Tuesday, October 1, 2013

NFL Week 4 Report

By Brad Oremland

Last week, I wrote, "The NFL obviously does not take concussions seriously ... Terrelle Pryor pretty obviously gets knocked unconscious, and then plays two more downs before anyone checks to see if he has a concussion." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement this week indicating that the incident was handled properly. It was apparent to anyone who saw the play that Pryor had gotten KO-ed, but the NFL has no problem with him staying in the game. If Commissioner Goodell is happy with the way Pryor's concussion was handled, he's going to see a lot more lawsuits from players with CTE.

People think boxing and mixed martial arts are brutal, but if the same thing happened to Pryor in a UFC fight, the match would be stopped immediately and the athlete would land on a 45-day no-contact list. The NFL is nowhere near that kind of safety standard, but Roger Goodell thinks they're doing great. Sure, Commish. Keep up the good work.

Thank You, Schedule-Makers

Four teams have a bye in Week 5. Those four teams have a combined record of 2-14 (Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington).

Thursday Night Game

San Francisco 49ers 35, St. Louis Rams 11

* Game summary, from announcers Brad Nessler and Mike Mayock, late in the third quarter...

MAYOCK: "San Francisco's averaging over 6 yards a rush."

NESSLER: "And the Rams haven't had a rush of 6 yards tonight."

The 49ers outrushed the Rams 219-18. Frank Gore had three rushes of at least 18 yards. St. Louis averaged less than one yard per attempt (19 att, 18 yds) and had no rushing first downs.

* Nessler and Mayock are by far the best announcers covering the NFL. Ness is the best play-by-play man, and Mayock is just light years ahead of the other analysts. But NFL Network doesn't provide a high-quality broadcast. The camera work is noticeably below the level you get from NBC and ESPN, there aren't enough instant replays, the sideline reporting is useless fluff, and they don't show the starting lineups. Even if they want to keep their idiotic "Difference Makers" feature, that doesn't preclude taking 20 seconds of their 3½-hour broadcast to show the lineups.

* The last 2:00 of the first half took 22 minutes.

* "I can't figure out the psychology behind this Rams offense," said Deion Sanders after the game, "Because it's atrocious." Sanders several times pointed the finger at offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and I have to agree with him. The Rams have two explosive deep threats at wide receiver (Chris Givens and Tavon Austin), but all their throws are underneath. Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle said of speedy wide receiver Del Shofner, "I hated to see Shofner reduced to catching short patterns. It's like making Mickey Mantle a pinch hitter, or asking him to bunt." Givens and Austin, at this point in their careers, aren't half the player Shofner was, but the Rams still shouldn't be asking them to bunt. Schottenheimer, the former OC for the Jets, is making Sam Bradford look a lot like Mark Sanchez.

* It's easy to see why a winning culture seems to follow Anquan Boldin. You can rhapsodize all you want about Jay Cutler throwing his shoulder into a defender, but Boldin's touchdown Thursday night was a much better example of giving exceptional effort on a critical play. I don't think there are 10 receivers in the league who I'd take ahead of him.

* In the last minute of the first half, the 49ers kicked off, leading 14-3. Rookie returner Benny Cunningham fielded the kick halfway into the end zone and ran it back to the 14-yard line. Fortunately, a penalty forced a re-kick. Once again, Cunningham took it five yards deep and ran it out. He reached the 19-yard line. His two returns cost the Rams :08 and lost a yard compared to if he had just downed it.

* If I was an NFL coach, I would fine my returners every time they brought a kick more than two yards out of the end zone and we started inside the 20-yard line. The first one would cost $1,000, and I'd double it every time they did it again. This is the most common, easily preventable mistake in the league today. There's not a single game in which you don't see some selfish halfwit return a kick he should clearly down. I would also fine the upback for not insisting the returner down it.

* Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley was injured at the end of the game, but the injury is less serious than his screams led people to believe.

Sunday's Games

Seattle Seahawks 23, Houston Texans 20 (overtime)

* Houston scored 20 points in the second quarter, none in the other four (including two possessions in overtime).

* I hate to repeat myself every week, but look at the final stats. Yardage: Houston 476, Seattle 270. First downs: Houston 29, Seattle 15. The Texans cut down on turnovers and improve their red zone play, they're one of the top five teams in the league.

