Tuesday, September 18, 2012

NFL Week 2 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* After only two games, Houston DE J.J. Watt has 3 sacks, 5 pass deflections, and a fumble recovery. Wow.

* Favorite announcer quote of Week 2, from Dan Dierdorf: "If Andy Reid is nothing, he's not adventurous."

* Even though Dierdorf bungled the quote, he's absolutely right. Have you seen the size of Andy Reid? He is definitely not nothing. And if he's not nothing, it follows that he is adventurous. That's the genius of Dierdorf's poetry: it makes you think, man.

* Starting QBs with passer ratings under 75 so far this season: Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill, plus Jay Cutler, Michael Vick, Drew Brees, and Matthew Stafford. Weeden and Tannehill are rookies, but those other four are supposed to be elite players.

* Mark Sanchez dropped back 29 times against Pittsburgh and completed 10 passes. Shonn Greene averaged 2.1 yards per rush and suffered a head injury.

***

I was going to write about the Week 2 officiating in this space, but really, why bother? We all know it was unacceptable: rules misunderstood, calls missed, near-brawls and not enough control over player aggression, plus way too much time taken to make decisions. I'm sure the replacement referees are doing their best (the ones who aren't Saints fans, anyway), but in Week 2, they weren't good enough. Here's hoping most of the bigger problems are fixed by Week 3.

More significant is the passing of NFL Films President Steve Sabol. The league has a nice tribute up on its website, but it's difficult to capture the impact of NFL Films, and of Steve Sabol in particular. I've loved football since I was a kid, going to games with my grandfather at a worn-down stadium that shook when the fans were excited. In all my years watching the sport, probably no player contributed as much to my enjoyment of football as Steve Sabol did.

For five decades, NFL Films has preserved the past, captured the present, and anticipated the future. It is and has been a ground-breaking organization, and Sabol was the most important sports filmmaker of all time — in any sport. He won Emmy Awards in five categories, the most of anyone in television history: cinematography, editing, writing, directing, and producing. He received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy for “revolutionizing the way America watches football and setting the standard in sports filmmaking.” The NFL Network video tribute notes that Sabol "transformed NFL Films from simple chroniclers of the game to epic myth-makers," and that's not just purple prose, it's true. Sabol was the driving force behind how we watch and appreciate football today, and the NFL has lost one of the greatest people ever associated with the league.

As we continue to this week's power rankings, brackets show last week's rank.

1. Houston Texans [3] — Easily lead the NFL in fewest yards allowed (392, under 200 per game) and fewest points allowed (17). In Week 2, they tripled Jacksonville's yardage (411-117), first downs (28-9), and points (27-7). So far this season, Houston has 78:01 time of possession, compared to 41:59 for its opponents. The schedule gets tougher in Week 3, with a road trip to Denver.

2. San Francisco 49ers [4] — Highest passer ratings in the NFL: (1) Matt Ryan, 117.6, (2) Alex Smith, 115.9. When the Niners improved from 6-10 (in 2010) to 13-3 last year, most of the credit went to new coach Jim Harbaugh, along with defensive acquisitions like Carlos Rogers and Aldon Smith. The single biggest turnaround for San Francisco may be Smith. After nearly a decade of consistently poor quarterback play, to have Smith go out there and be above average — maybe even good — is a revelation.

3. Atlanta Falcons [2] — Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones, and Roddy White already combine for 36 receptions, 434 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Each has double-digit catches, over 120 yards, and at least one score. The team looks great, so I'm going to nitpick. Why on earth did Dominique Franks choose not to field Britton Colquitt's second punt in the third quarter? It landed at the 26-yard line and rolled to the Falcons' 4. That's 22 yards of important field position.

4. Green Bay Packers [6] — Defense owned the Bears, with particularly strong performances from Clay Matthews and Tramon Williams. But that's the second week in a row the offense has struggled. Last season, Aaron Rodgers looked unstoppable. This season, he still hasn't found his rhythm.

5. Baltimore Ravens [5] — Under John Harbaugh, they're 28-5 at home and 17-16 on the road. Rookie kicker Justin Tucker played well (field goals of 56, 51 and 48 yards), but Joe Flacco appeared indecisive and confused making his reads, and the defense committed uncharacteristic errors. On Jeremy Maclin's third quarter touchdown, Cary Williams and Ed Reed apparently forgot that Michael Vick was allowed to throw. The collective decision not to cover Brent Celek, in retrospect, was probably unwise. Celek (8 rec, 157 yds) was repeatedly wide open, literally uncovered.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers [9] — Easily beat the Jets, who were missing their best player, despite missing two of their own best players. Troy Polamalu is expected to play next week in Oakland, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Sunday that all-pro LB James Harrison probably won't be available until after the Week 4 bye. The Steeler pass rush has been inconsistent without him.

