Tuesday, October 15, 2013

NFL Week 6 Report

By Brad Oremland

Week 6 Headlines

Injuries

Injuries were the big story in the NFL this week. We got off to a bad start when it was reported during the week that Julio Jones would miss the rest of the season, but on Sunday, many significant players went down, including James Jones, Randall Cobb, Matt Schaub, Lardarius Webb, Aqib Talib, Jimmy Graham, Danny Amendola, Darren Sproles, Jerod Mayo, DeMarco Murray, DeMarcus Ware, and Calais Campbell. Those are all pretty big names, and while not all of the injuries were serious, none of those players finished their games. Of note: most suffered lower-body injuries. The NFL is trying to protect heads by instead targeting knees. That's not the right way to address player safety.

Also not the right way to address safety: letting Webb stay in the game following his concussion. Everyone who saw the play could tell he had gotten rocked. We're told that there's an independent neurologist at every game to monitor head injuries. What is this guy doing, playing Candy Crush? Instead of continuously introducing new rules that interfere with the game and increase the risk of other season-threatening injuries, let's start by actually enforcing the procedures we're told are in place. The league is taking the easy way out on player safety, treating it as a P.R. problem instead of a serious issue. The people in charge have made it clear they don't care about the players, but it's never too late to start doing the right thing.

Crowd Behavior

Last year, when Kansas City fans cheered the injury to Matt Cassel, Joe Posnanski quoted a friend he calls the Insider: "Many people now go to games to be heard. They want their complaints registered ... Going to a pro football game isn’t fun anymore. I don’t think it’s even supposed to be fun. If you want fun, you invite over some friends, get some beers, some chips, and you watch the game on TV." I think the Insider's argument is overstated but insightful. Many people go to games not to have fun, but to be heard.

You hear this a lot from older people, that NFL crowds are nasty now, that you can't bring your kids, that it's more pleasant to stay home and watch on television. Maybe I'm getting old, because that's increasingly my feeling. Going to games frequently isn't fun; often it is stressful. But I don't think this is about growing old or getting grumpy, and I don't believe it's about nostalgia for imaginary days when everyone in the stadium was courteous. I go to baseball games, hockey, MLS, college basketball, and I don't see the same thing. People don't go to those games expecting to yell obscenities at the field, provoke opposing fans, or boo their own players.

Football, more than any other sport, encourages the crowd to feel like it's part of the game. Crowds do influence the game, visibly. But there's no respect for the athletes. American football is developing a culture that borders on hooliganism in European soccer leagues. Rather than attending the game to have fun, people go to express their anger and unhappiness. Booing doesn't help anyone perform better, and cheering injuries is sick and wrong. Do your team a favor and stay home.

Thursday Night Game

Chicago Bears 27, New York Giants 21

* Let's start with Eli Manning. He threw 3 interceptions in this game, his fourth 3-INT performance in six games. He's tossed 15 picks already, the most through 6 games in the last 27 years, and on pace for 40. The Giants' 23 turnovers are most in the NFL, and already more than all of last season (21).

Fixing this one problem would immediately make New York a contender in the weak NFC East. Kansas City went 2-14 last year, with a league-worst -24 turnover differential. This year, the Chiefs are +12 and undefeated.

* Brad Nessler said after Manning's third pick, "That is not Eli Manning's fault." Wrong. Nessler was trying to defend Eli because the pass was tipped. But the pass was tipped because it was too high and behind the receiver. It was not catchable for his receiver, and might have been intercepted without the tip.

* Nessler went on to opine that Eli is "probably heading" to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That's likely wrong, too. Eli is not an outstanding QB. You can't select someone for the sport's highest honor because of two games, when the rest of his career is so uneven. Eli is this generation's Jim Plunkett.

* Brandon Jacobs rushed for 106 yards on Thursday night, his highest total since 2010. The Giants caught Chicago off-guard with draws, and repeatedly ran outside when the Bears stacked the middle, getting bottled up inside and forcing defensive backs to tackle the gigantic Jacobs.

* Tim Jennings intercepted two passes and returned one of them for a TD, but he has got to be the worst tackler in the league.

