Tuesday, October 19, 2010
NFL Week 6 Power Rankings
Five Quick Hits
* In the first 90 or so years of NFL history, only five quarterbacks threw for at least 1,900 yards in the first six weeks of the season. This year, three more have done it: Philip Rivers, Kyle Orton, and Peyton Manning. Rivers joins Drew Bledsoe as the only players ever to pass for 2,000 yards through Week 6.
* I like Maurice Jones-Drew, but on Monday, Jon Gruden described him as a combination of the best attributes of Earl Campbell and Barry Sanders. Look, MJD's a great running back. He's not in the same league as Campbell or Sanders, certainly not a combination of the two.
* Last week, Justin Bieber of all people took a shot at Tom Brady's appearance. For years, even the most macho NFL fans admitted, and often joked about, Brady's hotness. You had to at least acknowledge it just so people didn't think you were stupid, or hiding something. But he's not hot any more. I don't know if it's age, or the stupid haircut, or — and this is my preferred theory — maybe his internal ugliness is starting to becoming apparent externally, too. Brady's black heart is turning his pretty boy's face into a damn jack-o-lantern.
* Andy Reid described himself as "chubby" in the postgame press conference on Sunday. Uh, right. Reid has always been chubby, but now he's downright enormous. I think neither Kevin Kolb nor Michael Vick can fill the void left in Reid's heart by Donovan McNabb, and Coach Reid has been eating his feelings. Seriously, he wasn't this big last year.
* I am convinced that NFL replay officials enjoy wasting everyone's time. Why do they wait until one second before the snap of the next play to call for the ref to go under the hood? Everybody knows you're going to call down to the field, why not just do it immediately?
This year, the story you can't get away from is head injury. That was particularly true this week, with several vicious hits and scary concussions. The league is poised to announce that it will start suspending players for some of these hits. Suspending players for dirty hits is absolutely the right course of action, but I hope this policy won't be abused to frighten defenders into playing two-hand touch. Hard, legal hits don't merit suspension. Unnecessary roughness and head-hunting do.
A few old-school Neanderthals have suggested in the last 48 hours that these hits are just part of the game, that the league doesn't need to do anything about them. Players know the risk, they say, and no one's forcing them to play in the NFL. If you're buying that, I've got a Nigerian prince to introduce you to. What the hell do we need seat belts for? People who drives cars know the risk. No one's forcing them to drive. Smart people constantly strive to make improvements. For the NFL, right now that means working to reduce head trauma and dirty hits.
It's true that players enter the NFL knowing there's a possibility they could suffer serious injury. That doesn't mean we should just accept those injuries without trying to prevent them! You've got to be a psychopath or a fool to believe otherwise. Instead of insisting that players knew what they were signing up for and nothing is wrong with head trauma or permanent injury, we should figure out how to reduce injuries without compromising the game. Instead of blaming the victim, we should work to reduce problems in the future.
There's a simple solution: eject and suspend dirty players. This is not a new idea. The league suspended Albert Haynesworth for stomping on Andre Gurode's face. It can (and should) suspend Brandon Meriweather for head-hunting Todd Heap. Referee John Parry ejected Dante Wesley for his vicious hit on Clifton Smith last year. Officials can (and should) eject players for dirty hits in the future.
This is not a new rule, just a common sense enforcement of existing rules against dirty play, careless violence, and unnecessary roughness. Player safety is a critical issue, and neither fines nor flags are a sufficient deterrent to dangerous play. I suspect suspensions and ejections will do the trick. I do hope the league will limit suspensions and ejections to flagrant penalties and repeat offenders. Physical play has always been part of the game, and league policies should be aimed at reducing careless and dirty play, not handcuffing blockers and tacklers.
A number of players suffered head injuries in Week 6, but the only obviously dirty hit was Brandon Meriweather's shot at Todd Heap. It looks like the league may come down on Dunta Robinson for his cringe-inducing hit on DeSean Jackson, but in my mind, Meriweather's shot on Heap was far worse. Robinson nailed D-Jax, no doubt, and that hit has received more attention because (1) the hit sounded like a gunshot, (2) both players were injured, and (3) Jackson is a star. But I don't believe Robinson set out to injure anyone. A warning? Sure. A fine? Okay. But a suspension? I don't see it. Meriweather, though, was head-hunting, and we just can't condemn that strongly enough. Meriweather should have been ejected from the game, and if the NFL is serious about player safety, it will suspend him for next week's game at San Diego.