7. Philadelphia Eagles [11] — Last year, this was a talented team that on good days looked like it could compete with anyone, but often found creative and mysterious ways to lose. This season, the problems are still there — nine turnovers in two weeks! — but the Eagles have escaped with close victories. If you can commit three red-zone turnovers against a good team like the Ravens and still win, imagine what might happen if you can eliminate the mistakes. DeSean Jackson made some tough catches in traffic this week, the kind he so seldom converted last year.

8. Arizona Cardinals [15] — Not only did they beat the Patriots in New England, they did it with Larry Fitzgerald catching one pass for 4 yards. Kevin Kolb was unspectacular (140 yds, TD, 82.3 rating), and the running backs were downright bad (57 yds, 2.4 avg), but the defense played well enough that Kolb finished with a better passer rating than Tom Brady (79.6) and the Cardinals outrushed the Patriots (105-90). Calais Campbell (2 sacks) and Daryl Washington (11 solo tackles) played well.

9. New England Patriots [1] — Lost at home for the first time in more than a year, and lost Aaron Hernandez to an ankle injury. On a day when former Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri made a 53-yard, game-winning kick with :08 left, current Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski made four field goals, including three from beyond 45 yards, but missed the potential game-winner from 42. During the CBS halftime show, Bill Cowher referred to him as "Stephen Congovski." A tough Week 3 game in Baltimore could set New England up for a 1-2 start to the season. It sounds like Hernandez will miss at least a month.

10. Chicago Bears [7] — Jay Cutler got no help on Thursday from his offensive teammates: missed blocks, dropped passes, drive-killing penalties. But Cutler, now in his 7th season, is still a rookie. He threw 4 interceptions and took 7 sacks. Cutler has often been criticized for his lack of on-field maturity, and the reason was obvious Thursday, when a visibly frustrated Baby Jay repeatedly forced throws into coverage. Most stunning, though, was his total refusal to throw the ball away. The offensive line didn't play well, but most of those sacks were Cutler's fault. At a certain point, you've got to the get the ball out of your hand. Also: criticizing teammates who screw up is a form of leadership, but so is owning some of the blame for your own mistakes. Cutler's great at one of those.

11. Detroit Lions [8] — Every defense they play will go to extraordinary lengths to shut down Calvin Johnson, because this team has no other weapons. Matthew Stafford put up big numbers last year, but he has not played well the last two weeks. His accuracy is off, and he's too locked in on Johnson.

12. San Diego Chargers [13] — Won time of possession by more than 27 minutes. Philip Rivers looks like he did a couple years ago, and Dante Rosario scored 3 touchdowns in place of the injured Antonio Gates, but this win was about defense. The Titans gained only 9 first downs, and went 1/9 on third down conversions.

13. Seattle Seahawks [17] — Played well last season, and they're a great home team. The hard-hitting Seahawks lead the NFL with 6 forced fumbles. I believe this is a top-10 defense, and with Marshawn Lynch, Seattle can control the clock and score enough to win. 50-50 they beat Green Bay in Week 3. The line is +3½.

14. Denver Broncos [14] — Overcame four first-quarter turnovers, including three interceptions on their first three drives, to make the game exciting in the fourth quarter. I'm struck by how great Willis McGahee looks. Obviously he's getting help from his blockers and from Peyton Manning's play-calling, but McGahee's been impressive. Demaryius Thomas is clearly Manning's favorite new receiver.

15. New York Jets [10] — Not a great defense without Darrelle Revis, not a great offense without facing Buffalo.

16. Dallas Cowboys [12] — Everyone criticizes Andy Reid for calling too many passes and not enough runs. Can we call out Jason Garrett for the same problem? Against Seattle, DeMarco Murray carried 12 times, and Tony Romo dropped back 42.

17. New York Giants [16] — There are three active QBs with more than 10 three-interception games: Peyton Manning (16), Drew Brees (13), and Eli Manning (13). Peyton and Brees are a combined 3-26 in those games, while Eli's Giants are 4-9. That's still winning less than a third of the time, but it's remarkable how often the Giants overcome Eli's mistakes. Other notable QB records in 3-INT games: Tom Brady (0-8), Jay Cutler (0-7), Mark Sanchez (0-6), Ben Roethlisberger (1-8), Michael Vick (2-1).

18. Cincinnati Bengals [18] — Andy Dalton had a nice game against Cleveland, but the defense made Browns rookies Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson look like All-Pros. Adam Jones, the artist formerly known as Pacman, returned a punt for a touchdown on Sunday, the 5th PR TD of his career but the first since 2006.

19. Buffalo Bills [22] — Led 35-3 before a garbage-time comeback from Kansas City made the score look respectable. C.J. Spiller (29 att, 292 yds) is the first player since Jim Brown in 1963 to average 10 yards a carry through two games (h/t Yahoo!). Ryan Fitzpatrick is the only starting QB in the NFL who hasn't been sacked this season.

