Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NFL Week 11 Power Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* Another entry in the Brian Billick quote hall: "Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you for even trying." Uh, that's not quite how it goes.

* Following a scuffle near the sideline, Billick also mentioned that he saw "temperatures starting to flare." At least there's an explanation for that: sunspots.

* If Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden are trying to drive me crazy, they're doing a fine job. I'm not going to address this week's broadcast, because it would get me upset all over again and take up the whole column.

* Last week, Clete Blakeman's officiating crew oversaw an embarrassing clock error, losing over a minute of game time. This week, the same crew was on hand for a clock error in Houston. Like Blakeman, Ed Hochuli does a great impersonation of the replacement refs: "The ruling on the field stands. Although, as I said, it's not a reviewable play." You just reviewed it, champ.

* I have mixed feelings about Ed Reed's suspension for repeated fouls against defenseless receivers. I like that the NFL is suspending someone, because 4- and 5-digit fines are pointless. I don't like that Reed was singled out to send a message, because he's a big name. I suppose overall it's a move in the right direction, that being player safety. [Update: Reed won his appeal with the league and will not be suspended. I guess maybe that's a move in the wrong direction.]

***

I don't understand how great coaches can screw up so badly on gameday. Andy Reid is one of the most successful coaches of this generation, but he seems incapable of game-day adjustments. The same was true of Tony Dungy. Right now, Exhibit A is the Steelers' Mike Tomlin.

This week's defeat against Baltimore resembled last year's playoff loss in Denver: ineffective play from an injured quarterback, and poor clock management in the second half. Pittsburgh's misuse of timeouts at the end of Sunday night's game made Jason Garrett look good by comparison. The Steelers wasted two precious timeouts in the third quarter, and Tomlin waited until 2:04 in the fourth to use his last one, repeatedly letting Baltimore run 35 to 40 seconds off between plays. The problem with waiting so long was that when Brett Keisel jumped offsides, the clock ran down to the two-minute warning without the Ravens having to run a play, costing Pittsburgh :40.

On a related note, when the Steelers got the ball back, why on earth did Rashard Mendenhall turn upfield instead of running out of bounds? He probably gained three extra yards, but he lost 20 seconds. Jonathan Dwyer is clearly the best player in that backfield right now, and it's actually kind of weird that Mendenhall still gets to play regularly. But Tomlin won't sit his players down, even when he clearly needs to.

Byron Leftwich looked great on the first drive of the game, but an early rib injury rendered him totally ineffective afterwards. Leftwich repeatedly underthrew open receivers, and cost the Steelers their biggest game of the season, Ravens at home. What is it about Tomlin and injured, ineffective QBs? You're supposed to be the leader of this team, Coach. Everyone wants to play. It's your job to tell some of them they don't get to.

We saw the same thing last year, when a banged-up Ben Roethlisberger absorbed ridiculous levels of punishment against the 49ers, and again when — clearly not at 100% — Ben under-performed in a shocking playoff loss to Denver. That's not loyalty to your players. It's loyalty to one player, and disrespect to all the rest of them. Step up and be a leader, Coach Tomlin. If the quarterbacks run the team, why are you even there?

Moving on the power rankings, and as always, brackets show previous rank. Also, a wish I think we can all get behind: peace in the Middle East. Both sides need to end the violence.

1. Houston Texans [1] — You've surely heard that Matt Schaub passed for 527 yards in their comeback victory against Jacksonville. But did you remember that the week before, Schaub passed for a total of 95 yards? He threw for 5.5 times as much yardage on Sunday. Between this performance and Ben Roethlisberger's injury, Schaub probably becomes the favorite to earn a spot as the third quarterback on the AFC's Pro Bowl roster (behind Peyton Manning and Tom Brady). Houston finished the game with 640 yards and 39 first downs.

2. Denver Broncos [2] — Von Miller posted his second 3-sack game in the last three weeks, and now leads the AFC (13). Willis McGahee left Sunday's game with a knee injury. It was initially thought not to be serious, but Monday revealed a torn MCL and a fracture.

