Tuesday, September 17, 2013

NFL Week 2 Report

By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* I know the media likes Robert Griffin III, but I think FOX went overboard Sunday afternoon. About halfway through the second quarter of the early games, the scroll bar showing stats at the bottom of the screen gave everyone's last name as Griffin.

* The AFC North and NFC East are winless outside of their divisions.

* We keep hearing about Champ Bailey's absence, but through two games, Denver's Tony Carter has an interception and 8 passes defensed.

* If my fantasy football draft were today and I had the top pick, I'd choose LeSean McCoy. But I'd handcuff with Bryce Brown really aggressively.

* How many players left the field this week with knee or ankle injuries? The NFL's emphasis on avoiding hits to the head is getting a lot of people hurt.

Thursday Night Game

New England Patriots 13, New York Jets 10

* We're doing this game Memento-style, starting at the end and working up to the beginning. Rich Eisen summed things up for the Patriots on the postgame show: "It was not pretty, it wasn't Picasso, it wasn't Rembrandt, really we don't know any artwork that this would resemble tonight, but it's a W."

* Brad Nessler in the fourth quarter: "A sloppy game is gonna have a messy ending."

* Nessler, earlier, following one of many dropped passes: "It's frustrating to coaches, it's frustrating to quarterbacks, quite frankly it's frustrating me."

* It wasn't just the rainy second half that was ugly. Less than 20 minutes into the game, Mike Mayock noted, "Penalties, replays, challenges ... it's been a funky game."

* Tom Brady obviously doesn't trust any of his receivers other than Julian Edelman right now, and he appears to have good reason for that. Last season, the league-worst Cardinals averaged 15.4 first downs, the league average was about 19.5, and the Patriots averaged 27.8. On Thursday, the Patriots only gained 9 first downs. It looks like this offense will be pretty bad until Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski return to the field.

* At the beginning of the season, most fans expected the Bills and Jets to rank among the worst teams in the NFL. The Patriots struggled to beat both of them, winning by a combined 5 points. I'm not sure this is an above-average team right now.

* Terrible idea that needs to end immediately: NFL Network identifies two "difference makers" and tracks their stats throughout the game rather than showing starting lineups. That is not fan-friendly.

Sunday's Games

Green Bay Packers 38, Washington Redskins 20

* Let's talk about Brandon Meriweather. He's a headhunter. It's no secret: Meriweather hits hard, and he goes for the kill shot. In the first quarter of Sunday's game, Meriweather went helmet-to-helmet on Eddie Lacy, knocking the Packers rookie out of the game. Shortly afterwards, he went helmet-to-helmet on Lacy's backup, James Starks, and KO-ed himself. That's two dangerous hits, two knockouts. I know the NFL hates Ndamukong Suh, but Meriweather is the most reckless and dangerous player in the league.

* Don't let the final score fool you: Green Bay led 31-0 before taking its foot off the gas pedal in the last 20 minutes. Aaron Rodgers passed for 335 yards and 3 TDs in the first half alone.

* Garbage-time stat-padding aside, Washington has really struggled so far. The Eagles and Packers outscored them by a combined 50-7 in the first half. RG3 needs to start running again.

San Diego Chargers 33, Philadelphia Eagles 30

* Another big day for Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, and DeSean Jackson, but Philadelphia's defense is not good. It got burned in the second half last week, and throughout the game against San Diego. The Chargers picked up 33 first downs, including 10/15 third down conversions, and 539 yards of total offense.

* San Diego doubled the Eagles' time of possession (40:17/19:43) and ran 20 more plays than Chip Kelly's up-tempo offense. You don't want to draw dramatic conclusions after only two games, but Philip Rivers looks like he might be really good again.

Chicago Bears 31, Minnesota Vikings 30

* The Vikings went 0/3 in the red zone and lost by one point. They kicked three field goals of less than 30 yards. Let's say you go for it on two of those. Once you turn the ball over and Chicago gets terrible field position, about its own 5-yard line. The other time you score a touchdown. Even assuming that Chicago's drive is just a productive as after a kickoff — unlikely — that one TD is worth more than two field goals, and now you could get a tie and overtime.