* Matt Schaub threw a pick-six for the third week in a row. Houston's had two close losses, and those errant throws were critical. This week's was particularly painful, an awful decision and an equally bad throw. But I'd like the football world to ease up on Schaub a little bit.

In The Baseball Hall of Shame 4, Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo relate the story of Rudy York's 1943 season. York was not popular with his Detroit Tigers teammates, but he was a good hitter. He got off to a bad start in '43, though, and the fans began to boo him. His play only went downhill, and the fans booed even louder. It was a vicious cycle. York became tentative and performed terribly, while the fans booed him every time he came to the plate, every time he handled the ball in the field, every time his name was announced.

According to Nash and Zullo, "At the end of July, the Detroit sportswriters came to his rescue. They wrote columns condemning the public persecution of Rudy York and asked for understanding ... the booing of Rudy York quieted down. Within a few days it had died completely. Jeers gave way to cheers. Buoyed by the new support of the fans, York began swinging with his old carefree abandon." In August, York hit .330, with 17 home runs and 42 RBI, compared to 13 HR and 40 RBI in the previous four months combined.

I understand why disappointed fans boo their home players. But it seldom helps the situation, and sometimes it just adds to the pressure and makes things worse. Schaub has four straight seasons with a passer rating over 90, and he passed for over 4,000 yards in three of the four. He's never had an interception problem before and he led clutch fourth-quarter comebacks in Weeks 1 and 2. Some time this offseason, a consensus developed in the media that Schaub wasn't clutch enough, and his play to this point has done nothing to quell the argument. But for heaven's sake, go a little easy on the guy. He's a good player.

Minnesota Vikings 34, Pittsburgh Steelers 27

* Adrian Peterson's stated goal this season is 2,500 rushing yards. He's currently on pace for 1,684. He'll have to average 173.3 per game to meet his goal. He's amazing, the best RB in the league, but this goal is just not reachable in a 16-game season. It's like saying you want to swim to Jupiter.

* Jared Allen had a really big game, too: 2.5 sacks and a pass deflection.

* The Steelers are 0-4 for the first time since 1968. It's easy to blame offensive coordinator Todd Haley, but he's not the only problem. When you give up 34 to the Vikings and make Matt Cassel (123.4 passer rating) look like Aaron Rodgers, you've got to point the finger at defense. And the critical play on offense, Ben Roethlisberger's sack-fumble, was classic Ben. He's been doing that since long before Haley arrived.

Cleveland Browns 17, Cincinnati Bengals 6

* Andy Behrens: "If the Browns are trying to tank, they're terrible at it." Brian Hoyer is 2-0 as starting quarterback, but the real credit goes to the Cleveland defense, which forced 2 turnovers and made two stops on fourth down.

Buffalo Bills 23, Baltimore Ravens 20

* Both C.J. Spiller (ankle) and Fred Jackson (knee) left this game with injuries, which makes the rushing stats even more stunning. In the first half, the Bills had 25 attempts for 116 yards (4.6 avg), with 5 first downs and a TD. The Ravens had 7 attempts for 15 yards (2.1 avg), no first downs or scores.

By game's end, Buffalo finished with 55 attempts for 203 yards, with 10 first downs and a TD. The Ravens had 9 attempts for 24 yards, no first downs or TDs.

* The Bills play again on Thursday, so there's not much time for Spiller and Jackson to get healthy, but early indications are that both will play, with Jackson a little more likely than Spiller.

Detroit Lions 40, Chicago Bears 32

* Remember what we all expected from Reggie Bush when he was drafted out of USC? That's what he looks like this season. Credit offensive coordinator Scott Linehan for getting the most out of Bush.

* Bettors, I believe in the trap game. I mentioned last week that it seemed strange for Detroit to be favored over 3-0 Chicago. The Lions covered the spread and won even more easily than the final score shows. This is why it's so hard to win in Vegas: when you see a really appealing line, sometimes it's because the bookmakers are begging you to bet that way. The point spread that looks like a lock is frequently a trap.

Kansas City Chiefs 31, New York Giants 7

* Victor Cruz caught 10 passes for 164 yards and a touchdown. All other Giants receivers combined caught 8 for 53 yards.

* The Giants rank 28th in first downs (17.5/gm), dead last in third down conversions (11) and third down percentage (23%). Their offensive line is a mess, and they miss Ahmad Bradshaw.

* Half of Kansas City's defense is going to make the Pro Bowl.