Sunday, Early Games

Cincinnati Bengals 27, Buffalo Bills 24 (overtime)

* I think it was Michael Strahan who remarked that Cincinnati seems to play to the level of its opponents. That's one possibility, but the other is extreme home-field advantage. In Cincinnati, the Bengals are 3-0, with victories over the Packers and Patriots, plus their only double-digit win of the season (Pittsburgh). On the road, the Bengals are 1-2, including an 11-point loss to the Browns and this week's nail-biter in Buffalo. Both of those teams are better than people expected, but they're still games the Bengals probably should have won without too much drama.

The Bengals are 2-point underdogs in Detroit next week. If you have any Bengals on your fantasy team who are not A.J. Green, you should probably bench them in Week 7.

Green Bay Packers 19, Baltimore Ravens 17

* John Kuhn pulled a Leon Lett this week, touching a blocked punt and allowing the Ravens to regain possession.

* The Packers lost two of their top three receivers, James Jones and Randall Cobb, in the first half. Jones has a PCL sprain and should return in Week 7 or 8. Cobb broke his leg and is probably out for 6-8 weeks.

* The other big story out of this game was that the Ravens went for it on 4th-and-goal in the second quarter, turning the ball over on downs. They passed up an easy field goal and lost by 2. But they also left Green Bay pinned at the 1-yard line. That matters. With no room to operate, the Packers went three-and-out, and the Ravens got the ball back in Green Bay territory. A kickoff probably would have given the Packers another 20 yards and room to run their offense. It's not like the Ravens just gave away three points. More on this in the Patriots/Saints summary below.

St. Louis Rams 38, Houston Texans 13

* Matt Schaub is the best quarterback on Houston's roster. Last year, he passed for 4,000 yards, 10 more TDs than INTs, and a 90.7 passer rating. Trying to replace him with a nobody like T.J. Yates is stupid. But cheering for injuries is never okay. It was just as sickening when this happened in Kansas City last year.

* The Texans have outgained their opposition by 857 yards, 51 first downs, and 42:12 time of possession. They've been outscored by 71.

The 2011 Packers allowed more yards than they gained, but went 15-1. They led the league in turnover differential, red zone percentage, and fewest penalties. They were also near the top of the league in every special teams category: field goals, punting, returning. The Texans gain plenty of yardage, and they're not allowing much, but they do everything else wrong.

Detroit Lions 31, Cleveland Browns 17

* On Sunday, Detroit linebacker DeAndre Levy intercepted his fourth pass of the season.

Kansas City Chiefs 24, Oakland Raiders 7

* Sebastian Janikowski missed a 51-yard field goal this weekend. The kick was short. When's the last time Janikowski was short from inside 60?

* The Chiefs have a big-play defense. Through six games: 31 sacks, 10 interceptions, 8 fumble recoveries, and 4 touchdowns. They lead the NFL in all of those categories.

* Jamaal Charles is listed at 5-11, 199 lbs, but he leads the NFL in rushing TDs of 1-2 yards. Last year, Charles was never used in goal-line situations. All five of his rushing TDs were more than 10 yards, and three of them were at least 80.

Philadelphia Eagles 31, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20

* No Michael Vick, no problem. Nick Foles passed for 3 TDs and ran for a fourth, with no turnovers.

Carolina Panthers 35, Minnesota Vikings 10

* Maybe Adrian Peterson was handled differently this week because of his son's death, but having Matt Cassel drop back 49 times and hand off to Peterson 10 times doesn't strike me as a formula for success. The Panthers got ahead early, and I don't expect Bill Musgrave to call runs when his team's down by 25, but even in the first half, it was 21 dropbacks for Cassel and 7 gives to AP. Is there some confusion as to who's the best player on this offense?

Pittsburgh Steelers 19, New York Jets 6

* Rookie QB Geno Smith vs. Dick LeBeau defense = not fair

Sunday, Late Games

Denver Broncos 35, Jacksonville Jaguars 19

* A season-low in scoring for the Broncos, who average 44.2 points per game.

* The Jags put up a valiant effort, but they still became the first team since the 1984 Houston Oilers to lose each of their first six games by double-digits.