On to the Week 6 rankings, brackets show previous rank.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Ben Roethlisberger played well in his return from suspension (257 yards, 3 TD, 112.7 rating), and he obviously gives the team new confidence in its air attack, but the success formula hasn't changed. Rashard Mendenhall is sixth in the NFL in rushing yards (despite the bye), and the Steelers lead the NFL in run defense. Pittsburgh's next three games are on the road, so we'll get to see how Big Ben responds to a hostile crowd. Lawrence Timmons (2 sacks, INT) and James Harrison (1.5 sacks, forced fumble) both had big games this weekend. Timmons is among the league leaders in tackles, and Harrison has now forced 4 fumbles in 5 games.
2. New York Jets  — The only team to beat the Patriots, they're 5-1, riding the longest winning streak in the league (5 games), and rank in the top five in both points scored and points allowed. The story of the season so far has got to be LaDainian Tomlinson, who looks like the old LT, and ranks in the top 10 in every major rushing category: 490 yards, 5.3 average, 5 TDs. He even has five runs of at least 20 yards, already more than his total from all of last season (3). In all six of the Jets' games, Tomlinson has been the leading rusher, for either team.
3. New England Patriots  — Deion Branch made an immediate impact in his return to the Patriots, and obviously still has some chemistry with his old quarterback, but Tom Brady didn't have a great game against Baltimore's defense, with two interceptions and a 69.5 passer rating. Either Stephen Gostkowski's last name is pronounced differently than I think it is, or announcers have inexplicable and shameful difficulty pronouncing something that's not really that hard. And this guy's been in the league as a reasonably high-profile kicker for a few years now. Come on, you learned how to pronounce Houshmandzadeh, you can do this.
4. Baltimore Ravens  — A modest drop after a respectable loss. This is not a 10-point defeat against the Cardinals, they took the Patriots to overtime in New England. The Ravens also expect Ed Reed to return next week. They were a top-five team without Reed; they're obviously top-five with him. Derrick Mason led the Ravens in receiving this weekend, becoming the 14th player with a 100-yard receiving game after his 36th birthday. With 13 more, he can tie Jerry Rice.
5. Indianapolis Colts  — Overcame three lost fumbles to escape from Washington with a win. The "Amoeba Defense" facilitated a great night rushing for the Colts, while Manning still passed for 300 yards and 2 touchdowns. Forgive me if this seems hyperbolic; I don't believe it is: Manning is a little like football's Ted Williams. Many teams employed a defensive shift against Williams, stacking fielders to the right of second base. Manning's achievements are all the more remarkable because he so often faces defenses tailored to stopping him. When Edgerrin James was a dominant RB, opponents couldn't take too many chances with their run defense, but for the last five seasons or so, we've seen extreme strategies for trying to neutralize Manning, including routine use of dime defensive packages on first down and the wholesale abandonment of defensive linemen. Occasionally, when those strategies are backed by exceptional personnel, they've succeeded. Most of the time, though, it seems that whatever you throw at the Colts defensively, they have an answer for. I believe the 1950-51 Rams had the greatest offense of all time, but looking at sustained success, there's just no question that it's Manning's Colts. The same way we might say the '85 Bears were the greatest single-season defense, but the Steel Curtain the greatest over time, the Colts of the last decade are the finest offense in NFL history. If anyone's close, I suppose it would be the Air Coryell Chargers, or maybe the Sid Luckman Bears of the 1940s.
6. Tennessee Titans  — As of this writing, it is not clear how serious Vince Young's ankle injury is, but the team is comfortable and in good hands with Kerry Collins if Young needs a week or two to get healthy. The bye is in Week 9. On a related note, how can you risk a player's health just to get him to 100 yards? I know Chris Johnson wants the numbers, and the drive to reach them is probably part of what makes him great. But part of what makes you the damn coach is being able to say no. You're winning 23-3 late in the fourth quarter, basically running out the clock, and you give seven carries to your star running back? Forget running up the score — though there's an argument to be made there, too — it's just not smart. Why do you risk the health of your best player when the outcome of the game is already decided? That's not good for the team, and despite what CJ2K might think, it's not good for him, either. Tennessee leads the NFL in point differential (+64) and sacks (24).
