We’re heading to the Quarter Post. Week 4 is here and games are on tap for 28 teams in the league (Arizona, Atlanta, Carolina and Philadelphia are off.). The first three weeks have shown that some patterns are continuing:
- Peyton and Eli run smooth operations in Indy and New York;
- Donovan McNabb will be injured and open the door to speculation about his tenure in Philly;
- The Denver Broncos will get off to a fast start and impress no one (3-0 in 2008 and 2009);
- Jim Zorn is still confused;
- Tony Romo is who we thought he was;
- Byron Leftwich isn’t half the quarterback that Romo and Delhomme are (sarcasm);
- Tom Brady is not as good as new;
- LaDainian Tomlinson is not as good as new;
- The Raiders may punch you out, but they won’t punch it in the endzone.
There have also been some surprises, too. Mark Sanchez in New York; Chris Johnson keeping Patron-free LenDale on the bench; Charger-Patriot-Steeler Red Zone trouble; Baltimore Raven Red Zone success; and the precipitous fall of the 12-4 Carolina Panthers.
For me, it is a given that if a team plays a 4th place schedule in Year X, that team has a very good chance to improve in Year X+1 — if they were not actually an abysmal, dysfunctional Raider-esque team to begin with.
Exhibit A: New Orleans Saints. 4th place in 2008. 1st place in 2009. Undefeated. First in the NFL in net points. Signature win: At Philadelphia, 48-22.
Exhibit B: Detroit Lions. 4th place in 2008. 4th place in 2009. Aside from being blown out by Exhibit A (45-27), the Lions have battled. They lost a tough one to the Vikings in Week 2 and defeated the Washington Redskins in Week 3.
And this may ruffle some feathers, but Matthew Stafford reminds me of John Elway. I wish I was the first to say it. After watching Stafford outrun a blitzing Viking cornerback and five or six other defenders (never got touched!!) AND watching him convert a 3rd and 13 by running for 22 yards while leading a 99-yard touchdown drive, I am pretty damned impressed. I don’t know if he can throw on the run like Elway. He’s certainly not as fast, but he’s much quicker than I thought. He had some of the better times in the 20-yard shuttle and the 40-yard dash among QB’s. A 4.81 is not blazing, but Stafford appears to play faster than his time and his ability to move laterally on the run was surprising to me.
If you watch the Lions play, you’re going to see a resemblance — and before you get carried away in thinking I’m getting carried away, just remember that statistically, Elway didn’t set the world on fire until he was an old man. The first time Big John had a Daunte Culpepper-type TD:INT ratio, he was 33 years old. (John threw for more than 20 Td’s only twice during the first 12 years of his career and the first time he did it, he threw a whopping 23 interceptions.)
Let’s get to it:
Game 1. Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots. I said after the Pats lost to the Jets that I wouldn’t make anymore old school reputation picks on the Patriots until they proved that the 2009 edition was legit. Last week’s victory over Atlanta was not as impressive to me as it appears to have been to the national media. I said, before the game, that the Falcons inability to stop the run would only be exacerbated by the loss of rookie DT Peria Jerry. Fred Taylor ran for 100+ yards. This was the first game since the 2007 AFC Conference Championship game vs. the San Diego Chargers that a Brady-led team was balanced on offense. In that game, Laurence Maroney ran for 122 yards and a touchdown. The Chargers played without LaDainian Tomlinson (2 carries) and the Patriots won 21-12.
I’m not sold that the Patriots have proven they can run the ball. Carolina, as anemic as they are, ran for 144 against the Falcons. The Ravens are simply not going to allow the Patriots to run the football – at least not on 1st and 2nd down in running formations. If the Patriots are going to find any success on the ground, it may be on 3rd down. They may need to sustain drives by going for it on 4th down like they did last week. If the Ravens bring as much pressure as the Jets, they should keep Brady on his toes. He, too, has not proven that he’s fully recovered from the psychological challenge of getting injured. He’s not standing in the pocket until the last second and taking the hit. He’s getting rid of the ball a half-second early to avoid the BOOM!
Temple’s Take: Baltimore 23, New England 16.