3. San Francisco 49ers [8] — After their huge Monday night win, head coach Jim Harbaugh was noncommittal about his quarterback situation. A reporter asked, "Is Colin [Kaepernick] your starting quarterback going forward?" Harbaugh answered, "We'll see. Usually tend to go with the guy who's got the hot hand, and we've got two quarterbacks that have got a hot hand. Thought Colin did an outstanding job, thought he did a great job, poise in the pocket, pushing the ball, throwing with accuracy, did a nice job running the game plan. Everything he did was exemplar [sic]."

4. New England Patriots [4] — The big news is that Rob Gronkowski broke his forearm. Early reports indicate he might be out for 4-6 weeks, basically the rest of the regular season. Coming into Week 11, five teams were favored by at least a touchdown: Houston (-15), New England (-9½), Atlanta (-9), Denver (-9), and Dallas (-7). All of them won, but three escaped in nail-biters, and only the Patriots beat the spread ... which they did by 25½. The Patriots actually won by more than the other four teams combined.

5. Green Bay Packers [6] — Last season, the Packers averaged 405.1 yards per game on offense and 411.6 allowed on defense. This season, they average 345.5 offensively and 343.9 allowed. Totaled up, that's 128.5 yards per game fewer this year. The Packers have won five in a row since their wake-up loss to the Colts on October 7.

6. Atlanta Falcons [5] — Howie Long: "To say that Atlanta's resilient would be an understatement." This team keeps winning games it should lose. Does it mean the Falcons are mediocre that they keep falling behind against teams like the Panthers, Raiders, and Cardinals? Or does it mean they're great that they keep overcoming adversity and doing enough to win? It's not very often you see a team lose the turnover battle by five and leave with a victory.

7. Chicago Bears [3] — Out-gained 249-35 in the first half, and mailed it in from there. Chicago's defense had forced multiple turnovers in every game this season, but it didn't generate any against the 49ers. You hear people talk about "throwing out the game film". That's appropriate in this case. You can't scout Chicago's defense based on this game. Every player on that unit had his worst game of the season (except maybe Brian Urlacher, because he was hurt the first few games).

Near the end of the third quarter, Devin Hester ran one of the worst punt returns in NFL history. He was generously given forward progress that made it a loss of nine, but it looked to me like he ran 15 yards backwards before the tackle. He later fumbled a kickoff and fielded a punt at his own 4-yard line. Chicago's performance was a disaster in all three phases. The most notable, though, has to be the offensive line. Jason Campbell played poorly, but he was under constant pressure. The Bears now rank 30th in yards per game, dropping under 300 (299.4).

8. Baltimore Ravens [9] — They're 3-0 since the bye, including two road wins inside the division. The Ravens only gained 200 yards and 12 first downs against Pittsburgh, but they got a special teams touchdown and two turnovers to set up the 13-10 victory. Baltimore's leading receivers this season:

1. Anquan Boldin, 48
2. Ray Rice, 40
3. Dennis Pitta, 38
4. Torrey Smith, 32

Smith has more receiving touchdowns (7) than the rest of the team combined (6), but the Ravens need more consistency from him. In five of the team's 10 games, Smith had 2 or fewer receptions.

9. Seattle Seahawks [10] — Three of their next four games are on the road, but one is against the reeling Dolphins and another against the Bills in Toronto. If the Seahawks win either one, and sweep their remaining home games, they'll end up 10-6, and probably in the playoffs.

10. New Orleans Saints [11] — Handled their business in Oakland, but the defense managed to allow over 400 yards for the 10th game in a row. I know the TV people are excited about them getting back to .500, but to make the playoffs, they'll have to pass the Vikings, Buccaneers, Seahawks, and Cowboys, and they'll have to do it against this schedule: 49ers, at Falcons, at Giants, Bucs, at Cowboys, Panthers. Do you see five wins in those six games? I can't imagine a 9-7 team making the playoffs in the NFC.

