There were some compelling story lines that emerged this week. The Bengals took a not-so-surprising plunge back to earth after beating the Steelers and Ravens. The Giants were undressed. The “Sanchise” took it on the chin 5 times and the Jets found a new way to lose. The Vikings showed just how tough they’re going to be down the stretch. (It looks an awful lot like the Saints and Vikings are going to play for the NFC Championship.) The Eagles did the unthinkable. With all of these stories, perhaps nothing was more surprising that the rapid and complete demise of the once-proud Tennessee Titans.
New England 59, Tennessee 0. What is Jeff Fisher doing? What is this team doing? Kerry Collins isn’t getting any younger or better. Kevin Mawae isn’t getting any younger. Keith Bullock isn’t either. This team is 0-6 and knows for certain that its season is finished. They suffered the worst defeat in the NFL since 1976. (And people thought Vince Young quit!!) If ownership is serious about this team, real changes need to be made immediately. I said back in Week 3, before the Jets game, that the Titans were in deep trouble. The situation has only worsened. It may be time for Jeff Fisher to begin working in a television studio.
The Titans aren’t the only team in trouble. Washington has just been demoted to Triple A. A few weeks ago, I had planned a writing a piece on the many things I found wanting in Jason Campbell’s game. I didn’t get around to writing it — and now that he’s been benched, there may not be much point. Still, the fact remains that the fundamental problems with this team, to my mind, don’t have much to do with Campbell’s on field performance. I believe he would be a better quarterback if he had a different demeanor, but it is too late to change all that. The problem in Washington begins with Daniel Snyder and his philosophy of team-building. It has been flawed since its inception. The fruits of his labor are clear for all to see. The Redskins have limited talent, yet, they began the season with high expectations. And perhaps worst of all, they are led by man who has no knowledge of how to win close, tight games. What franchise has been more mediocre over the past 20 years than the perennially 7-9, 8-8, 9-7 Seattle Seahawks? What could Zorn possibly teach the young ‘Skins about winning? I suppose it is only as much as he has — and that’s not enough.
If you’re a Patriots fan, you simply cannot take anything away from this victory. The Patriots beat a team that was defeated weeks ago. The Titans are a shell of themselves. This game was no referendum on “The Return of Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Laurence Maroney.” Don’t believe the hype.
Kansas City 14, Washington 6. Yesterday’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs isn’t as bad as Washingtonians think. The same fate almost befell the Cowboys a week ago. The Chiefs are likely to win again before the season is over. They may even beat the Broncos the next time they meet. Of course, by that time, the Beltway band will have forgotten how awful the Chiefs were alleged to be during Week 6. Todd Collins has Sonny Jurgenson’s vote. I don’t think it will be enough — even though he knows the offense. His production was about the same as Campbell’s. Besides, Collins can’t play left tackle — and neither can Chris Samuels for now.
Arizona 27, Seattle 3. The Seahawks are a mess. Last week, they won 41-0. Statistically, the Cardinals always seem to be a mess on defense. Just when you think its safe to “bet” against them, they get a favorable matchup where players like Bryant McFadden and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can use their strength and speed against aging receivers like T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Deion Branch. Players like Darnell Dockett and Karlos Dansby can shut down runners like Julius Jones. Until Walter Jones and the rest of the line return, the ‘Hawks will be living on the edge. Now that they’ve lost Lofa Tatupu for the season, this team could be headed for the end of the road. They travel to Arizona in two weeks — Will it be more of the same?
Carolina 28, Tampa Bay 21. Okay, I really thought Tampa was going to win this game. I had a strong feeling about Cadillac Williams. That worked out fine. What didn’t work out so well was the rushing defense (267 yards) or Josh Johnson’s continued ability to get the ball to Kellen Winslow and Antonio Bryant. Still, he was more effective than Jake “Why Does He STILL have a Job?” Delhomme. The Bucs had a number of costly penalties and simply executed poorly across the board. They didn’t have the sustained drives that they did the week prior in Philadelphia (more on those bums later). Carolina’s running game re-emerged and DeAngelo Williams (30, 152, 2) and Jonathan Stewart (18, 110, 1) excelled. It went down to the wire. I still believe the Bucs are in a position to win some games this season. The biggest challenge for them will be tightening up on defense.
With that said, kudos to Aqib Talib for his defense on Steve Smith. Defense is a team effort, but Talib’s efforts are worth noticing. Steve Smith caught one pass for four yards. Mid way through the 4th quarter, the Bucs defense stiffened and forced a third and long. Talib lined up with Smith and forced Jake Delhomme to look elsewhere. The ball was intercepted by Tannard Jackson and returned for a touchdown. That tied the score at 21 and prepared the way for DeAngelo’s finishing touch (pictured above.)