7. Atlanta Falcons  — Facing an injury-riddled Philadelphia line that had allowed 19 sacks in the first five games, the Falcons managed only 1 against Kevin Kolb. There's no need to get cute and drop John Abraham into coverage. When your opponent presents an obvious weakness, forget the element of surprise and attack it. In the next four weeks, Atlanta has three home games and a bye. That's good news for a team that, in the Matt Ryan era, is much stronger at home. The Falcons have to be pretty happy sitting at 4-2 with half their road games already out of the way.
8. New York Giants  — Three wins in a row following back-to-back shellackings from the Colts and Titans. Osi Umenyiora had multiple sacks in all three wins, and this weekend he also forced 2 fumbles, bringing him to a league-leading 7 for the 2010 season. In fact, that's almost double the second-highest total (4, by several players). It's also a career high for Umenyiora, who forced 5 fumbles in 2007. The Giants have yet to play any divisional games, but that changes next week when they travel to Cowboys Stadium, with a chance to open a 4½-game lead on Dallas.
9. Miami Dolphins  — Brandon Marshall caught 10 passes for 127 yards, Cameron Wake had three sacks, and Dan Carpenter nailed three long field goals to lift Miami to victory. If the Dolphins lose to Pittsburgh next week, they will drop to 0-3 at home, with a 3-0 road record. So much for homefield advantage.
10. Philadelphia Eagles  — Overall, Kolb had a very strong game against Atlanta, the kind of performance that makes it hard to keep him on the bench. But he made one really horrible play, and I'm not talking about his interception and subsequent horse collar tackle (though that set up a Falcons TD just before halftime). The play I mean is the one on which DeSean Jackson suffered what is being described as a "serious concussion." Kolb led him right into the hit, and you just can't throw that ball. It's a quarterback's responsibility not to put his receivers in situations like that. Kicker David Akers had perhaps the worst game of his career this weekend, missing three field goals from reasonable distances.
11. Washington Redskins  — Allowing over 400 yards per game (actually 410), about the same number as the 2007 Patriots averaged on offense when they broke the single-season scoring record (411). Washington's problem is the secondary, full of butterfingers and safeties who can't cover, plus linebackers who are really defensive linemen. LaRon Landry is a devastating strong safety, and he's having a nice season, but he's not much use in coverage, and the free safeties are a constant disaster. This was a top-10 defense last season, and with substantially the same personnel, it's obviously the transition to a 3-4 that is primarily responsible for the dropoff, but this team badly needs to upgrade its defensive backfield. I'm not talking about a superstar: a solid, veteran free safety would provide substantial improvement.
12. Kansas City Chiefs  — Matt Cassel, Thomas Jones, and Dwayne Bowe all had their best games of the season, but the defense got burned, and a 21-point fourth quarter from Houston gave the Chiefs' their second straight loss. The comeback was abetted by a really terrible pass interference call against Brandon Flowers that should have instead negated a long catch by Andre Johnson. But look at Kansas City's schedule: Jags and Bills at home, Raiders, Broncos, Cardinals, Seahawks, Denver again, Chargers, Rams, Titans, Raiders again. This team is going to the playoffs.
13. Green Bay Packers  — Consecutive overtime losses. If the NFL used regulation ties, they'd be tied for the best record in the NFC. Greg Jennings finally had his breakout game (6 rec, 133 yds, TD), but Aaron Rodgers took 5 sacks just a week after sustaining a concussion. How do you not make protecting the QB your top priority in a situation like that? Man, hold if you have to, just don't let the guy get hit. Injuries continue to be a problem, but Clay Matthews III probably will be back in the lineup next week, and that's a huge boost for the struggling defense. Defensive backs Atari Bigby and Al Harris, both coming off the PUP list, are also expected to return.
14. Minnesota Vikings  — I missed the beginning of this game so that FOX could show Eldra Buckley running out the clock for Philadelphia. How does the most popular sports league in North America have the worst television package? I wish there were some way to make the league stop taking fans for granted. It would also be nice if the league would stop aiming for a "work stoppage" — no football, basically — in 2011. But that's another issue. Minnesota's offense is really bad, 25th in yardage and 27th in scoring. Through six games, no one on the team has a 100-yard receiving game, and their 41-year-old quarterback has a lower passer rating (72.1) than Alex Smith. The defense has quietly played well, not getting a lot of big plays but keeping opponents out of the end zone.
