Tuesday, November 13, 2012

NFL Week 10 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* For all the hand-wringing over Chris Johnson's slow start, he now has four 100-yard rushing games this season, trailing only Marshawn Lynch, Arian Foster, and Adrian Peterson.

* As sad as Jacksonville's offense is, the emergence of receiver Cecil Shorts might qualify as a bright spot. Shorts attended Division III powerhouse Mount Union. I don't understand why NFL teams do so little scouting of the top D-III teams.

* My favorite announcer comment this week came from Brian Billick, on the long punt return in Cincinnati: "Adam Jones, you're not gonna get him with the punter ... nice job by Steve Weatherford to get him from behind." Weatherford, of course, is the Giants' punter.

* Even better, Billick said this during the replay. I don't wish this on anyone, but if any NFL announcing booth had to get hit by a meteor, it should be Thom Brennaman and Billick's.

* This nonsense with the replacement refs has gone far enough. We all know they're doing their best, but the officiating crew in San Francisco, with an assist from the official timekeeper, allowed over 1:00 to run off the clock during a first-down measurement. Maybe that flies in Division III, but it's not acceptable at the professional level. In overtime, the Rams lost another :06 during a two-minute drill, because the officials initially placed the ball on the wrong yard line. An experienced referee like Clete Blakeman would never make those mistakes, and it's time to bring back the regular refs. They might make a bad holding call once in a while, but never something as basic as letting a minute and a half run off the clock.

***

Blaine Gabbert is a disaster. At no point in the first year and a half of his NFL career has he looked like an NFL quarterback. On the rare occasions he's produced okay stats, it's been almost an accident, the quarterback equivalent of a "puncher's chance" in boxing or MMA: that one long pass into coverage comes down in the right pair of hands, or a receiver breaks tackles and turns a short pass into a long TD, that sort of thing.

The problem isn't physical. Gabbert is listed at 6-4, 235. He's athletic and he has a big arm. He's not stupid, either, reportedly scoring a 42 on his Wonderlic. He's playing for a team with a subpar offensive line and receiving corps, and that's a big part of the problem, but it's hardly the primary factor. Gabbert looks lost. On nearly every play, he's guessing. Gabbert's going to be out of the league within three more years, I'd bet. In another era, he might have had a chance.

Young quarterbacks are rushed into service in today's game. Looking at the success of rookie QBs like Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, and Robert Griffin III, who can blame teams putting their high draft picks on the field right away? Besides, you don't pay a guy $20 million a year to sit on the bench, and with most rookie contracts around four years, you can't wait around to see how a player will pan out. You need to find out whether or not to re-sign him, at least.

That's the reality of free agency, and most quarterbacks who are going to be good show some promise early. Not everyone can be Dan Marino, but even eventual disappointments like Tim Couch and David Carr had times when they looked like players worthy of a top draft pick. Chad Henne had a game like that once, and when Gabbert got hurt on Thursday, Henne replaced him. Although he still did not look like Dan Marino, Henne looked like an NFL quarterback, which Gabbert does not.

I wish teams could admit that talented-but-not-there-yet QBs like Mark Sanchez and Gabbert aren't ready to play. Give them a chance to learn with the pressure off, to adjust to the pro game, to trying to lead men a decade older. Stow them on the bench as second- and third-string QBs and give them a chance to develop, rather than forcing them into the bright lights they're obviously not ready for. Does Sanchez give the Jets a better chance to win now than Tim Tebow does? Yes, probably. But it might be in the club's long-term interest to let Sanchez become the popular backup for once.

Since we're halfway through the season, I'll remind readers that rankings are for right now, not an overall summary of the season. Brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. Houston Texans [1] — Defense ranks among the top three in points allowed, yards allowed, passing yards allowed, and rushing yards allowed. It also leads the NFL in third down percentage and fewest first downs allowed, and trails only Chicago in opponents' passer rating (71.6, about the same as Mark Sanchez).

2. Denver Broncos [3] — Seven sacks against Carolina, including a safety, and they now lead the NFL in sacks (31), though they lost Elvis Dumervil with a shoulder injury. Last year's Broncos averaged 19.3 points per game, and only scored 30 twice all season. This year's Broncos average 30.1 points per game, 2nd-best in the NFL, and this was their fourth straight game topping 30. Peyton Manning leads the NFL in passer rating (108.0) and threw his 420th career TD this weekend, tying Dan Marino for second place all-time.

Dan Patrick asserted on Sunday that "Adrian Peterson [has] already got Comeback Player of the Year."

3. Chicago Bears [4] — Stats from the first half of Sunday night's loss:

Jay Cutler passing yards: 40
Jay Cutler rushing yards: 37
Matt Forte rushing yards: 11

That's not a recipe for success. Both Cutler and San Francisco's Alex Smith left their games with concussions, so next week's pivotal NFC showdown could feature Jason Campbell vs. Colin Kaepernick at quarterback. I actually think a conservative, game-manager QB like Campbell is a good fit for this team.

