Tuesday, October 8, 2013
NFL Week 5 Report
Thursday Night Game
Cleveland Browns 37, Buffalo Bills 24
* Brian Hoyer tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the season. E.J. Manuel sprained his knee and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks.
* Brandon Weeden replaced Hoyer, entering the game to what Deion Sanders and the NFL Network crew agreed was "a disrespectful amount of boos." Booing backups is not cool. Next man up, and he'll do his best. As it happens, Weeden led the Browns to more points (23) than Hoyer (0).
* I did enjoy Cleveland's response to idiot return man Greg Little. He fielded the opening kickoff 6 yards deep in the end zone, an easy down for possession at the 20-yard line. Except he didn't down the kick. He ran it out and got tackled at the 8-yard line. He took the next kickoff even deeper, 8 yards back, and brought it out all the way to the 10. Where he fumbled. The refs missed the fumble, but when Bobby Rainey downed the next kickoff, he got a long, loud cheer.
* If the Browns were a good organization, they would have changed their personnel by now. You either cut Little or fire your special teams coach. Either the returners aren't being coached, or they're not listening and need to be replaced.
* The Bills activated QB Thad Lewis from the practice squad, and he is expected to start Week 6. Cincinnati's defense is a very appealing play in fantasy.
Indianapolis Colts 34, Seattle Seahawks 28
* The Colts have given opponents the fewest penalty yards in the NFL (147). Little things like that can swing close games, and the Colts have won a couple of pretty close games.
* If not for Pass Fest '13 in Dallas, this would have been the obvious game of the week, a down-to-the-wire matchup of good teams, with improbable big plays on both sides.
* I didn't see it, because my FOX affiliate thought I'd be more interested in Eagles/Giants, a matchup of teams with a combined record of 1-7.
Philadelphia Eagles 36, New York Giants 21
* Eli Manning has thrown 12 interceptions, the most in the first five games of a season since 2005 (Daunte Culpepper). Matt Schaub (9 INT) thinks Eli is throwing too many picks.
* Thom Brennaman called the interceptions "un-Eli-Manning-fashion-like." Setting aside his atrocious treatment of the English language ... Eli has led the NFL in interceptions twice before, and he's been in the "top" five two other years. He has thrown multiple INTs 43 times in his career, about 1 out of every 3 games. This was his third 3-INT game of the season, and he's tied with Peyton for most 3-INT games of any active player (16), but Peyton has been in the league for seven years longer.
* In standard fantasy scoring, Eli had a good game, 15 points. He completed 46% of his passes, tossed 3 picks, and drew a passer rating of 56.1. I wish "just throw it a lot" wasn't an effective fantasy strategy.
* Eli's 65.8 passer rating this season is about the same as Christian Ponder's (65.9), lower than Chad Henne's (73.2), and much lower than Schaub's (76.9). We won't even discuss Tony Romo (114.3) and Philip Rivers (110.5), because that would be insulting to a clutchy clutchster like Eli. If the Cowboys had Eli, they would have beaten Denver, because unlike Romo, he doesn't throw careless interceptions. He certainly outdueled Peyton in Week 2.
* The Giants have been outscored by 100 points this season, 182-82. Only Jacksonville is worse (-112), and no one else is below -50. New York's third down percentage (26%) is even lower than Jacksonville's (29%), and the Giants are -13 in turnovers, worst in the NFL.. Everyone keeps talking about how the NFC East is weak and the Giants aren't out of it. They are out of it. They're terrible. Fine, they're only two games back, but they're not good enough to make up the deficit, and the Cowboys are better than their record shows.
* Michael Vick ran 7 times for 79 yards before leaving the game with a hamstring injury, including several designed runs. Nick Foles played well in Vick's absence, but it will be interesting to see how Chip Kelly's game plan changes if Vick misses time.
Cincinnati Bengals 13, New England Patriots 6
* The Bengals are 3-0 at home, including marquee wins over the Packers and Patriots. They are 0-2 on the road, including a loss to the Browns.
* Former Bengal Boomer Esiason: "The thing that concerns me about the Bengals, though, they are just not scoring points offensively. They are not getting enough big plays."