15. New Orleans Saints  — First, a mea culpa. At the beginning of the season, I rated the Saints as high as they could possibly be rated, probably higher than they deserved. Following last week's loss to the Cardinals, I had the Saints about as low as they could possibly be rated, probably too low. I hope I've finally found a reasonable position for them. They're 4-2, tied for the best record in the NFC. But that's against a .406 schedule, and close wins over the Vikings and 49ers, reasonably impressive at the beginning of the season, don't look so good now. They barely beat the winless Panthers and actually lost to the hopeless Cardinals. Drew Brees has thrown 6 interceptions in the last four weeks, compared to just 11 all of last season. Chris Ivory obviously had a huge game against Tampa, and it will be interesting to see if he can replicate it against better defenses.
16. Dallas Cowboys  — I want to defend the NFL's excessive celebration penalties. I believe sportsmanship is an indispensable element of sports, and if we need 15-yard penalties to force professional athletes to act like adults, so be it. But the rules are ridiculous. No sane person wants to see a 7-minute celebration, a choreographed dance, or any of Chad Johnson's increasingly desperate attempts at humor (Look at me! Look how funny I am! Come on, look at me! Moooom, you're not looking!). But Miles Austin hopping over Roy Williams' back draws a 15-yard flag? How that's unsportsmanlike is just a little beyond me, and I'm a humorless stickler about this stuff. Especially stupid is that Austin was punished for being a good athlete. Later in the same game, Minnesota's Kenny Onatolu tried to jump over Percy Harvin in the end zone, but he didn't make it all the way and fell over. No flag. Excessive celebration penalties: good idea. Banning all multi-player celebrations and looking for excuses to enforce the ban: bad idea. This isn't about sense of humor or the "No Fun League." It's just about a rule that is stupid. Get rid of it, amend it, or direct the officials to lighten up and enforce only the most flagrant violations. Honestly, I'm comfortable with "excessive celebration" being a judgment call. I think we usually know it when we see it.
17. Houston Texans  — Their defense, already maybe the worst in the league, suffered another loss with a season-ending Achilles tear for linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Mario Williams, after a blazing start (4 sacks in the first 2 weeks), has only 1 sack in the last four games. The team needs him to make a consistent impact. Arian Foster, who scored two more touchdowns this weekend, is the early front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year. As long as the voters can resist the allure of Sam Bradford's 69.3 passer rating, that is.
18. Denver Broncos  — Faced a devastating schedule in the last month: Colts, Titans, Ravens, and Jets. They also have to travel overseas for a Week 8 game at Wembley Stadium. The thin air in Denver is a kicker's best friend. Both kickers (Matt Prater and Nick Folk) connected from beyond 55 yards on Sunday. If you play in a fantasy league that includes kickers, you could just choose whoever plays for the Broncos and do pretty well every year based simply on the boost from playing at Mile High.
19. Seattle Seahawks  — The only team in the NFC West that has a positive point differential: +1. In Week 6, Mike Williams, who starred at USC and flamed out for the Lions, caught 10 passes for 123 yards, and the Seahawks sacked Jay Cutler 6 times, mostly on blitzes. The Bears went 0/12 on third down, and Jordan Babineaux created a safety when he sacked Cutler, who fumbled and recovered in the end zone. The Cardinals travel to Seattle in Week 7 with first place in the division on the line.
20. San Diego Chargers  — I think everyone agrees the Cowboys and Chargers are the most disappointing teams in the NFL so far. In fact, it's still hard to believe the teams aren't pretty good. What do they have in common? They can't turn yards into points. San Diego and Dallas are 1st and 3rd, respectively, in yards per game. They're 5th and 16th in scoring. They're first and fourth in total defense, 19th and 21st in points allowed. That's right, the 2-4 Bolts lead the NFL in both yards gained and yards allowed. San Diego is 2-0 at home, 0-4 on the road. It appears that Antonio Gates may play against New England next week; I don't see how the Chargers can win if he doesn't. Gates has an 85-game regular season starting streak, but I'd bet he'll be listed as questionable.
21. Chicago Bears  — You know what you're getting with Mike Martz. His offense is a ridiculous extreme of high-risk, high-reward. Talented players like Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce, and Orlando Pace can pull it off. The 2010 Bears cannot. Jay Cutler has been sacked 15 times in his last game and a half. Altogether, Bear QBs have been sacked 27 times already. That's nearly as many as all of last year (35). The single-season record is 76, by David Carr and the Texans in 2002. The Bears haven't beaten anyone with a winning record. The teams they've defeated boast a combined record of 5-17 (.227). That's an empty 4-2. This is not a good team.