Seattle Seahawks 20, Tennessee Titans 13

* Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka briefly left the game with an injury, and the team sent punter Jon Ryan in to attempt a 22-yard field goal, but a flubbed hold resulted in a return TD for the Titans. Teams should go for the end zone when their kickers are out. Touchdowns are worth twice as much as field goals, and two-point conversions are worth twice as much as extra-point kicks. Two-point conversion rate is just barely shy of 50%, and without your kicker, short field goals and extra points are not automatic. Go for it.

San Francisco 49ers 32, Arizona Cardinals 20

* Calais Campbell suffered a neck injury in the fourth quarter, but he apparently is fine and may play in Thursday's game against Seattle.

* Frank Gore keeps losing out on goal-line work. Gore, who has scored double-digit TDs only once (2009), has rushed for 477 yards and 3 TDs. Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon have rushed for a combined 145 yards and 5 TDs. Gore's getting almost 80% of the rushing yardage, and under 40% of the touchdowns. Show some love to your workhorse, Pete Carroll.

New England Patriots 30, New Orleans Saints 27

* The Day in Boston, Graphed.

* Bill Belichick was so tickled by the Patriots' win that he opened the postgame press conference with not one but two jokes. What's next, no comment from Rex Ryan and Mike Smith having a sweary meltdown?

* Tom Brady threw a perfect game-winning touchdown, and it's tough to succeed with Aaron Dobson dropping on-target passes, but Brady did not look sharp in this game. Is this Brady's most impressive season? No, and that's a foolish question. Is water dry? You're talking about an all-time great quarterback who currently ranks 16th in yards, tied for 12th in TDs and TD/INT differential, and 23rd in passer rating. He's taking sacks at the highest rate (6.3%) since his first season as starter. Brady played with sub-par receivers for the first half of his career, too, and he never had a 79.5 passer rating. To suggest that this is even among his best seasons is ludicrous. It's clearly false, not even a valid opinion.

* Jimmy Graham is scheduled for an MRI, and Danny Amendola obviously got a concussion, but early indications are that Darren Sproles, Jerod Mayo, and Aqib Talib escaped without major injuries. Mayo's shoulder is probably the most worrisome.

* On every channel, NFL analysts criticized Baltimore's John Harbaugh for his aggressive decision on 4th-and-goal. Almost no one criticized the Saints' Sean Payton for being so conservative at the end of the fourth quarter. The Patriots went for it on 4th down from their own 24-yard line, and the Saints stopped them, taking over with a 24-23 lead and 2:46 left to play. New Orleans ran twice, threw an incomplete pass, and kicked a field goal to make it 27-23. New England called two timeouts, but the whole exchange only used 22 seconds.

On the ensuing possession, Brady immediately threw an interception, so New Orleans got the ball back with a 4-point lead and 2:16. A handoff to Khiry Robinson burned 6 seconds and New England's final timeout. Another run used 10 seconds, up to the two-minute warning. A final run used :40 and the Saints punted. You know the rest. If the Saints had picked up a first down on either possession, or gotten a touchdown instead of a field goal, they would have won easily. But instead of running their normal offense — the 2nd-best in the NFL — they kept everything on the ground and prayed for time to run out.

In Baltimore, Harbaugh's decision didn't yield any points, but it did improve field position and force the Packers to waste a possession. Payton's decision left his team without any time to mount a comeback. Criticizing coaches for boldness, but not for being conservative, encourages them to play boring football — and it's bad strategy. Most announcers and analysts are so timid and risk-averse, it's pathetic. I'm actually embarrassed for them for being such cowards.

Dallas 31, Washington 16

* DeMarco Murray sprained his MCL and is unlikely to play in Week 7. He should return before the Cowboys' Week 11 bye, maybe as soon as Week 8. DeMarcus Ware's quad injury will reportedly keep him out for 3-4 weeks.

* Both teams had assistant coaches called for 15-yard penalties. Never seen that before.

* Washington finished with 433 yards of total offense, compared to 213 for Dallas. How do you outgain your opponent by 200 yards and lose by two touchdowns? Really bad special teams and red zone play.

* Other than special teams, the fundamental difference in this game: the Cowboys' front seven dominated Washington's offensive line.