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [12] — Nice two-minute drill from the league's most underappreciated offense. The Buccaneers, Texans, and Cowboys all trailed by double-digits this week before coming back to win in overtime. Also, it looked to me like Doug Martin broke the plane.

12. Pittsburgh Steelers [7] — The bright side: since they lost on Sunday night, maybe they won't associate those ghastly bumblebee jerseys with good luck and they'll stop wearing them for the rest of time.

13. New York Giants [13] — It's hard to believe the Cowboys might play to their potential and overtake New York in the NFC East, but looking at the Giants' schedule, you can understand why fans and analysts are considering the possibility. The Giants face three more opponents with winning records (GB, ATL, BAL), plus the Saints, a road game against a team that swept them last season (WAS), and a Week 17 matchup with the Eagles that might be meaningless by then.

14. Cincinnati Bengals [19] — Dominated the Chiefs in too many ways to list them all, and if the Steelers or Colts falter, Cincinnati could return to the playoffs. The Bengals haven't reached the postseason in consecutive years since 1981-82.

15. Dallas Cowboys [14] — We all know Tony Romo is a choker who can't play under pressure, but this week the Cowboys scored 17 fourth-quarter points and won in overtime. Fine, they shouldn't have needed a fifth quarter to get past the Browns, but for this team, it's a big deal to win the ones they're supposed to and play well at the end of a tight game. Dez Bryant (12 rec, 145 yds, TD) led the Cowboys in receiving yards for the second week in a row.

16. Minnesota Vikings [16] — At 6-4, Minnesota is very much in the playoff hunt, but a tough remaining schedule and losses to Seattle and Tampa mean the Vikings are a long shot. Speaking of that remaining schedule, however, Minnesota has four games left against the Bears and Packers. That could be good or bad, depending on how you look at it. I'm seeing it as bad.

17. Detroit Lions [17] — Calvin Johnson only has 3 TDs, but he's averaging even more yards per game (111.7) than he did last season (105.1), and leads the NFL by over 100. Johnson has gained over 125 receiving yards for three weeks in a row. With three more 125-yard performances in the last six games, he would tie Lance Alworth for most in a single season (8).

18. Indianapolis Colts [15] — Let's go easy on the hype for Andrew Luck, who this week tossed two INTs returned for touchdowns. He's thrown for a lot of yardage, because he's 2nd in the NFL in pass attempts, but Luck ranks 28th in passer rating, between Blaine Gabbert and Mark Sanchez. Seriously.

19. San Diego Chargers [18] — Lost five of their last six, but four of them were against pretty good teams (Saints, Bucs, Broncos twice) and none of them were blowouts. Kendall Reyes (2 sacks this week) subs out too often for my taste. Maybe the Chargers coaches see something I don't, but it seems like he should be on the field more often. I don't get why he's behind Vaughn Martin on the depth chart.

20. Washington Redskins [20] — Through the first 10 games of his pro career, Robert Griffin III has thrown for more yards than the opposing quarterback only twice. But he's also out-rushed the opponent's top RB seven times, including 1,000-yard rushers Doug Martin and Adrian Peterson. This week, RG3 became the first rookie in history to record a perfect passer rating (158.3), though he did so on only 15 attempts. Santana Moss' 61-yard touchdown grab in double coverage is one of the highlights of the year.

21. Tennessee Titans [23] — Chris Johnson's stats, first five games and last five:

Chart

Johnson has rushed for at least 90 yards in five straight, and he's now 6th in the NFL in rushing.

22. New York Jets [25] — Maybe they hadn't been distracted enough recently. With the Jets generating all sorts of gossipy headlines, the team went into St. Louis and took care of business. Next time they start to struggle, maybe Rex Ryan can announce a barefoot press conference or something.

