Tuesday, September 24, 2013

NFL Week 3 Report

By Brad Oremland

This is an NFL column, but we're starting with a different football league.

College Football

NCAA Football scheduling is a joke. Here are some scores from Saturday:

* Florida St 54, Bethune-Cookman 6
* Washington 56, Idaho St 0
* Miami 77, Savannah St 7
* Ohio St 76, Florida A&M 0
* Baylor 70, UL-Monroe 7
* Louisville 72, FIU 0

Those are ranked teams that humiliated FCS schools or beat up on bottom-end FBS teams. What do football fans gain from Miami vs. Savannah State? Did Baylor prove anything by burning down Louisiana-Monroe?

* Virginia 49, VMI 0
* Iowa 59, Western Michigan 3
* Mississippi St 62, Troy 7

Here, we've got teams from power conferences posting 50-point wins over badly outmatched opponents. I know some of the greatest games in NCAA history involve massive upsets, with a team like Troy rising up to defeat a Mississippi State. But the day when strength of schedule plays a real role in bowl selection just can't come soon enough. Scheduling cupcakes should actively lower a team's chances to earn a prestigious postseason game.

Thursday Night Game

Kansas City Chiefs 26, Philadelphia Eagles 16

* Even in victory, Alex Smith was not impressive on Thursday night. He didn't throw downfield, he turned his most dangerous receiver into a decoy, and he looked to run if his first read wasn't open. Rotoworld called it "a comically conservative performance ... [Smith is] as weak-armed as ever and allergic to risk." It worked in this game because Jamaal Charles is a stud and the Eagles committed 5 turnovers. Despite the last two weeks, I think the 49ers are happier with Colin Kaepernick.

* The pundits have turned on Chip Kelly's offense. Deion Sanders after the game: "How many times do you understand somebody rushes for 260 yards, but you have the ball almost 20 minutes less than your opponent? That is so hard to do, you have no idea." The 2013 Eagles offense reminds me a little of the 1990 Buffalo offense that lost time of possession 2:1 in Super Bowl XXV, but with more turnovers. Philadelphia's 24:25 average time of possession ranks last in the league.

* Michael Irvin: "Without the big play ... it's hard for Michael Vick to methodically drive this team the length of the field every time. I just don't think he's accurate enough." I think that's right. Vick is a big-play QB. He's got that rocket arm, and he'll hit DeSean Jackson downfield for 50. He's still one of the fastest guys on the field, and he'll take off for 40 yards. But the Eagles aren't built to put together 10-play drives, to grind out first downs when the big play isn't there.

Sunday's Games

Cleveland Browns 31, Minnesota Vikings 27

* On Wednesday, the Browns traded last year's first-round draft pick, third overall choice Trent Richardson. It was a clear indication that Cleveland is giving up on the season, tanking for a high draft pick, and betraying its fans. Except that minus Richardson, the Browns rushed for a season-high 103 yards and won their first game of the season.

* Actually, the trade probably did indicate that Cleveland is giving up on the season, but everyone knew two weeks ago that the team wasn't going to contend this year. The Browns were bad in 2012, and they didn't like this year's draft class, so they traded all their picks for higher ones next year. Trading Richardson — who last season ranked 18th in rushing yards and averaged 3.56 yards per carry — was consistent with their approach, and they got reasonable value for a player who hasn't shown anything exceptional at the pro level. Yahoo's Andy Behrens noted, "We're now 311 carries into [Richardson's] NFL career, and the guy only has two runs of over 20 yards ... If you ignore the brand-name, you'd have to say the Browns did well to get a first-round pick."

* Through three games, tight end Jordan Cameron has 20 catches for 229 yards and 4 touchdowns. His 66 receiving yards in Week 3 was a season-low.

* Adrian Peterson's stated goal this season is 2,500 rushing yards. He's currently on pace for 1,499. He'll have to average 170.7 per game to meet his goal.

Cincinnati Bengals 34, Green Bay Packers 30

* This was a weird game, with 7 fumbles, 5 recovered by the defense, and 1 run back for the game-winning touchdown. But can we talk about the Green Bay pass defense? Every quarterback they've faced has thrown for multiple touchdowns and a passer rating over 100. Colin Kaepernick looked like a miracle-worker against the Packers, but a disaster in Weeks 2 and 3.