4. New England Patriots [5] — This is their most balanced offense since they had Corey Dillon in 2004, and it will get even better if Aaron Hernandez ever returns from injury. But the defense is a real problem: opposing passers average 8.1 yards per pass attempt, with a collective rating of 97.3. The Patriots have allowed 47 pass plays of 20+ yards, most in the NFL.

5. Atlanta Falcons [2] — In the loss, Matt Ryan got the first 400-yard passing game of his career and Tony Gonzalez caught his 101st TD, 6th-most all-time. It was also his 17th game with multiple receiving TDs. With one more, he'll tie Steve Largent for 10th-most all-time.

It surprised me that Ryan had never thrown for 400 before. There are 24 other active QBs with a 400-yard game, and 15 with more than one.

6. Green Bay Packers [8] — By the end of the season, Green Bay may have too many injuries to be competitive in the playoffs. First-round draft choice Nick Perry was placed on injured reserve this week.

7. Pittsburgh Steelers [7] — Injuries continue to mount here, as well. Already without Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown, the Steelers saw Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder) and Ryan Clark (concussion) leave Monday's game with injuries. The team misses Polamalu, but his diminishing importance is illustrated by Pittsburgh easily leading the NFL in yards allowed and passing yards allowed.

8. San Francisco 49ers [6] — David Akers missed a 41-yard game-winning field goal in overtime, leading to pronouncements of shock from everyone who made any comment at all. Representative was the exchange on NBC, with Rodney Harrison gasping, "David Akers missed it?" and Dan Patrick somberly intoning, "It's rare. It's very rare." Akers has missed six field goal attempts this season, most in the NFL. Actually, he's tied for most ... with Adam Vinatieri.

Akers also missed eight kicks last year, 3rd-most in the league, and the two guys who missed more (Graham Gano and Billy Cundiff) are both out of the league.

9. Baltimore Ravens [10] — Scored a team-record 55 points against the Raiders. If only they could play like this on the road. At home, Baltimore is 5-0 and has outscored opponents by 76. In away games, the team is 2-2, with the wins over Kansas City and Cleveland, and has been outscored by 18.

10. Seattle Seahawks [11] — Marshawn Lynch leads the NFL in 100-yard rushing games (6) and already has 1,000 rushing yards, joining Adrian Peterson. The Seahawks are last in the league in passing yards per game, but Russell Wilson is making good decisions and making the plays he has to (15 TD, 8 INT, 90.5 passer rating).

11. New Orleans Saints [14] — Four wins in the last five games, but they'll have a tough time making the playoffs for four reasons.

1. They're still under .500, tied for 9th place in the NFC. That leaves them 1½ games behind the Seahawks and Vikings for the last wild card.

2. They're not a good road team. Since the start of last season, New Orleans is 11-2 at home, but 6-6 on the road.

3. The remaining schedule looks rough. They have road games against the Falcons, Giants, and Cowboys, plus tough home matchups with the 49ers and Buccaneers.

4. The defense is terrible. Even in this week's win over the Falcons, Matt Ryan threw for a career-high 411 yards, with 3 TDs and a 100.7 passer rating. Only one opponent all season has scored fewer than 24 points against them, with three of them scoring a season-high. The Saints are last in many defensive categories, but here's one that's particularly striking: 42.9% of opposition passes go for a first down, by far the highest rate in the league. The difference between the Saints and the 31st-place Titans (38.7%) is larger than the difference between the Titans and the 12th-place Colts (34.7%).

12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [12] — They're 4-1 since the bye. In each of the five games, Josh Freeman has passed for multiple touchdowns and a passer rating over 100. His 98.2 rating this season is even better than his terrific 2010 performance (95.9). The Bucs rank 3rd in the NFL in scoring (28.9 ppg). Yes, they do.

13. New York Giants [9] — Three of their four losses are against teams with losing records, and they haven't played a really good game in a month. In the entry above, I wrote about Tampa's Josh Freeman. Last five games, including sacks:

Chart

14. Dallas Cowboys [15] — They're 4-5, but only one team left on their schedule has a winning record. Dallas doesn't have the greatest homefield advantage in the league, but the next three games in a row — and five of the next six — are at home.

I know nobody cares about punters, but the Cowboys' Brian Moorman and Philly's Mat McBriar may have been the difference in this week's game. Moorman pinned the Eagles inside their own 20 three times, with no touchbacks and only 4 punt return yards allowed all game. McBriar, the former Cowboy, had 2 touchbacks and a punt returned for a touchdown.