Game 2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Washington Redskins. Quick!! Name the last team that former Tampa Bay QB Byron Leftwich defeated in which he completed at least 70% of his passes? Time’s up! The Washington Redskins. Last season, Leftwich came on in relief of Ben Roethlisberger and completed 7-10 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown in a win at Washington. This week was the perfect week to bench Leftwich. Washington just lost to Detroit! Wow. I actually have more respect for the Lions after watching them play. Of course, Kevin Smith is injured, so either Maurice Morris (a capable backup in Seattle) shows and proves, or Matthew Stafford gets to fling the rock to Megatron. Tampa’s defense has already allowed 91 points. I’m not sure if all 11 starters were also benched by Morris, but this bears watching. Jason Campbell is a quality NFL QB. He’s not perfect. He still pats the ball before throws. He has an elongated delivery. He often waits until receivers have made their breaks to release the ball. But, he’s accurate as hell. He didn’t throw a pick in 2008 until Week 9 vs. the Steelers. He threw for 300 yards last week and completed one of the prettiest deep outs you’ll ever see.
More deep shots! More deep shots! More deep shots!
The Redskins need to abduct Jim Zorn, feed him the best meal he’s ever had in his life, take him to strip joint, fill him up with Patron (foreshadowing) while yelling, “More deep shots!!!!!”, and then skip practice the next day — THEN SEE HOW THE OFFENSE RUNS! It’ll be purring like a kitten in no time.
Seriously though, this is the heart and soul of the Washington Redskins:
Washington needs to play like the team they were built to be. This is supposed to be an ass-kicking, chest-thumping, shit-talking team that intimidates the opposition. It is not. The path to success flows through the STYLE OF PLAY best exemplified by the late Sean Taylor, Santana Moss and Clinton Portis. It is they who should define this team…not Snyder or Haynesworth or Zorn. Taylor, Moss and Portis won more in high school than Zorn has won in his entire career. I truly miss Sean Taylor. I remember how amped I was when Laron Landry was drafted. (Not because I like the ‘Skins. I don’t. I did love the idea of him pairing with Taylor!) He fit this mold. Zorn does not. He benched Portis in a game vs. the Ravens that featured other prominent University of Miami players Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Portis, meanwhile, has been one of the best backs in the NFL for years.
The dude is 27 years old. He has 7 years in and is about to pass Earl Campbell for career rushing yards. He’s had 3 1,500 yard seasons and just missed another this season. (If he wasn’t benched vs. the Ravens, he probably would have made it.) He’s the youngest RB on the list of active yardage leaders. The next closest guys are 4,000 yards behind him…Steven Jackson (25) and McGahee (27). Ronnie Brown is 27. He has almost 6,000 fewer yards.
The Ravens understood that even when Brian Billick was the coach, the TEAM followed the personality of its dominant performers. Washington is lost and will continue to lose until they get in line — BEHIND the legacy of Sean Taylor and the talents of Santana Moss and Clinton Portis. Zorn only need get out of the way — and ask Santana for a quick hit on that bottle.
Temple’s Take: Washington 21, Tampa Bay 14.
Game 3. Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars. Last week, Kerry Collins was my poster boy for a player on the verge of getting exposed. The Jets ripped him to shreds. This week could be more of the same, except that the Jags don’t get down like that. It’s time for Tennessee to put up or shut up. I said that people would start wondering if the Titans needed to make a change. Articles are starting to show up on the internet inquiring about Vince Young. If the Titans drop to 0-4, the value of continuing to start a 37-year old system quarterback will be nil. In an authentically competitive situation, this is the game that should determine Kerry Collins’ future with the Tennessee Titans.
I don’t like the Del Rio’s. Let me clarify: I like the Vanessa Del Rio’s (no links!!)…it’s the Jack Del Rio’s that I don’t like. I do like Maurice Jones-Drew — but not against the Titans. Last year, he went 5 carries for 13 yards (Week 1) and 17 carries for 66 yards, 2 TDs (Week 10). The Jags were outscored 21-3 in the 2nd half of that game.
Temple’s Take: Tennessee 21, Jacksonville 13.
Game 4. Oakland Raiders at Houston Texans. Kevin Walter should have a HUGE game. Andre Johnson is going to be covered all day by Nnamdi Asomougha. Nnamdi may well be the very best corner in the NFL. That doesn’t mean that AJ 5 will get shut out. It just means that Matt Schaub will need to be perfect when he goes in that direction. Why bother? Walter is big, fast, strong, and more than capable of scoring in the Red Zone. Last week, Schaub threw his way 7 times. The results? 7 completions for 96 yards and a touchdown.
This is an early start for these teams. I expect the Raiders to be a little sluggish.
Temple’s Take: Houston 31, Oakland 9.