* Even before the bad weather set in, New England couldn't get its offense going. The Patriots punted on five of their first six drives, with the other ending in a lost fumble.
New Orleans Saints 26, Chicago Bears 18
* Chicago's defense is in trouble. Allowing 26 points to New Orleans is nothing to be ashamed of, but the Bears have also faced weak offenses like Cincinnati, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh. They've allowed over 20 points in every game and rank 27th in points allowed (140). Last year, it was November 19th by the time Chicago had allowed 140 points. That's Week 11.
* The Bears have given up 25 pass plays of 20+ yards, 2nd-most in the NFL (Broncos). They rank 30th in sacks (8).
* Don't blame Lance Briggs. He led the team on Sunday, with 11 solo tackles, including 3 for a loss. But Lovie Smith and Brian Urlacher are gone, Henry Melton is out for the season, Charles Tillman is battling injury, and Julius Peppers has been invisible. Melton's backup, Nate Collins, tore his ACL on Sunday, and he's out for the season as well.
Kansas City Chiefs 26, Tennessee Titans 17
* Alterraun Verner didn't intercept two passes this week, but he did deflect three. Verner looks like a Pro Bowler.
* The Chiefs went 1/12 on third downs, committed 9 penalties, and went 1/4 in the red zone. The ball is oval. Sometimes it just bounces your way.
Green Bay Packers 22, Detroit Lions 9
* This game ceased to be competitive as soon as Calvin Johnson was ruled out. Green Bay did a nice job containing Reggie Bush (44 rush yds, 25 rec yds).
* Clay Matthews broke his thumb, and ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that he's likely to miss a month. Huge loss for Green Bay.
Baltimore Ravens 26, Miami Dolphins 23
* Jake Long has not played well for the Rams, but Miami misses him. The Ravens sacked Ryan Tannehill six times, and Tannehill has taken by far the most sacks in the NFL (24). He's getting dropped on 11.7% of his pass attempts, compared to 6.7% last season. Of course, not all of this is on the line. Tannehill needs to get rid of the ball more quickly. When everyone's covered, throwing the ball away is a good play.
* Ray Rice's third-quarter TD was set up by 55 yards of questionable pass interference penalties. I'd really like to see P.I. capped at 15 yards.
* A lot of passing records have fallen in the last five years. The new ones don't even feel special; you just wonder if they'll last more than a year or two. I think the NFL could make four small rules tweaks that wouldn't mess with the game, but could rein in the passing madness a little:
1. Cap defensive pass interference at 15 yards.
2. Make offensive pass interference a point of emphasis, especially with regard to blocking downfield while the ball is in the air. This could particularly curtail those annoying bubble screens and one-yard hitches.
3. Make "defenseless receiver" penalties reviewable. I get that the league doesn't want referees using video to second-guess judgment calls, but whether or not a player was hit in the head is not a judgment call, it's something that can be confirmed with a replay. Fifteen-yard penalties are huge, and this could allow defensive backs to sort of play football again.
4. Do more to protect defensive linemen, especially by limiting what blockers can do to their knees when they aren't looking.
St. Louis Rams 34, Jacksonville Jaguars 20
* Chad Henne played badly last year, and he doesn't look like a miracle-worker this season, either. But he has shown low-level NFL-caliber play. Henne and Helpless Blaine Gabbert have roughly the same number of pass attempts this season, 95 for Henne and 86 for Gabbert. But their results are wildly disparate:
Henne is not the long-term answer, but it's hard to imagine Gabbert ever becoming an acceptable NFL quarterback. He's JaMarcus Russell without the attitude problem.
* More on Jacksonville below, in the "Game of the Week" section.
Arizona Cardinals 22, Carolina Panthers 6
* In his first game of the season (back from suspension), Daryl Washington had 8 solo tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception. Altogether, the Cardinals sacked Cam Newton 7 times.
* Newton has 123 rushing yards, sixth among QBs. He's behind Alex Smith and Andrew Luck, more than 100 behind Russell Wilson, Terrelle Pryor, and Michael Vick. Newton is on pace for 492 yards and 4 rushing TDs. That's a lot, but it's not up to his usual standards.