Arizona Cardinals 13, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10

* Dan Marino made a good point about blaming Josh Freeman for Tampa's 0-3 start: "Two of their losses, when he left the field they were winning." Freeman has not played well this season, but he's put the team in a position to win and watched his defense blow leads.

* Mike Glennon is not ready. Arizona loaded the box to stuff Doug Martin (27 att, 45 yds). Glennon passed 43 times for 193 yards — under 4.5 per attempt — and threw 2 interceptions, with a 55.7 passer rating.

* It sounds like the Freeman situation is pretty toxic, and the Bucs have to cut or trade him sooner rather than later. But letting things reach this stage was a serious mistake. The same thing happened in Jacksonville in 2011. David Garrard was not voted a team captain, and the Jags cut him. They've been terrible ever since, with QB play that simply is not NFL-caliber. It's too early to give up on Glennon, but it's tough to ignore the parallels. The Bucs should start looking at guys like Kerry Collins, Matt Leinart, anyone who can come in and go 3-13 while they get Glennon ready for next year. They can't handle this the same way Jacksonville did.

Indianapolis Colts 37, Jacksonville Jaguars 3

* The Jaguars have lost 28-2, 19-9, 45-17, and 37-3. That's a combined 129-31, an average score of 32-8. One of those losses came against the Raiders, who are probably the next-worst team in the NFL. I genuinely wonder if Jacksonville would beat the Calgary Stampeders right now.

* In the second and third quarters, Jacksonville had 5 straight three-and-outs.

* Season-stats ... the Jaguars have been out-rushed 657-196, 115 yards per game. Their quarterbacks have combined for 1 TD and 7 INTs. If I were head coach Gus Bradley, I'd reach out to Byron Leftwich. And David Garrard. And Mark Brunell.

* The Jags are double-digit underdogs against the Rams in Week 5. The Rams have lost their last two games by 24 points each.

Tennessee Titans 38, New York Jets 13

* With 6 passing TDs, no interceptions, and a 99.0 rating, Jake Locker has been among the surprises of the new season. But he left Sunday's game with a hip injury and is expected to miss at least a month. Look for Ryan Fitzpatrick to play in Locker's stead.

Denver Broncos 52, Philadelphia Eagles 20

* It's tough not to compare the 2013 Broncos to the 2007 Patriots. I won't start with the "on pace for" bits this early in the season, but Denver has scored 49, 41, 37, and 52. All four wins were by at least 16 points.

* Scary thoughts ... Week 6, Jaguars at Broncos, and Week 8, Washington's horrid defense comes to Denver. Those games could be painful to watch if you don't like the Broncos or you're playing against Peyton Manning in fantasy.

* Manning has 16 touchdown passes and 39 incompletions, one TD per 2.4 incompletions. The single-season record for TD-to-incompletion ratio is 1:3.3, set in 2004 by ... Peyton Manning (49 TD, 161 incomplete).

* When Rodney Harrison called Manning the greatest QB he's ever faced, people tweeted that Manning wasn't clutch enough. That is absurd. The man who runs the best two-minute drill in the history of the sport isn't clutch? In NFL history, there are only two 17-point comebacks in the last 5:00 of a game. Both were led by Manning. He also led the biggest comeback ever by a road team, the biggest ever on Monday Night Football, the biggest in Conference Championship Game history, and five straight fourth-quarter comebacks in 2009.

Playoffs? Start with that 18-point comeback against the Patriots in the 2006 AFC Championship Game, a Super Bowl MVP Award against one of the best defenses in recent memory (the 2006 Chicago Bears), and a perfect passer rating in a wild card game. But you've also got his performance against the 13-3 Chiefs in 2003 (304 yds, 3 TD, 138.8 rating), his massacre of Denver the next year (458 yds, 4 TD, 1 INT, 145.7 rating), his domination of the sensational 2009 Jets defense (377 yds, 3 TD, 123.6 rating), and arguably a couple others.

As Harrison pointed out, Manning hasn't always had teammates who put him in a position to win, especially his defense. Has he underperformed in the playoffs a few times? Of course. He goes to the playoffs every year and he's faced some really tough defenses. He forced throws sometimes, he got flustered by the pass rush, he was rusty because he hadn't played in three weeks. Happens to everyone. Tom Brady tossed 2 INTs and got a 62.3 passer rating in the loss to Baltimore last year. He was even worse when they met in '09. John Elway was on the wrong side of two of the biggest blowouts in Super Bowl history. Brett Favre threw 6 interceptions in a playoff game in the 2001 season. Joe Montana got benched in '87.