Pittsburgh 27, Cleveland 14. I have a delusional friend who believes the Steelers still win games in spite of Ben Roethlisberger. That Big Ben is healthy, threw for 417 yards, leads the NFL in passing yards (Peyton Manning bye week) and is 2nd in completion percentage (Peyton Manning 73.5% vs. 72.5%), and won the last Super Bowl with a perfect pass against triple coverage means nothing. Thank goodness he’s not a personnel man in the NFL. The Steelers need Roethlisberger because the running game is still not where it needs to be. Rashard Mendenhall runs hard, but he has yet to perfect the art of ball security. The same goes for Willie Parker. When the Steelers are even or ahead in the turnover department, they win. With the loss of Aaron Smith and the shaky health of Troy Polamalu (he tweaked his knee again on an interception), the margin for error is razor thin. The Browns could only muster 7 points on offense (Josh Cribbs returned a kick 98 yards.). The Steelers won’t be so fortunate against the Vikings. By the way, I think it is almost time to start referring to the ageless Hines Ward.
Minnesota 33, Baltimore 31. This is one of the few games that I picked correctly. It could just as easily have gone the other way. With this loss, the Baltimore Ravens have dropped to 3-3. They have a defense that has surrendered 130 points. We’re usually into Week 12 or 13 before this team has allowed that many points. Sure, Flacco and Ray Rice and company can score, but this is not the same team that we saw in 2008 — and the returns are not likely to be as promising. Next week, the Ravens have a bye…then they get Denver, go on the road to Cincinnati and Cleveland, followed by home games vs. the Colts and Steelers…then a road game at the Packers. The next 6 games are going to make or break the Ravens season. I think they need to win 4 or more of these games to make the playoffs.
The Vikings are looking like “The Most Favored of the Gods.” Whether we’re talking about surviving against the Lions, the unlikely catch by Greg Lewis or Steven Hauschka’s “Wide Left,” the Vikings remain unbeaten by the narrowest of margins. Next week, the Vikings are on the road at Heinz Field. Sidney Rice is showing all of the promise that was held for him coming out of South Carolina. I wonder if the Steelers can slow down Adrian Peterson without Aaron Smith.
Jacksonville 23, St. Louis 20 (OT). I think you have to have what I like to call “the necessary respect” of every opponent you face (Recurring Theme Watch!!). The Jaguars are just so inconsistent. They did just catch a Cross Country Beat Down from the Seahawks, but should they really be struggling with the Rams? We know the Jags don’t have game-breaking talent aside from Maurice Jones-Drew(33, 133, 3). Still, they need to put together a full 60 minutes against someone other than the Titans.
Note: Dear Patriot Fans,
The same Jaguar team that was throttled by Seattle 41-0 and was compelled to play overtime vs. the lowly Rams, also smashed the Titans. Don’t believe the hype. You are not who you think you are. Ask the Broncos.
Oakland 13, Philadelphia 9. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. When the Eagles do not run the ball, they are a soft bunch who will be beaten. Yesterday, Westbrook and McCoy combined for 11 carries. The Eagles lost against the inspired Oakland Raiders. There is no question that the Raiders have a GREAT DEAL of talent on both sides of the ball. If the Raiders could improve the footwork and fundamentals of JaMarcus Russell and steal a rabbit’s foot from the Vikings, they might be 3-3. Remember that Week 1 loss to the Chargers? That’s all that separates the Raiders from having the same record as the Baltimore Ravens. One drive, one tipped pass, one missed tackle.
The Eagles are fortunate the Giants will be forced to do some soul searching after getting shelled by the New Orleans Saints. Whatever the Giants thought about themselves (and what we thought) on both sides of the ball is clearly no longer true. The Giants are not possessed of a dominant offense or defense. They are saddled with aging linebackers and inexperienced secondary players incapable of playing man or zone coverage — yet. The Eagles need to use this time to capitalize on making improvements.
Andy Reid, much to my amazement, continues to believe that this team can pass its way to the Super Bowl. It’s as if he missed the 2007 Super Bowl when the Giants disabused Bill Belichick and company of that foolish notion. It’s as if he didn’t see last year’s game when the Steelers won the game as much in that first half (by silencing Larry Fitzgerald and intercepting Kurt Warner for a 100-yard touchdown) as on the final drive. It’s as if he’s been somewhere else for all of the big Eagle playoff losses when the ability to pass and score has failed this team. They have to run the rock. Jackson, Maclin, Brown, Avant, Celek, Curtis and McNabb are not going to get it done without offensive balance. Yesterday, they were all awful.