He's still running effectively, just not as often. Newton's running is what sets him and this offense apart, and he needs to do it more frequently.
Denver Broncos 51, Dallas Cowboys 48
* This game was cloying. At first, it was sweet seeing so many big pass plays. But by the fourth quarter, I was sick of it and craving some defense. Everyone's calling this the game of the year, and I get that we haven't seen that kind of offense since the AFL, but a great game, a Game of the Year, has some decent defensive plays, too. The Broncos in particular got embarrassed on Sunday. Their 4-man pass rush was a disaster. It's a good thing the only team they face before Von Miller comes back is the Jaguars.
* The teams combined for 1,039 yards, 99 points, 11 touchdowns, and 1 punt. The Broncos at one point had five straight touchdown drives. The Cowboys had four.
* Through five games, Wes Welker has 7 TD receptions. He had 6 all of last year. His career-high is 9, and he'll probably break that halfway through the season. None of this proves that Peyton Manning is better than Tom Brady, but Welker's transition has been remarkably smooth.
* It's hard not to guess at which single-season records Manning will break this season. I'll say he sets new records for passing TDs and passer rating, but not yardage.
* Peyton Manning and Tony Romo are notorious chokers, and both threw second-half interceptions this weekend. If this game had been quarterbacked by a couple of clutch winners, like Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, maybe fans could have actually seen some quality passing.
* Kurt Warner: "How much does one guy have to do for a team to help them win? I mean, obviously against Peyton Manning, they needed him to play great for 60 minutes. He did it for 58 and they lose ... they need somebody else to step up and make plays. 500 yards and 5 touchdowns, that should mean a win every day of the week, even if you make a mistake in the last 2:00."
San Francisco 49ers 34, Houston Texans 3
* Lawrence Taylor is the only player ever to win Defensive Player of the Year back-to-back, in 1981-82. I have to believe J.J. Watt will become the second. He's amazing.
* Four times, the 49ers kicked off and the Texans began their drives inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the 15. In the second quarter, Keshawn Martin fielded a kick 7-8 yards deep in the end zone and ran it out. To the 9. Returning the ball that deep means you'd have to be the best returner in the league just to get back to the 20. This should be an easy call, almost literally a no-brainer: there would have to be something wrong with your brain to make you consider returning it.
Not only would you have to average 27 yards per return to get back to the same yard-line you can reach by kneeling, so many more things can go wrong when you choose to return the kick:
* Your blockers can draw penalties for holding or block in the back.
* You and your teammates can get hurt. Kickoff returns are high-risk plays.
* You might fumble.
It seriously shocks me that NFL teams allow players to do this. Don't you have special teams coaches who work with the returners and teach them not to do this? Don't you have coaches who know how to bench a player who hurts the team? At the NFL level, it's totally inexcusable to just give away yardage like that, especially given the other risks.
* After only five games, Schaub has thrown 4 interceptions returned for touchdowns, tied for the most any quarterback had all of last season. He tossed three picks against San Francisco. It was bad, and he's getting hammered for it. But people are acting like he's a terrible player, not a quality QB who's had a couple of rough games.
If he is terrible, it's a new problem. Schaub has actually proven over the other 80 games of his Texans career that he is not interception-prone. His 2.60% interception percentage is better than the career marks of Peyton Manning (2.63%), Drew Brees (2.66%), Ben Roethlisberger (2.88%), Matt Hasselbeck (2.93%), Eli Manning (3.35%), and most of the rest of the league. He threw 12 picks all of last season, about the same as Peyton Manning (11) or Matt Ryan (14). His career-high is 15, in 2009. But that year, he passed for 4,770 yards, with a 98.6 rating, and made the Pro Bowl. He's never had an interception problem. Being turnover-prone, that's just not a hole in his game.
Since this isn't characteristic of his play, does it make more sense to support him and give him a few weeks to rebound, or to launch a campaign to replace him with T.J. Yates?