If you're going to dismiss the most influential quarterback of the Modern Era, a player who has won four MVPs, set important single-season and career records, turns every receiver he plays with into a superstar, takes the fewest sacks in history, runs the best two-minute drill, and gets his team to the playoffs every year, if you're going to throw all that out the window because of a handful of games, gosh, I don't know what to tell you. You do realize it was Rahim Moore who got burned on that Hail Mary in the playoff loss last year, and not Manning?

San Diego Chargers 30, Dallas Cowboys 21

* Speaking of misplaced blame directed at quarterbacks — don't worry, we will all find a way to hold Tony Romo responsible for Terrance Williams' fumble at the 1-yard line.

* Weird coincidence with the Texas teams this week: Dallas, like Houston, scored all its points in the second quarter.

Washington 24, Oakland 14

* The official play-by-play lists 11 players injured during the game, but that doesn't even include Oakland running backs Darren McFadden and Marcel Reece, both of whom left in the first quarter, or Washington's Alfred Morris, who missed the final 20:00 with a rib contusion. Washington has a bye in Week 5, and Morris isn't expected to miss any games. McFadden's hamstring will likely keep him on the bench for a week or two, but at the moment he's expected back no later than Week 8, after Oakland's bye. At which point he will immediately re-injure himself.

New England Patriots 30, Atlanta Falcons 23

* Vince Wilfork tore his Achilles and will probably miss the rest of the year. Huge loss for the Patriots.

* NBC reported that New England is playing seven undrafted rookies. This team just plugs people in and keeps winning.

* Tony Gonzalez was a monster throughout this game. Cris Collinsworth said early on that Gonzalez was the best he'd ever seen at making catches away from his body, and I tend to agree with him. Fantasy football analyst Scott Pianowski pin-pointed Gonzalez's strength: he doesn't need to be open to be productive. Late in the game, the Patriots used two men to jam Gonzalez at the line, like the gunner on a punt return. Kudos to NBC for highlighting that.

Monday Night Football

New Orleans Saints 38, Miami Dolphins 17

* Steve Young made an interesting point after the game: defenses spent the off-season concentrating on how to stop the read-option and defend mobile QBs like Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick. That could open things up even more for traditional pocket passers like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.

* This game was close for 29 minutes, until a Ryan Tannehill interception set up a Saints touchdown that made it 21-10. Tannehill had little chemistry with his receivers. He made bad decisions, his throws were late, and he held the ball way too long. Those are mistakes young players make, and he should improve over time, but it's hard to take the Dolphins seriously as a contender until those issues get resolved.

* The Saints present matchup problems for any defense, but Miami just had no plan for Darren Sproles, and late in the game, there were frequent coverage breakdowns. Really an ugly showing for a team hoping to make an impression on a national audience.

NFL Week 4 Power Rankings

Top 10

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

After the top three, all of these teams have obvious problems and weaknesses. The big games in Week 5 should go a long way towards helping us begin to sort things out.

Bottom Three

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
31. Oakland Raiders
32. Jacksonville Jaguars

Tampa Bay represents a trio of terrible teams including the Steelers and Giants. Any of them could be in the bottom three.

Week 5

Game of the Week

Seahawks at Colts
1:00 pm Eastern, FOX

Another tough road test for Seattle, and a chance for the Colts to show they're for real. Indianapolis shut down the 49ers, and there are some similarities between San Francisco's offense and Seattle's, most notably their mobile QBs. Look for both teams to lean heavily on their run games and for most of the big plays to come on defense.

This is the first of four tough games in a row for the Colts. They get undefeated teams at home (Seahawks, Broncos) and dangerous 2-2 teams on the road (Chargers, Texans). If they win two of those four games, they'll be in good position for a playoff run. If they go 1-3 but the win is against Houston, they'll still be in good position for a playoff run.

Upset of the Week

I'm terrified of picking road teams in Thursday night games, but I'll say Bills over Browns. Cleveland is 2-0 with Brian Hoyer, but that could come crashing down at any point, and Buffalo has played everyone tough this year. The injury to C.J. Spiller doesn't seem like a major concern at this point, because Fred Jackson has outplayed him anyway. Hoyer gets sacked 4 times and intercepted twice, and Buffalo does just enough to win a low-scoring, ugly game.

Click here for the NFL Week 3 Report.

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