* Christian Ponder struggled last year, so the team brought in Greg Jennings and Cordarelle Patterson. Defenses still focus on stopping Adrian Peterson. It's time for Ponder to start producing.

* Peterson's stated goal this season is 2,500 rushing yards. He's currently on pace for 1,544. He'll have to average 164.8 per game to meet his goal.

Miami Dolphins 24, Indianapolis Colts 20

* Either this was a really crisply-played game, or Clete Blakeman's officiating crew took a hands-off approach. The Colts had only three penalties, and the Dolphins zero.

* The Dolphins worked hard to upgrade their defense through free agency. Brent Grimes is off to a nice start, with 5 passes defensed through two games.

Kansas City Chiefs 17, Dallas Cowboys 16

* Facing a defense that generated six turnovers last week, the Chiefs committed none.

* Starting quarterbacks with no interceptions the first two weeks: Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Jake Locker, and Alex Smith. The Chiefs finished last season -24 in turnover differential, and their QBs threw more INTs than TDs in 12 of the team's 16 games. It's only been two weeks, but Smith looks like an impact player. Kansas City has gone from a joke to a possible playoff contender.

Buffalo Bills 24, Carolina Panthers 23

* The Bills sacked Cam Newton six times, including 4.5 by Mario Williams. Rough game for Jordan Gross.

* I know Buffalo fans are excited about E.J. Manuel. But I heard someone on TV (Dan Patrick, I think) talk about how long it had been since Bills fans had a young QB they could be excited about. How long ago was it, though, really? Six years. In 2007, the team had a rookie quarterback from Stanford who won five of his first six starts, each of the first three against teams that had made the playoffs the season before. I'm not saying Manuel will be Trent Edwards, but let's not get carried away.

Atlanta Falcons 31, St. Louis Rams 24

* Halftime score: Falcons 24, Rams 3.

* You've gotta feel bad for Steven Jackson. After nine years with the Rams, he returns to St. Louis as a Falcon, scores a touchdown on the first drive ... and immediately leaves the game with an injury.

Baltimore Ravens 14, Cleveland Browns 6

* CBS hates football and hates football fans. I don't live in Baltimore or Cleveland, but this was the early game my local CBS affiliate chose to show. It was expected to be the worst Sunday afternoon game, and it lived up (or down) to expectations. The unique Eagles' offense against the rejuvenated Chargers? The re-loaded Dolphins against Andrew Luck and the Colts? The contending Texans and the surprising Titans? Nope, let's show two bad teams, and more than that, two boring bad teams. Even when they're good, the Ravens are not fun to watch. They're not even good right now.

* The Browns were charged with delay of game three times. This offense has no cohesion.

Houston Texans 30, Tennessee Titans 24

* Houston kicker Randy Bullock went 0-for-3 on field goal attempts, missing from 50, 50, and 46.

* For the Texans, same story as last week: close on the scoreboard, dominant on paper. Houston led the Titans by 11 first downs and 204 yards.

* After back-to-back fourth quarter comebacks, can we put to rest the notion that Matt Schaub isn't clutch enough for Houston to win a title?

* Brian Cushing: 11 solo tackles, including 4 for a loss, 2 of them sacks.

Oakland Raiders 19, Jacksonville Jaguars 9

* It took the Jaguars 117 minutes to score their first touchdown of the season. They still don't have an extra point.

* Maurice Jones-Drew left this game with an ankle injury. I warned fantasy owners last month that MJD was a risky draft choice. 28-year-old RBs just don't rebound like that without switching to a different offense.

Arizona Cardinals 25, Detroit Lions 21

* Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Bush both left this game with lower-body injuries. Fitzgerald, dealing with a sore hamstring, skipped the second half, but he assured reporters he'll be ready in Week 3. An MRI revealed "no structural damage" to Bush's knee injury, but his status for Week 3 is not clear yet.

* Last week, DeAndre Levy's interception return for a touchdown was called back on a penalty. This week, he returned a pick 66 to the end zone, no flags. If he can keep doing this every week, we won't have to argue about whether J.J. Watt or Richard Sherman deserves Defensive Player of the Year.