Kaepernick vs. GB: 404 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT, 129.4 rating
Kaepernick, other: 277 yds, 0 TD, 4 INT, 32.2 rating

The Packers have a bye in Week 4, but they need Morgan Burnett and Casey Hayward back soon, hopefully before the Week 5 matchup with Calvin Johnson and the Lions.

* Last year, the Patriots, Packers, and Broncos all started the season 1-2. The NFC North battle with Chicago could be tense, but don't give up on Green Bay.

Carolina Panthers 38, New York Giants 0

* When a QB drops back to pass, there are five essential outcomes: completion, scramble, incompletion, sack, or interception. Eli Manning dropped back 31 times against Carolina; here's the breakdown:

12 completions (out of 31 dropbacks)
1 scramble
10 incompletions
7 sacks
1 interception

This was the first time since 2009 that Eli has been sacked more than four times in a game. Last year, his 3.4% sack percentage led the NFL.

Detroit 27, Washington 20

* This was the best Robert Griffin III has looked all season, but he made two critical mistakes. In the second quarter, Washington had a first down inside the red zone. With everyone covered, RG3 rolled out to his right. Rather than just throwing the ball away, he held on way too long and threw into traffic. The pass was intercepted, and Griffin took a hard hit — two bad outcomes on one play. Later, Griffin scrambled for a 21-yard gain, but slid head-first, meaning the ball was live when he fumbled and Detroit recovered.

* Griffin did look better, and Washington converted more third downs in Week 3 than in the previous two games combined. But the offense only generated 13 points. The defense scored a touchdown, Alfred Morris broke a 30-yard run, a kickoff out of bounds set up a field goal, and there was another field goal at the end with Detroit in a prevent defense. That's not a productive day.

* Washington's awful defense is poised to challenge some all-time records on the list of worst defenses. Ryan Kerrigan is genuinely good, but everyone around him is terrible.

Tennessee Titans 20, San Diego Chargers 17

* Kenny Britt was targeted five times in this game, but he didn't catch any of them, and he sat out the game-winning drive. Maybe Britt will realize his potential in the future, but I think we can write him off for the remainder of 2013. He's not a valuable asset on the field, or on anyone's fantasy team.

* With :20 left, Jake Locker connected on a 34-yard, 3rd-and-10 Hail Mary to Justin Hunter. Locker is off to a nice-ish start in 2013.

Baltimore Ravens 30, Houston Texans 9

* The Texans were my preseason Super Bowl pick, so this score surprised me. I went back and watched the first three quarters to see how it happened, and Houston didn't look bad. In fact, the Texans controlled most of the first half. But they kept kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, and there were two critical turnaround plays: an interception return for a touchdown, and a punt return for a touchdown. In the first half, Baltimore gained only 65 yards, but scored 17 points.

* Two years ago, I called out Dan Dierdorf for praising Shane Lechler right before he gave up a punt return TD by out-kicking his coverage. Dan has learned his lesson (though probably not from my column). On Sunday, with Greg Gumbel going into ecstasies about how Lechler "has made a career" out of pinning opponents deep — the opposite is true; Lechler is the worst punter in NFL history at pinning opponents deep — Dierdorf cautioned that Lechler sometimes out-kicks the coverage, leaving returners in the open field and no one within 15 yards of them. Sure enough, Lechler produced a bomb, and when Tandon Doss caught it, no one was within 15 yards. Doss ran it back 83 yards for a game-breaking touchdown.

* Newer readers may think I'm exagerrating when I say Lechler is the worst punter in NFL history at pinning opponents deep. I'm not; this is a statistical fact. He has led the NFL in touchbacks six times, basically every other year of his career. He averages 11 touchbacks per season, by far the most in the NFL. Since the start of Lechler's career, the Buccaneers are next-worst, with an average of 8. The difference between Lechler and 31st place is equal to the difference between 31st and the best in the league (Atlanta, 5). 14% of his punts become touchbacks; the next-worst is Tennessee, 10.2%. Lechler's career ratio of punts down inside the 20-yard line (333) to touchbacks (144) is 2.31, the worst in NFL history. Since Lechler joined the league, Green Bay ranks 31st, 2.78. Not only is Lechler the worst at keeping his kicks out of the end zone, he's the worst by a lot.