* Schaub is one of five players who threw 3 INTs this weekend. I get that Schaub's had the TD returns, but no one is ready to hang Eli Manning, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, or Philip Rivers. Last week, no one burned jerseys of Jay Cutler, Joe Flacco, Helpless Blaine Gabbert, or Ryan Tannehill (partly because no one owns Gabbert jerseys, true). Schaub's four straight weeks with a pick-six set a new record, breaking the old one held by ... Peyton Manning and John Elway. This happens, even to Hall of Famers.
Oakland Raiders 27, San Diego Chargers 17
* I miss irrefutable evidence. If the announcers are surprised that a call gets upheld, it's not necessarily a problem, but if they're caught off guard when the ref decides to overturn the call on the field, that's almost always a mistake.
* Jeff Triplette's crew did not perform well in this game. I don't think they were biased toward or against either team, they were just incompetent.
* Late in the fourth quarter, the Raiders unveiled one of the least effective defenses in NFL history. When the Chargers gained 60 yards on three plays, in under a minute, Dan Fouts wondered, "Do I dare call it a prevent defense? It's not preventing anything."
Monday Night Football
New York Jets 30, Atlanta Falcons 28
* The Jets' coaching staff did a fantastic job on Monday's game. They were well-prepared, but their philosophy and approach to a superior opponent — aggressive, unconventional — was exactly what the situation called for.
* MNF was the first time the Jets scored 30 points in a game since October 17 of last year, in a 35-9 win over the Colts.
* Sweet heaven, Atlanta's defense is awful.
* So is the right side of its offensive line. Center Peter Konz, guard Garrett Reynolds, and tackle Jeremy Trueblood got killed by the Jets. The Falcons miss longtime center Todd McClure just as much as they miss having Roddy White healthy. Those two players are probably the difference between 1-4 and 4-1. All of Atlanta's losses are by seven or less.
* Matt Ryan passed to Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling nine times. All nine were complete, gaining a total of 25 yards. There's a touchdown in there, and a pretty big first down, but that's under three yards per completion. It's not a good play, or at least not on first and second down.
NFL Week 5 Power Rankings
1. Denver Broncos
2. New Orleans Saints
3. Seattle Seahawks
4. Kansas City Chiefs
5. Indianapolis Colts
6. San Francisco 49ers
7. Cincinnati Bengals
8. Green Bay Packers
9. New England Patriots
10. Dallas Cowboys
Tony Romo reminded us of potentially serious holes in Denver's defense, but the Cowboys couldn't overcome "the unstoppable robotic terror that is the 2013 Denver offense." It's way too early for any serious Super Bowl speculation, but Peyton Manning and Drew Brees met in Super Bowl XLIV after both their teams began the season undefeated.
30. New York Giants
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
In the wake of Josh Freeman's release, will the Bucs rebound, or go completely off the rails? I'm kind of hoping for rebound, because we already have one train wreck this season and don't need another.
Game of the Week
Saints at Patriots
4:25 PM Eastern, FOX
A matchup of two great quarterbacks (Drew Brees and Tom Brady) and two Bill Parcells disciples (Sean Payton and Bill Belichick). New Orleans looks like the more consistent offense and more dangerous defense, but the game's in New England, and you can never count out the Patriots. Featuring teams with a combined record of 9-1, this is easily the biggest game of Week 6. The Patriots are favored.
In its own weird way, Jaguars at Broncos is the second-most interesting game of the week. Denver is favored by 28, the most in NFL history. The Broncos scored as many points in Week 5 as Jacksonville has all season. Denver actually averages 46 points, compared to 10 for the Jags.
An equally striking stat ... 20 first downs per game is a pretty normal average. 30 NFL teams average 16-24 first downs. The other two are the Broncos (29.4) and the Jags (14.8).
Upset of the Week
I am disbanding this section, because my rules (pick against a team favored by more than 3) keep forcing me to predict victories for teams I don't actually expect to win. But I still think if NFL pregame shows are going to have their analysts predict "upsets," they need to choose actual surprises, not Pick 'Ems. It looks ridiculous when all four analysts pick the same team. If everyone expects them to win, that's obviously not an upset. I am reminded, though, that I miss King Kaufman's What The Heck pick of the week, choosing a huge, overwhelming underdog, because, what the heck. This year, he could just pick Jacksonville every week and see if they win a game.
Click here for the NFL Week 4 Report.