* Arizona's Dave Zastudil punted to Detroit five times. Those five punts were returned a total of 8 yards (1.6 avg) and three of the five were down inside the 10. In a close game, that's a big deal.

Denver Broncos 41, New York Giants 23

* The NFC East went 0-4 in Week 2. It's too early to write off New York and Washington in this weak division.

* With four minutes left before halftime, David Wilson showed why the Giants have to put up with his fumbling, making the most impressive two-yard gain since Barry Sanders. He broke three tackles just getting back to the line of scrimmage.

* All-pro tackle Ryan Clady has a Lisfranc sprain. I'd be surprised if he plays again before Denver's Week 9 bye.
(UPDATE: Clady is out for the season.)

* There was a stretch in the third quarter of this game where you could come away with the impression that one or more officials on Gene Steratore's crew are pretty big Giants fans.

* Peyton Manning is now 3-0 against brother Eli, but all the hip kids know that if those games had been in the playoffs, the Giants would have won all three. If this had been the Super Bowl, Eli would have chosen not to throw 4 interceptions, because he's clutch and that's how he rolls.

* It's easy to blame the Giants' troubles on Eli and his league-leading seven interceptions, but he's getting desperate because of their third-down percentage (1/11 vs. DEN) and red zone efficiency. The Giants don't capitalize on their field position. They move between the 20s, but they stall before the end zone and kick way too many short field goals. Last year, the Giants led the NFL in field goal attempts of under 30 yards (11) and field goal attempts of under 40 yards (27). That's a lot of short kicks, and you've just got to turn more of those into touchdowns.

New Orleans Saints 16, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14

* The first of two weather-delays in Week 2, with the game postponed over an hour for the Tampa Bay lightning.

* In the first half, Tampa had more penalties (7) than first downs (6). The Bucs finished with 273 yards of offense and 118 penalty yards against.

Seattle Seahawks 29, San Francisco 49ers 3

* I think Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth are bad luck. Two of their three games this year have been delayed by dangerous weather.

* Michele Tafoya is the only sideline reporter I like.

* I really hope the NFL will look into what happened on the first quarter punt block. A whistle blew and several Seahawks stood up. This wasn't one or two Niners breaking through the line to reach the punter, it was a jailbreak, the whole team. That's not bad special teams, it's confusion about whether the ball is live.

* This point is about my fantasy team, and I know that's usually boring, but it's relevant here. I read a lot of fantasy football columns; they're a great source of information and insight. Most big sports journalists get caught up in conventional wisdom, and they say things that are obviously false. But fantasy guys are bound by the numbers — they have to go by what actually happens.

But sometimes that focus on numbers gets them away from common sense. My primary fantasy league is small, four teams, so all our starters are really good. This week I benched C.J. Spiller to play Jamaal Charles and Marshawn Lynch. All the fantasy experts were really down on Lynch, facing a tough San Francisco run defense. But Lynch owns the 49ers. He's the one RB in the league who is Niner-proof. You play him because of the matchup. Sure enough, 98 rushing yards, 39 receiving yards, and 3 TDs.

* Collinsworth complained during the game, "Lynch has had one 21-yard run and not much other than that." This was in the first quarter, and he's complaining about someone who's already got a 20-yard run.

Monday Night Football

Cincinnati Bengals 20, Pittsburgh Steelers 10

* I agree with Steve Young: the Bengals held serve. The defense mostly played well, Andy Dalton had a pretty good second half, Giovani Bernard showed explosive potential, their offensive line seems good (especially Clint Boling). But the takeaway here wasn't the Bengals; we didn't really learn much about them. What we saw on Monday night was that the Steelers are in a lot of trouble. They're not good.

* Pivotal play: late in the first quarter, Ben Roethlisberger completes a 34-yard pass to David Paulson. Cincinnati's Adam Jones snatches the ball and insists it was a fumble. The Steelers run to the line, presumably so they can run a play before the Bengals get a chance to challenge. Then ... they stop. They huddle, they let the play clock run down to :04, and finally Marvin Lewis throws the challenge flag. It was a fumble, and instead of an easy field goal (or possible touchdown) for Pittsburgh, the Bengals drive 87 yards for the go-ahead TD. Why did Pittsburgh slow down?