Anyway, props to Dierdorf for predicting the big return, and a call for Gumbel to correct himself in the future.

* The Texans don't look like a Super Bowl contender right now, but I'm not giving up on them as the best team in the AFC South. The Ravens are tough in Baltimore, and the game was closer than the score implies. On the season, the Texans have 69 first downs, compared to just 44 for their opponents. They have 1,165 yards, vs. 747 allowed. They're averaging 4.9 yards per rush and allowing just 3.3. The biggest problems are their -3 turnover differential and their 4 return TDs allowed. This team is not going to average a -1 turnover margin per game (it was +12 last year), and no team gives up a return TD every week. Things will even out, and Houston will win about 10 games. The next two are tough (Seahawks and 49ers), but they've still got the Raiders, Cardinals, and two freebies against Jacksonville.

* X-rays came back negative on Andre Johnson's bruised shin, but he had an MRI on Monday. If Johnson misses time or isn't 100%, I think the biggest beneficiary in fantasy is tight end Owen Daniels. Rookie sensation DeAndre Hopkins will see tighter coverage if Johnson is out, but Daniels will become Matt Schaub's security blanket and favorite target.

* Perhaps the biggest frustration with replacement refs last year concerned how long it took them to make decisions. John Parry reminded fans of that in the third quarter. At 2:51 Eastern time, Baltimore ran a play, a 23-yard completion to Torrey Smith. At 2:52, Texans coach Gary Kubiak threw the challenge flag. At 2:55, Parry announced that the call was reversed. But his crew mis-spotted the ball, Parry returned to the sideline, and play finally resumed at 3:01, ten minutes between plays.

* If replacement officials had done exactly the same thing, the announcers would have declared it the greatest travesty in the history of sport, and Linda Cohn would have had a meltdown in the Bristol studio. It's been a year since the league agreed to terms with more experienced referees, and I'm glad they're back on the field. But while I agree that the replacement refs were subpar, I still have a really big problem with the way mistakes were treated last season, like the "real" refs never do the same thing. They make mistakes like that all the time.

* Bernard Pierce played well for the Ravens at the end of last season, well enough that I cautioned fantasy owners about drafting Ray Rice. But Pierce has not been effective this season. He's carried 52 times for 144 yards, a 2.8 average that is more than two yards below his average last year (4.9 on 108 carries). He hasn't been over 3.0 in any game this season, and he looks slow.

Dallas Cowboys 31, St. Louis Rams 7

* In the last two weeks, the Rams have trailed at halftime by a combined score of 41-3.

* In 2011, DeMarco Murray rushed for 253 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. On Sunday, 175 and a TD, plus 28 receiving yards. I like Michael Irvin's take on Murray: just convince him that every opponent is the Rams.

* Biggest factors for Dallas: commitment to and success with Murray and the ground game, plus third-down defense and pass rush. The Cowboys sacked Sam Bradford six times, and the Rams went 1/13 on third downs. They also went 3/6 on fourth downs, which partially makes up for it (three first downs!) but kind of makes it worse (three turnovers).

New Orleans Saints 31, Arizona Cardinals 7

* Jimmy Graham is an unstoppable monster. I don't have him in any fantasy leagues, and he just kills everyone at tight end. It's especially frustrating because Graham doesn't block and probably shouldn't be considered a tight end. He plays like a wide receiver who just happens to be 6'7"and 265 lbs. But man, what a weapon.

* Last year, the Saints averaged 28:59 time of possession. Through three games, they're up to 34:26. That's a huge difference.

* The Cardinals' first drive went 11 plays, 75 yards, and a touchdown. They punted the next eight times in a row, then threw interceptions on each of their last two possessions.

New England Patriots 23, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 3

* Rookie WRs Kenbrell Thompkins (2 TDs) and Aaron Dobson (7 rec, 52 yds) finally showed up, and New England got its first easy win of the season. Tampa Bay turned the ball over on downs four times.

