny was sophomore S Harrison Smith going down with turf toe.  I tend to believe that Smith’s leadership role on defense is as much due to the Vikes’ struggles as it is to the Notre Dame alumn’s talent.  Either way, it will be a big deal if he misses time.  Turf toe can be a bitch.

I SAW Panther QB Cam Newton look like his scintillating rookie self with a turnover-less 20-for-26, 242 yard, 3 TD, 0 INT, 143.4 Rating, 30 yards rushing and 1 rush TD performance….gasp!!….Ah, I miss the days when it was a jumbled run-on, exasperating sentence just to describe Newton’s offensive output.  Granted, the Minnesota defense is shit, but Newton is emotional enough of a player that games like this are great confidence builders.

SNF- Dallas (3-3) wins vs. Washington (1-4), 31-16

I SAW the Redskins offense show signs of improvement – outgaining the Cowboys in yards, 433 to 213 – but ultimately get undermined by turnovers and special teams.  Dwayne Harris had 222 return yards for Dallas, thanks largely to two returns that were each longer than 85 yards.  Washington stayed in the game with a well-balanced attack (216 yards rushing and 217 yards passing) until midway through the fourth quarter when ’Skins QB Robert Griffin III fittingly capped an inconsistent day (a 54.5 passer rating, 77 yards rushing at an 8.5 clip per carry) with a fumble near his own end zone that made it too easy for Big D to extend to a 2-possession lead.

At this early point it’s tempting to want to slam the door shout on Washington’s playoff chances, but this team looked sunk last season before ripping off a 9-game win streak to win the NFC East last season.  Does anyone really see that sort of thing happening again, though?  It will be easier to gauge RGIII’s impact over the next few games, now that he’s essentially past the training camp phase in his practice reps following his offseason knee rehab.  In the meantime he and his team will have to hang their hat on the fact that they play in the suckiest division in the NFL.

I SAW a point of clarification after my anti-Tony Romo rant in last week’s column.  Yes, I am an admitted Romophobe.  But the Cowboys star isn’t a bad quarterback overall.  I just don’t like how he gets much more charitable assessments because he plays for what is still somehow called America’s Team.  What’s up with that by the way?  Apparently America is about spending shitloads of money to merely fall flat of expectations year after year…. Okay – maybe they are America’s Team, then.  I digress.  My point: Romo might shit the bed in clutch time more than a race driver on Ex-Lax and he may show the personality of a comatose mute in interviews, but he does have talent.  He showed it on a TD pass to Terrance Williams in the third quarter, rolling to his right and dropping a touch pass in the bucket while on the run, which demanded challenging footwork.  In fact, according to ESPN Sports & Information, Romo’s 18 TDs and 1 INT on throws outside the pocket ties Aaron Rodgers for the league best touchdown-to-interception ratio since the start of the 2011 season.  However, there’s just no consistency to Romo’s mental execution, such that those plays are exceptions instead of the rule.

I SAW the Cowboys get hit with two very significant injuries:

Star DE DeMarcus Ware could be out 3-4 weeks with a quad injury – a huge blow to an already-battered defensive Line in Big D.

RB DeMarco Murray hurt his knee, and his status is uncertain.  So far in his short pro career, Murray just can’t stay on the field long enough.  Dallas had better hope Don Juan DeMarco can suit up soon – he has accounted for 84 percent of Dallas’ rush yards so far this season.

MNF- San Diego (3-3) wins vs. Indianapolis (4-2), 19-9

I SAW the Chargers march up and down the field on the Colts defense – almost literally.  San Diego became just the ninth team since 2001 to have four consecutive scoring drives of at least 10 plays in a single game.  (ESPN Stats & Information)  It was simply too hard for the Colts to overcome that, what with star sophomore QB Andrew Luck forced to watch from the sideline for all but 21 minutes of game time.

TRIVIA BOMB:

The only team to have more than 4 such consecutive drives in a game over that span was the 16-0 2007 Patriots, who had 5 of them in that 56-10 flogging of the Bills.

I SAW Chargers QB Philip Rivers continue his renaissance in San Diego.  I was wondering if the brain-farting Rivers of 2012 was going to resurface after last week’s three-interception skid mark against the Raiders, but the veteran quarterback answered with another commanding performance.

There’s still plenty of time for Rivers and the ’Bolts to take one of their typical swan dives, but I took a look back at him at this point last season and the difference between those numbers and 2013 is noticeable.

Philip Rivers – Through First 6 Games Of The Season

2012 2013
Comp % 66.5 72.6
TD-INT 10-9 14-5
Rating 85.3 108.7
Sacks Taken 18 10

Just as importantly, Rivers had his third game without a turnover on Sunday after a nightmarish season of miscues in 2012.

I SAW the Colts shoot themselves in the foot yet again with drops on third down.  The one by WR Darrius Heyward-Bey that looked like a sure TD had to hurt.  In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information Indy is tied for the league lead this season with 6 drops on third down.  That might not sound like much, but missed opportunities on third down can lead to shortened possessions on offense, which gives the defense short rest and can wear that D down – which is exactly what happened against San Diego on Sunday.

I SAW the Chargers jump offside (encroachment, technically) on the first play of the game.  That’s high school-dumb.  I don’t care if Colts QB Andrew Luck is a ventriloquist or Jedi mind trick master.  There’s no excuse for that.

I SAW PROPS for Colts WR Reggie Wayne, who became the 9th player in NFL history to amass 1,000 career receptions.  Peter King had a nice snapshot stat analysis of Wayne’s career here.  In summary: Wayne hasn’t declined from his elite level of production.

STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR WHAT I SAW, WEEK 7 – HERE AT TFQ. 

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