* ESPN ran a great split screen while Ben was letting the Bengals challenge. They showed a replay of Paulson's fumble on one side, with live action (of an ill-advised huddle) on the other. As a fan, I appreciate that.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

I spent several hours last week playing with the NFL's PFHOF voting tool, choosing between two of this year's nominees for Canton. It's a waste of time, and I need to stop, but as someone with extensive interest in NFL history, I feel strongly about these things. I don't stop watching football during the offseason. I watch NFL Films productions and old game tapes, I read football books and the SI Vault, I do deeply involved statistical analyses, and I talk football with anyone who can hold up one end of the conversation. Even in the offseason, I devote a ton of attention to pro football, and in particular to football history.

There are 126 "modern" nominees this year, and I've broken them into four groups. The first are players, coaches, and contributors whom I fully support and would vote for enthusiastically. The second are individuals I wouldn't select in the early rounds of balloting, and might or might not go thumbs-up as Finalists, but I wouldn't have a problem with them getting in. The third group is comprised of those for whom I probably wouldn't vote, but I see the appeal of their candidacy. The fourth are people who have no business in the Hall of Fame without buying a ticket.

These are opinions, not predictions.

Group 1: Strong Candidates

Tiki Barber, Terrell Davis, Herschel Walker, Tim Brown, Henry Ellard, Marvin Harrison, Joe Jacoby, Walter Jones, Will Shields, Michael Strahan, Derrick Brooks, Kevin Greene, Zach Thomas, Steve Atwater, LeRoy Butler, Rodney Harrison, Aeneas Williams, Morten Andersen, Don Coryell, Clark Shaughnessy, Bobby Beathard, Steve Sabol, Paul Tagliabue, Ron Wolf, George Young

I deliberately made this a group of 25, the number of candidates who will advance to the semi-finalist stage. Top 10: Tim Brown, Marvin Harrison, Walter Jones, Will Shields, Michael Strahan, Derrick Brooks, Kevin Greene, Zach Thomas, Morten Andersen, Steve Sabol.

If you oppose any of those 10, I just don't believe you have a good understanding of pro football.

Group 2: Borderline Candidates

Randall Cunningham, Roger Craig, Ricky Watters, Jimmy Smith, Mark Bavaro, Mike Kenn, Tom Nalen, Bryant Young, Cornelius Bennett, Clay Matthews, Karl Mecklenburg, Sam Mills, Albert Lewis, John Lynch, Darren Woodson, Gary Anderson, Brian Mitchell, Tony Dungy, Richie Petitbon, Bill Polian

I listed 25 strong candidates and 20 borderline: 45 of the 126 nominees, just over a third. That includes 1 QB, 5 RB, 4 WR, 1 TE, 5 OL, 2 DL, 7 LB, 7 DB, 3 special teamers, 4 coaches, 4 personnel guys, 1 league commissioner, and the most important person in the history of televised sports, the architect of NFL Films. I know casual fans tend to support the offensive glory positions, but there's a lot more to the game. Other than first-time nominees, everyone in this group is discussed in my article last year on Hall of Fame snubs.

Group 3: Weak Candidates

Doug Flutie, Ottis Anderson, Priest Holmes, Gary Clark, Andre Reed, Sterling Sharpe, Rod Smith, Willie Anderson, Tony Boselli, Lomas Brown, Jim Covert, Jay Hilgenberg, Chris Hinton, Kent Hull, Jim Lachey, Nate Newton, Steve Wisniewski, Charles Haley, Too Tall Jones, Dexter Manley, Charles Mann, Steve McMichael, Fred Smerlas, Ted Washington, Eric Allen, Joey Browner, Everson Walls, Steve Tasker, Bill Arnsparger, Bill Cowher, Tom Flores, Mike Holmgren, Jimmy Johnson, Dan Reeves, Marty Schottenheimer, Bud Adams, Gil Brandt, Otho Davis, Eddie Kotal, Robert Kraft, Elmer Layden, Art McNally, Art Modell

Forty-three people in this group. I don't think any of them should get in, but I suppose it's possible my mind could change in the future.