* In every game this season, Josh Freeman has a completion percentage under 50% and a passer rating under 70. He needs to turn things around, fast. He's not getting a lot of support from anyone right now.

Miami Dolphins 27, Atlanta Falcons 23

* This was a big win for the Dolphins, but I'm still concerned about their offense. Ryan Tannehill got sacked 5 times against Atlanta, and he's gone down 14 times already this season. The league average is about 2 per game. Lamar Miller broke a 49-yard run this weekend, but his other 7 carries produced just 13 yards. If those trends — too many sacks, unproductive runs — continue, Miami won't be able to sustain drives.

* I noted in preseason that the Falcons' "September schedule is brutal, so don't lose faith if they start 2-2." Atlanta is 1-2. It's okay. This is a good team.

New York Jets 27, Buffalo Bills 20

* The Jets had as many penalties as first downs (20), and they won. They sacked E.J. Manuel 8 times.

* Five Bills starters left the game with injuries. Three merit particular attention. Defensive end Alex Carrington is out for the year with a torn quad tendon. Leodis McKelvin, a starting cornerback and maybe the best punt returner in the league, left in the first quarter with a hamstring injury. His replacement, Justin Rogers, got torched, and McKelvin's absence may have been the difference in a close game. It sounds like C.J. Spiller is fine, and he expects to play in Week 4.

* Jets fans cheered for Carrington when he was carted off, but they initially booed and assumed he was faking an injury. Something similar happened in the Thursday night game in Philadelphia. No one wants players faking injuries to stop the clock or disrupt an opposing offense, but I'd like us all to stop booing when there's a player on the ground. Carrington's out there waiting for the cart, and fans are booing him. That has to make you feel ashamed afterward, right?

Seattle Seahawks 45, Jacksonville Jaguars 17

* The NFL's version of Ohio State vs. Florida A&M.

Indianapolis Colts 27, San Francisco 49ers 7

* I forget which analyst I heard predict a 49ers hangover from their loss in Seattle last week, but whoever it was, good call. Marshall Faulk said after the game, "They looked like they were still up in Seattle getting punched around."

* The Aldon Smith drama can't have helped the situation. Smith will take an indefinite leave of absence, reportedly about a month, to undergo rehab. Here's wishing him success.

* Patrick Willis left Sunday's game with a groin injury. He's scheduled for an MRI this week. Vernon Davis didn't play in Week 3, and as of this writing his status for Week 4 remains unclear.

* In the first half, Colin Kaepernick completed two passes to Anquan Boldin, and none to anyone else. I think Boldin is to Kaepernick as Julian Edelman is to Tom Brady: the only receiver he really trusts right now.

* The Niners gained more yards in Week 1 than in the last two games combined. They also had a special teams meltdown on Sunday, starting six of 11 drives inside their own 15-yard line.

* The Colts played Kaepernick sort of the same way Seattle did. They mirrored the offensive "pocket" with a defensive pocket, keeping Kaepernick from scrambling and allowing the second-level defenders to focus on coverage. With Davis out of the lineup, you work hard to contain Boldin, and there's no one else to throw to.

* Did the Colts just trade next year's first-round draft pick for a short-yardage specialist? Because Ahmad Bradshaw looks like a more explosive runner than Trent Richardson. In 2012, Bradshaw rushed for 1,015 yards, with a 4.59 average. Richardson rushed for 950 yards with a 3.56 average. Which one of these guys do you want handling the ball?

Chicago Bears 40, Pittsburgh Steelers 23

* This was the 10th time since the start of the 2012 season that the Bears returned an interception for a touchdown (h/t NFL.com). Ten times in 19 games. Wow.

* Tony Dungy, former Steeler: "Pittsburgh, I think they're in really, really big trouble."

* The Steelers have 35 offensive drives this year. They break down like this: 4 touchdowns, 4 field goals, 10 turnovers (1 on downs), 16 punts (11 three-and-out), 1 end of game. Ten turnovers and 11 three-and-outs. That's 60% of their offensive possessions that are just total failures. Last season, Pittsburgh ranked 2nd in the NFL in time of possession (32:12). This year, they rank 29th (26:16). It's only been three games, but that's remarkable, a 6-minute drop in average time of possession.