15. Indianapolis Colts [16] — Man, does Andrew Luck like Reggie Wayne. His first five passes on Thursday night were all to Wayne, eventually eight of the first 10. The Colts have won four games in a row, but all against teams with losing records (combined 11-26, .297).

16. Minnesota Vikings [21] — Adrian Peterson had his fourth straight 100-yard game, and leads the NFL in rushing. He has more yards (1,128) through 10 games than he did in the 12 games before his injury last season (970), and is on pace for career-highs in rushing yardage (1,805) and average (5.8).

17. Detroit Lions [13] — Calvin Johnson had the game his fantasy owners have been waiting for (12 rec, 207 yds, TD), but Detroit went 1/9 on third downs and the defense got ripped apart by Peterson (171 yds). The Lions couldn't even stop Christian Ponder (221 yds, 2 TD, 114.2 rating), despite the absence of top target Percy Harvin. The Lions have three straight home games (five of the remaining seven, actually), but they're all against teams with winning records: Packers, Texans, Colts.

18. San Diego Chargers [18] — Philip Rivers' pick-six was as bad a play as you could ask for, a terrible decision and an awful throw. It was a 10-point swing in a game San Diego lost by 10.

19. Cincinnati Bengals [25] — Andy Dalton passed for just 199 yards, but with 4 TDs and no interceptions. The only active QBs with a 4-TD, 0-INT, under-200-yard passing game are Dalton, Ben Roethlisberger (in 2007), and Tarvaris Jackson (in '08).

Since 1960, the only players with more than one such game are Hall of Famers Bob Griese and Steve Young. Teams are 23-0 when their QB combines those stats.

20. Washington Redskins [19] — Scored at least 24 points in each of their first four games. They've scored fewer than 24 in four of the five games since, including season-lows of 12 and 13 in their last two games. RG3 is still an exciting player and prospect, but he's not terrorizing defenses the way he did earlier in the season, and he's getting no help from his defense.

21. Miami Dolphins [17] — CBS reported before the game that Reggie Bush won't be re-signed after the season. The team reinforced this by giving Bush only 4 carries in their blowout loss to Tennessee.

22. St. Louis Rams [27] — Danny Amendola's 80-yard play to open overtime was negated by a careless illegal formation penalty. Later, Greg Zuerlein's game-winning 53-yard field goal was negated by a careless delay of game penalty. That's particularly inexcusable because it came immediately following a St. Louis timeout. A freaking minute wasn't enough time to get your field goal team ready? Zuerlein missed the 58-yard kick that followed the penalty, and the 49ers took over two yards shy of midfield.

23. Tennessee Titans [28] — I wonder if Tennessee is the first team ever to allow only 3 points one week after giving up more than 50 points. Probably.

24. Cleveland Browns [23] — A 2-3 record at home is not great, but it's better than 0-4 on the road. The Browns can be mathematically eliminated from a division title in Week 11, if they lose and the Ravens win.

25. New York Jets [20] — The offense is bad, but really, Mark Sanchez never had a chance. He has a bad offensive line, bad running game, no standout receivers. And he has to deal with constant public speculation about his job. Has any QB in history succeeded in a situation like that?

26. Carolina Panthers [24] — Went 0/12 on third down against Denver. They rank 27th in points per game (18.6).

27. Philadelphia Eagles [22] — After a weekend in which three starting quarterbacks were sidelined by concussions, Michael Vick's is the one being called "serious." Rookie Nick Foles will start next week's game in Washington, and immediately face one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

28. Oakland Raiders [26] — No sacks against Joe Flacco. I know Richard Seymour was out, but there's got to be some pressure on the QB. Oakland's 3.3% sack rate is 2nd-worst in the league (Jaguars, 3.0%).

29. Buffalo Bills [29] — Gained 481 yards and 35 first downs against the Patriots, but killed themselves with penalties, turnovers, and terrible defense.

30. Arizona Cardinals [30] — Defense leads the NFL in sack percentage (8.9%). Unfortunately, so does the offense (10.4%).

31. Kansas City Chiefs [32] — Their season can be summed up by a play in the third quarter. With the game tied at 10, Pittsburgh had 3rd-and-7 at its own 26. Ben Roethlisberger appeared to fumble, and Justin Houston ran it into the end zone. The entire Chiefs defense joined in for an uncomfortable dance, the most obvious celebration penalty I've seen in years. The problem is, Roethlisberger didn't fumble; it was a forward pass. But instead of 4th-and-long deep in their own territory, the Steelers got 1st-and-10 at the 41 because of the penalty.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars [31] — Probably weren't going to win anyway, but they sure got jobbed by the officials on Thursday. Even NFL Network's Mike Mayock commented on it: "All of them have gone against Jacksonville — every one of these close calls." The Jaguars are worst in the NFL in point differential (-119), and they'll be officially eliminated from division title contention when if they lose at Houston this week.

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