23. Buffalo Bills [29] — Opposite of their Week 11 game, when the offense posted big numbers and they got shredded everywhere else. Against Miami, the Bills went 2/12 on third down and finished with just 281 yards, but they held Miami to 184 and got a great game from their special teams, including a punt return TD by Leodis McKelvin and a superb performance by rookie punter Shawn Powell. With the Bills up 19-14 and 4:42 left in the game, Powell punted from his own 47. He angled the ball out of bounds at the 1-yard line. That's about as perfect as a punt can be, 52 yards and down at the 1 with no help from the coverage team. Powell left Miami inside its own 20 five times, with no touchbacks. That kind of thing is the difference in close games.

24. Cleveland Browns [24] — 12th straight road loss. They were flagged for 12 penalties and 129 penalty yards against Dallas, including 8 for 109 yards in the second half and overtime.

25. St. Louis Rams [22] — Fourth straight game without a defensive takeaway. Fifth straight game without winning.

26. Carolina Panthers [26] — Another heart-breaking loss. They're 0-6 in games decided by 7 points or less, and they led in the fourth quarter in most of them.

27. Miami Dolphins [21] — Since 1986 — Jim Kelly's first season in Buffalo — the Dolphins have had a winning record 15 times, and in those 15 seasons, they have gone 5-10 in Buffalo. This year's Dolphins probably won't have a winning record, but a November night game in Buffalo was already a long shot.

Ryan Tannehill looked really bad on Thursday night (124 yds, 46.9 rating), bad enough that Miami probably needs dominant defensive performances to win with him. This offseason, though, the team desperately needs to add a credible deep threat at wide receiver. Give the young QB a chance.

28. Arizona Cardinals [30] — Three points about the Cardinals:

1. To lose when your defense generates six takeaways, you need a really bad offense. The Cardinals gained only 7 first downs and 178 yards against Atlanta.

2. Why do so many players stand around when there's a ball on the ground? How many times have you seen players literally walk away from a ball that was ruled a fumble? Sure, it might be an incomplete pass, but why not go to the effort of bending down and picking the ball up in case it's not? Jonathan Babineaux's 15-yard fumble return TD was probably the difference between winning and losing this week.

3. Another big game from LaRod Stephens-Howling. He'll probably go back to kick-returning and third down duties now that Beanie Wells is getting healthy, but it looks like he's the best RB on this roster. Statistical comparison of LSH vs. Wells, Ryan Williams, and William Powell combined:

Chart

Two of the three times Stephens-Howling has gotten 15 or more carries, he's rushed for 100 yards with a 5.0 average and a touchdown. Since Ken Whisenhunt took over as head coach 5½ years ago, the Cardinals only have 10 games in which a player rushed for 100 and scored a TD. That's 10 out of a possible 90 games, 11% of the time. Stephens-Howling has done it twice in the last month, 50% of the time. Don't bench the hot hand; give this guy a shot.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars [32] — This is the highest I've ranked them all season. The contrast between Chad Henne and Helpless Blaine Gabbert is night and day. Why did it take an injury to get Gabbert out of there? Meanwhile, running back Jalen Parmele showed more spark than Rashad Jennings, who still has yet to justify the hype. I would be surprised, but not shocked, if Jacksonville wins its next three in a row.

30. Philadelphia Eagles [27] — In Nick Foles' first start, Andy Reid had him drop back 50 times: 2 interceptions, 4 sacks, 21 completions, and 23 incomplete. LeSean McCoy also left the game with a concussion. It's not clear whether or not he'll go in Week 12, but rookie Bryce Brown is the fantasy handcuff.

31. Oakland Raiders [28] — Allowed at least 38 points for the third week in a row, and they have the worst scoring defense in the NFL (32.2 pts/gm). Carson Palmer is 3rd in the league in passing yardage (3,035), with his highest passer rating since 2007 (85.8).

32. Kansas City Chiefs [31] — Benched Matt Cassel this week. Does it matter? They don't have Len Dawson sitting on the bench.

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