The touchdown play by Zach Miller embodied the problems this team has had all season. Earlier this season, I put the spotlight on a brilliant touchdown by Saints fullback Heath Evans. Evans beat three Eagles to the endzone on a play that should have gone nowhere. Instead, he scored and propelled his team to a blowout victory. So it was yesterday. Four or five Eagles had a decent shot at Miller. Some waved at him. Others chauffered him down the sideline. Some offered to carry his bags. No one brought the wood. The Eagles need to take that “JJ” off their helmets and put it in their hearts. You don’t always win in this league by showing up…but you will most surely lose if you do not show up. Yesterday, the Eagles didn’t show up and were physically mauled (just like the Chargers in Week 1) and embarrassed. This loss could be the difference between making the playoffs and rooting for friends on the Bears, Vikings and Falcons.
Atlanta Falcons 21, Chicago Bears 14. This is the second consecutive year the Falcons have played and beaten the Bears. Both games were played in Atlanta. Both games were close. Both games came down the final play. In 2008, the Falcons were able to execute and made a game-winning field goal. Last night, the Bears made mistake after mistake in the Red Zone and were not able to tie what had been a very entertaining game. Matt Forte fumbled on consecutive plays in the 2nd half. Orlando Pace had a false start in the Red Zone.
Atlanta looks like a solid team right now. In two weeks, they will play the Saints at New Orleans. That’s going to be a great game. Last night, I was very impressed with Matt Ryan. I was also impressed with him in last year’s game vs. the Bears. He makes the right reads. He doesn’t usually force the ball. He and his linemen pick up blitzes very well. The team seems prepared for most of what confronts them from week to week. Three weeks ago, the 49ers and Bears had two of the better defensive units in the league. One drubbing and 2 middle linebackers later, neither of them are looking so formidable. The Falcons figure out ways to sustain drives and score the ball. Last night, the “trick” was going to a no-huddle offense in the first half. It surprised the Bears and provided the margin of victory. I like Atlanta to do some things.
Buffalo 16, New York Jets 13. What was that???
Green Bay 26, Detroit 0. What did you expect?
Houston 28, Cincinnati 17. This game went almost as I expected. I expected a high scoring game. I expected the Bengals offense to emerge flat after such great performances vs. Pittsburgh and Baltimore. If we anything at all about the Cincinnati Bengals, it is that this team cannot stand prosperity. I thought the Texans would be able to find the end zone. What I did not expect was that the Bengals would only score 17 points. Cedric Benson showed up as the The Former Bear Ya Luv Ta Hate (16 carries, 44 yards).
The Texans dominated time of possession, finally got Steve Slaton untracked (as a receiver), and benefited from two Bengal fumbles and a Carson Palmer interception. It also helps to have Andre Johnson. I wonder if Jacoby Jones, with all his marvelous speed, has supplanted Kevin Walter in the heart and mind of Matt Schaub!
Conference losses at home in Week 6 are the thing that forces you to play on the road in Wild Card games. This is a big loss for the Bengals. Next five weeks for the Cats? Chicago, bye, Baltimore, at Pittsburgh, at Oakland. The Bengals are going to be facing a slew of desperate and angry teams over the next month. Press clippings cannot play games. The Bengals are either going to do well down this stretch or they’ll watch the Steelers and Ravens resume their place atop the AFC North.
New Orleans 48, New York Giants 27. The Saints are the real deal. The Giants were clearly overwhelmed. I won’t rehash this debacle. The Saints just have too many weapons. I sent a text message to a couple of friends yesterday morning after hearing that Tom Coughlin’s strategy against the Saints was to stop the run. I knew the Giants were in trouble. Sure, New Orleans only averaged 3.4 ypc, but they had 40 rushes. The Saints defense and the passing game were simply too much for the Giants.
If you’re going to beat the Saints, I think you have to be able to get pressure on Drew Brees WITHOUT blitzing…and you have to be able to stop the run and play pass coverage with no more than 6 guys. That means you must have 4 down linemen who can rush, 2 tackles who can stuff the run, and 2 rangy linebackers who can run to the ball and play pass coverage. After you’ve done all of that, you need DB’s who can mix zone and man (press coverages) defenses. Only a handful of teams have that type of personnel.
Oh, and you still need to score about 35 to 50 points. Good luck!!
The Saints are not unbeatable…In fact, I’d like to see them deal with the physicality of the Dolphins — and I will — NEXT WEEK. I’ll be curious to see if the Saints defense can stand up to Miami if they are not playing with a big lead. Can Miami get a pass rush with Taylor and Porter — without blitzing? Is Channing Crowder fast enough to keep Shockey, Colston and company from dominating the middle? Will Yeremiah Bell get smoked by Lance Moore and Robert Meachem? (Psst: I told you Lance would break out this week.)
In two weeks, the Saints host Atlanta. The season is shaping up nicely.