Game 5. Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns. Okay, either Eric Mangini is a genius or an idiot. Based on his track record, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. The Browns have 6 new starters on offense and have yet to gel. They have rookie Alex Mack starting at center. I think the play of Alex Mack will be a strong indicator for the success of the team. In Week 1, the Browns faced the vastly superior Minnesota Vikings and were soundly defeated, but they also managed to score 20 points. In Weeks 2 and 3, the Browns were trounced by the Broncos and Ravens. The offense was unable to move the ball. The result: the benching of ownership, media and fan favorite Brady Quinn.
I believe that one significant reason why the Browns struggled so mightily in Weeks 2 and 3, aside from Quinn’s inexperience, was the fact that both Denver and Baltimore run 3-4 defenses. Even though Mack may face a 3-4 defense in practice, he’s used to playing against conventional 4-3 schemes. That’s what he saw at Cal. His skills and techniques have been refined against 1-gap DT’s and middle linebackers — not against monstrous 2-gap DT’s like Haloti Ngata. I believe that Alex Mack will make life much easier for Derek Anderson and the Browns will win.
I’m still high on the Bengals chances for this season, but if you know anything at all about Cincinnati, you know this is the type of game they lose. Coming off the high of “Steeler Week,” I expect the Bengals to be flat. Derek Anderson is 2-1 in his career vs. Cincinnati, including a 20-33, 328 yard, 5 touchdown masterpiece in 2007.
Temple’s Take: Cleveland 24, Cincinnati 21.
Game 6: Seattle Seahawks at Indianapolis Colts. For me, it doesn’t matter who starts for Seattle at QB. I think that Hasselbeck or Wallace can perform well, especially without Dwight Freeney in the game. The issue for Seattle will be combating the Colts offense. Seattle cannot keep Manning on the sideline with a powerful running game unless they decide to bench Julius Jones and go with Justin Forsett and/or Edgerrin James. We know that Edge would love to have another shot at the Colts before his retirement. Jones just doesn’t have it. It seems like everyone knows this except for the GM and coaches in Seattle.
Temple’s Take: Indianapolis 41, Seattle 17.
Game 7. New York Giants at Kansas City Chiefs. Usually, regardless of the record, Arrowhead Stadium is a difficult place to play. This is a classic trap game, but the Chiefs may not have enough to pull this off. The Giants run defense has been gashed by the Cowboys — so KC could take that tack. It would slow down the game, keep Manning and Manningham and Smith and Jacobs and Bradshaw on the bench. But, since Larry Johnson hasn’t even averaged 3.5 ypc this season, that’s just not going to happen. Bombs away. Coughlin doesn’t let them slip…not here, not now.
Temple’s Take: New York Giants 38, Kansas City 7.
Game 8. Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears. For all the commendable progress that the Lions have made since last season, they’ve still surrendered 300 yards through the air in two of three games this season. Philip Buchanon (a man whose been through a great deal) has been supplanted in the starting lineup. Anthony Henry, for all his ball-hawking skills and physicality is no speed merchant. This secondary is susceptible to getting torched. Enter Chicago’s principle firestarter, Jay Cutler, and his merry band of matches: Johnny Knox, Greg Olsen, Matt Forte and Earl Bennett.
Chicago’s linebacking corps is depleted, but the Lions lack the punch of Kevin Smith. This is a bad week to be without your bruiser.
Temple’s Take: Chicago 27, Detroit 13.
Game 9. Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins. I said last week that Moose Johnson had highlighted the lack of enthusiasm in the play of the Buffalo Bills. When teams play in the NFL without inspiration, they tend to get embarrassed. Last week, New Orleans was held to 27 points because passing options were limited. The Bills allowed a touchdown on the opening drive and a Roscoe Parrish led to a field goal. Those were all the early points the Saints would muster. The Bills defense battled all day long. Late in the 3rd quarter, the Bills forced consecutive 3 and out posssessions. The offense was not able to capitalize. Buffalo entered the 4th quarter trailing by 3. The Bills could only muster 7 points and both Lee Evans and Terrell Owens, after 3 complete football games, have yet to eclipse 100 TOTAL YARDS RECEIVING.
When you consider that these two elite receivers are not even averaging 30 yards per game, it’s a minor miracle that the only head to roll in Buffalo has been that of dismissed offensive coordinator Turk Schonert. The very idea that Terrell Owens would not be justifiably incensed is absurd on its face. Everyone should be desperately seeking answers, but Miami is a bad place to try to get healthy.
Chad Henne gets the start after Chad Pennington suffers a career-threatening injury. Henne is a system QB from Michigan. That’s good and that’s bad. It’s good if he’s the next Tom Brady. It’s bad if he’s the next Jon Navarre or Elvis Grbac or Drew Henson or Scott Dreisbach or Todd Collins. He’s the leader out of the Ann Arbor clubhouse in attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns. That’s a start. Of course, Henne’s notoriously slow release which made him sack bait for the USC Trojans is also likely to entice the Bills. I suggest large doses of Ronnie and Ricky, with an occasional play action fake deeeeeeeeeeep downfield.