20. St. Louis Rams [24] — Best free agent acquisition of 2012: after only two games, Cortland Finnegan has 15 tackles, 2 interceptions, a touchdown, and a mean streak that inspired a game-saving penalty. In Week 1, the Rams almost beat Detroit, and in Week 2, they topped a hyped Washington team. In Week 3, the Rams travel to Chicago to face a Bears team that was all kinds of terrible on Thursday. So why is Chicago favored by more than a touchdown? I don't know, either, but I say Vegas knows something the rest of us don't. Bears by double-digits, for no good reason other than the line.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [26] — Gave up five completions of 20 yards or more in the fourth quarter, allowing 25 points and blowing a 27-13 lead. Before that, however, the defense shut down Cam Newton and intercepted Eli Manning three times, including one returned for a touchdown. Facing two explosive offenses, the Bucs' defense has yielded only 7/23 third-down conversions (30%), 7th-best in the NFL so far.

22. Carolina Panthers [27] — Three rushers over 50 yards, including Cam Newton (career-high 71). At this time last season, Newton had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, gotten sacked eight times, and rushed for 71 yards in both games combined. Expectations are so high, it's easy to miss that in some ways he's already better than last year. Newton leads the NFL in yards per completion (15.0) and plays of 20 yards or more (12).

23. New Orleans Saints [20] — Worst in the NFL in yards allowed (922) and tied with Kansas City for most points allowed (75). Eight different players have scored touchdowns against the Saints after only two games.

24. Washington Redskins [19] — A lot went wrong. Sav Rocca had another punt blocked. Adam Carricker and Brian Orakpo left the game with injuries, and won't play again this season, which is the biggest reason for their drop in the rankings. But with 1:18 left in the game, and Washington in position to attempt a game-tying 47-yard field goal, Josh Morgan went berserk. Andy Behrens called it "a killer unsportsmanlike penalty at an unbelievably bad time." The L.A. Times called it "mindless." Frank Schwab called it "one of the worst penalties in NFL history." In retaliation for a light shove, Morgan wound up and threw the ball at Cortland Finnegan, an obvious 15-yard penalty that pushed Washington out of realistic field goal range. Billy Cundiff's 62-yard attempt missed by a mile.

It was reminiscent of the famous "Gus Frerotte Headbutt" game, a 7-7 tie in which the Frerotte sprained his neck celebrating a touchdown, but also the game in which Michael Westbrook ripped off his helmet and drew the same 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty as Morgan, pushing Washington out of field goal range (a 54-yarder came up short).

25. Kansas City Chiefs [21] — Lost to the Bills by 18. The Bills lost to the Jets by 20. The Jets lost to the Steelers by 17. Pittsburgh lost to Denver by 12. Therefore, the Chiefs would lose to the Broncos by 67. Actually, we could take this a step further, since the Broncos lost to Atlanta by six, but Kansas City already lost to Atlanta by 16, not 73.

26. Miami Dolphins [29] — Great week for rookie QBs. Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson (SEA), and Andrew Luck (IND) all got their first pro wins, while Robert Griffin III and Brandon Weeden played well in defeat. Tannehill connected nine times with Brian Hartline (111 yds) and Reggie Bush seems determined to prove that last year's 1,000-yard, 5-per-carry campaign was no fluke. The defense did a nice job shutting down Darren McFadden.

27. Oakland Raiders [25] — Zero ground game. No one doubts that McFadden can play, but he's averaging 2.1 yards per attempt. That leaves the team in lots of third-and-long, so they went 1/12 on third downs against Miami. In awesome news, you know how pregame shows always list the significant actives and inactives among injured players? NFL Network had long snapper Jon Condo on its active list! The long snapper! I can't wait for the other six signs of the apocalypse.

28. Cleveland Browns [28] — Two losses by a total of eight points. If they're going anywhere at all this season, a Week 3 home game against Buffalo is the time to prove it.

29. Tennessee Titans [23] — Blown out for the second week in a row. Quarterback Jake Locker is the team's leading rusher; Chris Johnson has 19 carries for 21 yards. I have Tennessee rated as the second-best team in the AFC South right now, which is sad.

30. Indianapolis Colts [32] — Most clutch kicker in NFL history: Adam Vinatieri made a 53-yard, game-winning kick with :08 left. The Colts' Week 1 defensive meltdown against the Bears is even more troubling after Chicago's offensive disaster in Week 2.

31. Minnesota Vikings [30] — Christian Ponder passed for 245 yards and a 114.6 rating, but at some point he needs to stretch the field vertically. Blair Walsh had another nice game, connecting on a 51-yard field goal in the first quarter.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars [31] — Went 0/9 on third downs and gained a franchise-low 117 yards. That doesn't even sound so bad when you consider that they had -4 at halftime.

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