Group 4: It's An Honor Just to Be Nominated

Drew Bledsoe, Trent Green, Steve McNair, Phil Simms, Shaun Alexander, Jerome Bettis, Larry Centers, Stephen Davis, Warrick Dunn, Eddie George, Dave Meggett, Eric Metcalf, Mark Clayton, Keyshawn Johnson, Keenan McCardell, Don Mosebar, Jerome Brown, Tedy Bruschi, Ken Harvey, Willie McGinest, Darryl Talley, Sam Madison, Patrick Surtain, Troy Vincent, Sean Landeta, Nick Lowery, Jon Gruden, Buddy Parker, Lou Saban, Dick Vermeil, Leo Carlin, Red Cashion, Jack Kent Cooke, Eddie DeBartolo, Ron Gibbs, Jerry Jones, Jim Tunney

Without getting into the "contributors" (mostly owners and referees), everyone in this group was a good player, or a good coach. Most of them were very good. But none of them approach a Hall of Fame standard, and in each case, there are eligible players at the position who are more deserving.

There are several refs listed here. I appreciate the difficult job they do, but I just don't see them shaping the game the same way as a star player, brilliant coach, insightful GM, ground-breaking owner, or innovative league official. A good referee doesn't shape the game, avoids doing anything significant. Intending no disrespect, but voting in a Ron Gibbs or Jim Tunney while omitting someone like Bill Arnsparger or Dan Reeves seems outrageous to me. I have no problem honoring superior officials in the Hall of Fame, but not through the same process or on the same level as players and coaches.

NFL Week 2 Power Rankings

Top 10

1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Denver Broncos
3. Atlanta Falcons
4. San Francisco 49ers
5. Green Bay Packers
6. Houston Texans
7. New Orleans Saints
8. Cincinnati Bengals
9. Chicago Bears
10. Miami Dolphins

If the Seahawks get healthy, and earn home field advantage in the playoffs, they're pretty much a lock to play in Super Bowl XLVIII. I just can't see anyone beating them in that building if they're close to 100%. This ranking for Denver might be too high with Ryan Clady out of action. But when they get Von Miller and Clady back, watch out.

Bottom Three

30. Oakland Raiders
31. Cleveland Browns
32. Jacksonville Jaguars

The Broncos are favored by 15 points against Oakland next week. The Seahawks are favored by 19 over Jacksonville.

Week 3

Game of the Week

Packers at Bengals
1:00 PM Eastern, FOX

Green Bay is missing two of the best players in its secondary. Colin Kaepernick scorched the Packers in Week 1, and even a hobbled, 50% Robert Griffin put up some strong numbers in the second half on Sunday. The Bengals have a good offensive line, one of the best WRs in football, and a pair of athletic young tight ends. What kind of damage will they do to Green Bay's defense? Conversely, Cincinnati has a pretty good defense, and last year it led the NFL in sacks. Aaron Rodgers takes a lot of sacks.

Green Bay's probably the better team, but the game's in Cincinnati and the matchup might favor the Bengals. Both teams already seem like locks to win their divisions (along with Denver and Houston), but it's time for the Bengals to prove they can hang with the big boys. They don't have to win — a 1-2 start won't doom them in the anemic AFC North — but if they keep it competitive, they could be a factor in the playoffs. I'm curious to see where this one goes.

Upset of the Week

Every Sunday, I watch the pregame shows and get annoyed when studio analysts choose an "upset" that's really a coin flip. They'll pick a 1-point underdog and act like they're going out on a limb, or three of the five forecasters will choose the same "upset" of the week. This bothers me enough that every week for the rest of the season, I'll use this space to forecast an upset involving a team favored by more than 3 points. That's a nasty restriction, but an upset is a surprising, improbable result.

This week, I'll say Rams over Cowboys, in Dallas. The spread is 3.5 - 4 points, depending where you look, so this isn't an off-the-wall pick. There's a chance the St. Louis passing game could go supernova this season, and the Dallas defense didn't do particularly well the first two weeks. Meanwhile, St. Louis has a good, underrated defense, and you never know when the Cowboys will just implode and blow a game they could have won.

Last week's NFL Weekly Report is available here.

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