Monday Night Football

San Diego Chargers 19, Indianapolis Colts 9

* Adam Vinatieri and Nick Novak combined for three 50-yard field goals in this game. Pretty good.

* The Chargers ran exactly 50% more plays (72) than the Colts (48) and won time of possession by 17 minutes.

Best Quarterbacks Ever

Joe Posnanski posted a survey recently, asking readers to rank the greatest QBs of all time 1-5. He posted the results this weekend, and I was pleasantly surprised at how reasonable they were, even honoring older QBs like John Unitas, Otto Graham, and Sammy Baugh. All three made my top five, along with Peyton Manning and Joe Montana. I actually regard Dan Marino and Fran Tarkenton as basically equal to Montana, but those were my five.

Posnanski guessed that Manning, who easily topped Tom Brady in the poll, would have trailed at the beginning of the season. Perhaps he's right, but I doubt it. Manning won by so much that I can't imagine it's only from the last six weeks. He has a longer career and bigger counting stats, and much of Posnanski's readership is sabermetric-friendly, less likely to be swayed by team accomplishments like Super Bowl rings.

I feel — and felt before the season — that Manning is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He makes more jaw-dropping plays than any passer I've ever seen. He owns the line of scrimmage and has changed the way quarterbacks are expected to play. He's changed the way defenses have to play. He's the ultimate field general, maybe the smartest player ever at his position.

Manning also has one of the quickest releases ever seen, and he's always been masterful at avoiding sacks. He has probably the best play-fakes in history. He throws one of the most accurate deep balls in history, and he runs the best two-minute drill. Tom Brady is an amazing quarterback, a first-ballot Hall of Famer and in my top 10 all-time. But other than QB sneaks and maybe decision-making under pressure, I can't think of anything he does better than Manning.

NFL Week 6 Power Rankings

Top 10

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

The Chiefs are 6-0, but they haven't played anyone with a winning record. Their opponents are a combined 11-25. They'll be No. 2 in a lot of power polls this week, but I think even 4th is probably too high. Their best win so far was probably 17-16 over Dallas, at home.

Bottom Three

30. New York Giants
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
32. Jacksonville Jaguars

If the Giants can manage three turnovers in every game, they'll fall to 31 pretty quick.

Week 7

Game of the Week

Broncos at Colts
8:30 PM Eastern, NBC

Two good teams, with the better team on the road, would make this Game of the Week even if it wasn't Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis. Has anyone else noticed that Manning wears Colts colors in his Buick commercial? Not that I expect them to dress him in orange, but he's clearly doing Colts-Blue-and-White. It's very tasteful.

It's a fascinating matchup, in part because I'm not sure who has the familiarity advantage, Peyton on his old teammates, or the Colts on Peyton. I might guess the latter, but I just don't believe Indianapolis has the firepower to keep up with Denver. It's not a team built for shootouts, and every Broncos game this season has been a shootout. I'd guess Denver wins, by more than a touchdown.

Fantasy Waiver Moves

DeMarco Murray and Randall Cobb were the impact injuries this week, but there aren't obvious replacements for them. Murray's backup, Lance Dunbar, is also recovering from injury, and the Cowboys' second-half committee wasn't impressive on Sunday night. Cobb's absence elevates James Jones, but he is (1) also injured, and (2) already owned in most leagues.

If you need a tight end for the bye week, consider Jordan Reed (WAS). A rookie third-round pick, he plays faster than his 4.7 40, and he's the top TE on a team that could use a big, athletic receiver. Heath Miller (PIT) is also available in many leagues. He's caught six passes each of the past two weeks, for a combined 154 yards. He's a proven performer and Ben Roethlisberger looks for him in the red zone.

More and more leagues are transitioning to FAAB, and if yours is one of them, you should play the matchups on defense. Unless you already own the Bears, Chiefs, or Seahawks, make a small-money ($1-3) move almost every week so you're facing someone like the Jaguars or Jets or Raiders. The Lions (CIN), Chargers (at JAC), Packers (CLE), and Dolphins (BUF) are available in most leagues, and all should produce some value in Week 7.

Click here for the NFL Week 5 Report.

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