22. St. Louis Rams  — Have held five of their six opponents to under 20 points (though the sixth, Detroit, put up 44). It helps when your opponent's two best receivers leave the game with injuries, but three Rams had multiple sacks this weekend: Larry Grant, James Hall, and Chris Long. Hall leads the team, with 6 sacks. The Rams have tripled their win total from 2009.
23. Cincinnati Bengals  — This is the second week in a row I've ranked them one spot ahead of a team they just lost to. The Bengals have played one really good game (beat Baltimore in Week 2) and four really mediocre games (three losses and a win over the Panthers). Antwan Odom's four-game suspension doesn't seem like a very big deal. Odom played exceptionally well at the beginning of last season, but this year he's averaging 1 tackle per game, with no sacks.
24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers  — Their secret is out: you can run on Tampa, and you can do it pretty much at will. They're 31st in run defense, 32nd in yards per carry allowed (5.3), and they're worse every week. In the last three games, the Bucs have yielded an astounding 562 yards on the ground, allowing a 140-yard rusher in three consecutive games. I'm sure that's happened before, though I can't remember when. Rashard Mendenhall ran for 143, Cedric Benson pounded out 144, and Chris Ivory rushed for 158 on just 15 carries. If you have Steven Jackson on your fantasy team, for heaven's sake play him in Week 7. The Bucs are also last in the NFL in sacks (4).
25. Cleveland Browns  — Honestly, I think they should probably be a little higher than this. All of their losses are to teams with winning records. Josh Cribbs was knocked out of this week's game, but his injury apparently is not serious, and he's expected to take the field in Week 7. This might be a top-20 team with Seneca Wallace healthy.
26. Detroit Lions  — Team A has just one win, but against a .538 schedule and has only been outscored by 9 points. Team B has one win, but against a .571 schedule and has actually outscored its opponents by 6 points. Team A is the Dallas Cowboys; Team B is the Detroit Lions. They lost by 5 to the Bears on what everyone now calls "the Calvin Johnson rule." They lost to the Eagles by 3, the Packers by 2, the Giants by 8. A 14-point loss to Minnesota was closer than the score makes it seem. And they blew out the Rams, winning by 38. This isn't a bad team, it just has to start winning some of these close games. Ndamukong Suh had another big game, 1.5 sacks against the Giants, and is a serious Pro Bowl candidate as a rookie.
27. Jacksonville Jaguars  — The only team to lose three games by at least 20 points each. Trent Edwards clearly doesn't know the offense yet, and turnovers (2 interceptions by Edwards, 1 by David Garrard, and a fumble by Marcedes Lewis) were a major factor in the loss, particularly the two in the red zone. The fumble by Lewis killed Jackonsville's momentum at the end of the first half, and Edwards' end-zone interception effectively sealed the defeat. The Jaguars' real problem, though, is defense. The team ranks 27th in total defense, and tied for last in points allowed. Both Vince Young and Kerry Collins threw effectively against them, and in the fourth quarter, Tennessee made an 80-yard touchdown drive out of nine consecutive runs. The Jags couldn't stop them. Opponents average a 110 passer rating against Jacksonville.
28. Arizona Cardinals  — Steve Breaston is expected to return to the lineup in Week 7, and this team needs any boost it can get on offense. It's hard to believe this team is 3-2. I'm really glad my last name isn't Breaston. Not that Oremland is spectacular, but at least it doesn't sound like a body part.
29. San Francisco 49ers  — Frank Gore (471 yards rushing, 284 receiving) trails only Arian Foster in yards from scrimmage. Gore and the Rams' Steven Jackson have limited stats because of injuries and the terrible teams they play on, but these two have been consistently elite running backs for the last five seasons now. Gore's 4.7 career rushing average is among the highest in history, and he's good for 400 receiving yards a year.
30. Oakland Raiders  — It's hard not to feel bad for Jason Campbell. After several years of constant criticism and coaching changes in Washington, he went to Oakland (where careers go to die), only to get benched for Bruce Gradkowski. Now, following an admittedly miserable performance against the Niners, it looks like may take a back seat to Kyle Boller, dropping to third on the Raiders' depth chart.
31. Carolina Panthers  — Switching quarterbacks again, from Jimmy Clausen to Matt Moore. I don't think it particularly matters.
32. Buffalo Bills  — Week 6 byes: Bengals, Cardinals, Panthers, Bills. Everybody wins. Three or four of the worst teams in the league get a week to re-group (or just cry) and fans get a week off from watching them play.