Temple’s Take: Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams 24, Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson 13.
Game 10. New York Jets at New Orleans Saints. The Saints are not one-dimensional like the Titans and Patriots. The Saints play power ball and have improved (a bit) on defense. Jonathan Vilma, former Jet middle linebacker, cannot wait to sink his teeth into Mark Sanchez and Thomas Jones. So what? Rex Ryan knows how to stop the Saints, but now how to stop Drew Brees. The last time these two tangled back in 2006, Brees hit the Ravens for 383 yards. The Ravens won because they absolutely stuffed the combination of an aging Deuce McAllister and a lightweight Reggie Bush. Brees was picked 3 times.
The Jets may not be as good as those Ravens (13-3 division champ led by Steve McNair)…but they are likely to have a similar method of attack. In ’06, Jamal Lewis piled up 31 carries. If the Saints cannot outmuscle and outmaneuver Alan Faneca and Nick Mangold and the rest of the Jets offensive line, Thomas Jones and Leon Washington will be the Jets best defense against Brees.
I believe the Jets will bring pressure on the Saints. The Eagles tried it, but were lit up. The Eagles, though, lost their bid to topple the Saints on the heels of successive turnovers by Ellis Hobbs and Kevin Kolb. The Saints quick strike offense turned a 17-14 fist fight into a 31-14 foot race. Against the Jets, the Saints can’t count on a foot race. They’ll need their ball carriers to hang on to the ball and finish runs by falling forward for first downs. I think this game is going to be close and come down to the final possession.
Temple’s Take: New , New . TOO CLOSE TO CALL! (KEEP READING!)
Game 11. St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers. 49ers rebound and astound. (Clyde Frazier voice.)
Temple’s Take: San Francisco 38, St. Louis 10.
Game 12. Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos. These two teams have been the least impressive teams I’ve seen this season. It’s fitting that they are playing one another. The only way this game will be illuminating is if one team thoroughly dominates the other. While I do not like the Cowboys one stitch, I believe they’ve played better against tough competition (in 2008 and 2009) than the Broncos. Every game is a tortuous struggle for the Broncos involving miracle catches or blown calls from referees or the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders.
What I’ll be watching in this game? How does Left Defensive End, Ryan McBean stack up against the large offensive line of the Dallas Cowboys. Why? McBean was a 4th round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007.
Temple’s Take: Dallas 35, Denver 17.
Game 13. San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers. The last two times that the Chargers have come to town, they left feeling black and blue. Let’s home the trend continues. If this game isn’t over by halftime, it’s a fairly solid indication that the Steelers have NOT fixed what ails them. I think this will be the first of several games where we see the Steelers run the ball well. The Chargers are going to be without Jamal Williams for the balance of the 2009 season. Shawne Merriman is not himself.
With that said, the prospect of tackling Darren Sproles without the assistance of Troy Polamalu should absolutely terrify the Steelers defense. I’m nervous. This should be a great game. Remember when the Chargers opened last season’s AFC Division playoff game with a deep bomb to Vincent Jackson? Remember Santonio Holmes’ punt return touchdown?
I wonder if this is the week that Lawrence Timmons breaks out. Someone other than Tyrone Carter is going to have to cover Antonio Gates. Usually when these teams play, Polamalu covers Gates on passes. He also is usually the first to the ball on running plays. He keeps containment on the outside, he gets penetration and redirects runners. Without his presence, I think the Chargers have too many weapons.
Temple’s Take: San Diego 33, Pittsburgh 28.
Game 14. Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings seem to do just enough. Even before the win over the 49ers, the Vikings were less than stellar vs. Cleveland and Detroit. The Packers, too, appear to be finding their way. I believe that Green Bay has what it takes to win this game, but they haven’t figured out how to stop the run. If you can’t stop the Bengals and Rams, you are not going to stop the Vikings — especially since you will not be committing 8 men to the box consistently.
I like the Packers offense more than I like the Vikings offense. I like the Vikings defense much more than I like the Packers defense. Edge – Minny.
Temple’s Take: Minnesota 26, Green Bay 20.
Drum Roll: Jets at Saints!
Temple’s Take: New Orleans Saints 24, New York Jets 17.
I’ve changed my mind three times on this game. After finally watching some of what Buffalo was able to do, I like what the Jets can do.