* The Steeler defense has yet to generate any takeaways, and the team is -9 in turnovers, tied for last in the NFL.

* Cris Collinsworth loved Jay Cutler throwing his shoulder into a defender instead of sliding. I think it was his favorite thing since Brett Favre's illegal forward pass from beyond the line of scrimmage. But if Robert Griffin III had done the same thing, wouldn't we be hearing about the unnecessary risk of injury, or how if he slid feet-first he could avoid a critical fumble? Michele Tafoya seemed awfully excited about it, too, so that her interview with Major Wright was basically just breathless questions about how awesome Cutler is. Wright didn't seem impressed, but he obviously doesn't understand what kind of impact this had on the Bears' sideline.

* Henry Melton left this game with a torn ACL, and he's out for the season. Big loss for Chicago.

Monday Night Football

Denver Broncos 37, Oakland Raiders 21

* I thought the Manning Passing Academy was in Louisiana.

* Peyton Manning is 37, and he's still the best player in the league. Jon Gruden calls him the Sheriff, because he comes into opposing stadiums and lays down the law. Mike Tirico called him the Surgeon, because he's so precise and he puts on a clinic. But hearing Steve Young and Trent Dilfer, Peyton's not anything as crude as a sheriff, or as cold and dispassionate as a surgeon. He's an artist, a visionary, a living legend whose genius no one can fully understand or replicate. Have you ever heard a music aficionado try to explain how no one plays a Bach concerto quite like Joshua Bell, or an art expert explaining what sets Monet apart from the other Impressionists? That was the reaction to Manning's performance.

I'm not making fun of Young and Dilfer, because I kind of agree with them. Peyton has changed what's expected from the quarterback position, and whenever the league seems to catch up, he somehow stays a step ahead.

* The NFL obviously does not take concussions seriously. It institutes ridiculous rules that (1) make it impossible to play defense and (2) encourage season-ending knee injuries, but Terrelle Pryor pretty obviously gets knocked unconscious, and then plays two more downs before anyone checks to see if he has a concussion. And surprise, surprise: yes, he does. We don't need dramatic rule changes, we just need better enforcement — any enforcement, really — of the procedures that supposedly are in place.

* ESPN's cast of thousands on Monday night is totally out of hand. They covered this game with Trey Wingo, Mike Ditka, Cris Carter, Tom Jackson, Chris Berman (in absentia), Keyshawn Johnson (first contestant eliminated from "Dancing With the Stars"), Suzy Kolber, Steve Young, Trent Dilfer, Ray Lewis, Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden, and Lisa Salters. That's 4-6 studio analysts and 7 people onsite to cover the game. I like Young and Dilfer, but I would love to see ESPN cut down to 3 people in the stadium.

NFL Week 3 Power Rankings

Top 10

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

I didn't lower Miami because of Cameron Wake's injury (MCL sprain, out 2-3 weeks), or Chicago because of Melton's, but I probably should have.

Bottom Three

30. Washington Redskins
31. Oakland Raiders
32. Jacksonville Jaguars

Washington plays at Oakland this week. Someone's 0 must go.

Week 4

Game of the Week

Seahawks at Texans
1:00 pm Eastern, FOX

Patriots at Falcons is obvious, but both those teams have substantial home field advantage, and I think Atlanta takes it. Dolphins at Saints on Monday night is a good one, too, but this is the game I'm most interested in.

The Texans came into this season feeling like they were a Super Bowl contender, and it hasn't looked that way so far. The Seahawks have looked incredible, but mostly at home. Last season, they went 8-0 in Seattle and 3-5 on the road. How will they handle a road game against a good team that's starting to get desperate?

Upset of the Week

The Bears are 3-point underdogs in Detroit, and that seems really weird to me, but picking 3-0 Chicago hardly counts as an upset. Instead, I'll take the Dolphins to win in New Orleans on Monday night. If Miami can make the 2013 Saints look like the 2012 Saints, this is a winnable game. Create a couple turnovers, don't commit any, hit a few big plays. It almost worked for Tampa Bay in Week 2, and the Dolphins are a lot better than Tampa.

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