Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Talbuc's Take - Week 4

Ground and Pound? Duck and Cover!
Who pissed in the Ravens cheerios? In a game for the ages, Baltimore’s defense thrashed the Jets for three, yes three non-offensive TDs. Starting with Ed Reed’s fumble causing shot on Mark Sanchez, these guys are always in the right place at the right time. You can’t throw deep on them because 1) the front seven won’t give you time, and 2) they’ll just flock to the ball and pick you off if you go deep. You can’t run on them. They’re absolutely dominant. Ray Rice didn’t have a really big game, and Joe Flacco was pretty inaccurate. It’s nice to be able to fall back on an elite defense if you need to at times.

It was borderline assault. In the end, Sanchez was just trying to get rid of the football without wearing another helmet in the chest. He finished a shoddy 11 for 35 with a 30.5 QB rating. Where do the Jets go from here? The Raiders loss was technically an upset, but I had Oakland winning that one. I’m not the least bit shocked that they were a double digit loser to Baltimore, but to get pushed around like that offensively is outright embarrassing. Rex Ryan is reportedly fuming, but I’m not sure the timing is right for a behind closed doors blow up session. They’re facing the Patriots this week in a game that I fully expect them to lose. Have the blow up Sunday night or Monday and then take it out on the Dolphins next week. I’m not sure these Jets make the playoffs.

Patriots / Raiders
Uh, his name is Wes Welker, and he just scored again. I understand that the Patriots move him around the field to exploit matchups, but why are teams continuing to allow him to destroy their defenses? I think there’s a noticeable difference in Tom Brady’s rhythm when Aaron Hernandez is on the field, so you know Brady’s hoping he’s back this week. Stevan Ridley keeps impressing. Belichick isn’t a guy to ride just one back, but Ridley looks like his best option back there. Jerod Mayo injured his MCL during the game and is going to miss at least a month. That won’t help an already struggling defense. The Jets are this week’s opponent, and as much as Rex Ryan wants to go back to ground and pound, he’s got to give Mark Sanchez a chance against this secondary. After all, he did throw 3 TDs the last time he faced them.

I’m chalking this one up to simply the better team winning. I still believe in the Raiders. Losing to one of the league’s elite is nothing to be ashamed of. Where the Patriots aren’t elite is in the secondary. Like everyone’s been able to do the Patriots, Jason Campbell had a field day passing. You have to go back almost two years to find a game where he threw for more than 344 yards. Five different receivers caught four passes, and interestingly, Denarius Moore wasn’t one of them. The Raiders go to Houston this week and get to face a defense that just held Ben Roethlisberger to a 16/30, 206 yd, 1 INT stat line.

Chargers / Dolphins
I like how Ryan Mathews is starting to pick up the offense and, not coincidently, more touches. Vincent Jackson had his second 100 yard game of the year, but now he’s dealing with abdomen and leg issues. It doesn’t appear to be terribly serious at this point. Speaking of injuries, when will Antonio Gates get back on the football field? It looks like they’re going to hold him out at least through their bye next week. Larry English finally got on the stat sheet tallying his first two sacks of the season. The annually slow starting Chargers get a chance to move to 4-1 this week against the Broncos. Nice way to head into your bye week.

The Dolphins are bad, really bad. I’m not sure it can get a ton worse, but Chad Henne is probably going to miss some time after their week 5 bye with a shoulder injury. Matt Moore is the only option they have right now, but David Garrard and Jake Delhomme have been mentioned as possibilities. Sparano is apparently safe through the bye, but I can’t see him surviving too many more losses (@ Jets, v. Broncos, @ Giants).

Bears / Panthers
Matt Forte exploded for 205 yards on 25 carries, showing the world that he’s capable of big things when he’s got room to run. Devin Hester, you are ridiculous! Why oh why is anyone kicking the football to that man. Put the damn thing 20 rows deep on the sideline, or just give the Bears the ball at midfield. Do we not have enough film on that guy taking the ball to the house? That’s the good news. The bad news is that Jay Cutler had a pathetic 9/17, 102 yd, 1 INT performance against an underwhelming Panther defense. Detroit will tear him up if he brings that kind of game two weeks in a row.

Yes his Panthers are 1-3, but I’m really impressed with Cam Newton’s competitiveness. I’m not sure him throwing the ball 40+ times a week is a recipe for a ton of wins, but he’s making his team a consistent threat. I still think they’re the worst team in the division, but their three losses were by a combined 19 points. I don’t think they win either of their next two games (v. Saints and @ Atlanta), but keeping those contests close will say something.

Steelers Staggered
Welcome back Arian Foster. It’s not every day that the Pittsburgh Steelers allow an individual rusher to own them for 155 yards on the ground, and that’s what Foster did on 30 carries. Andre Johnson going down with a hamstring injury is about as big a loss as Houston can take. There was a huge change in tone of the game when Johnson went out with the injury. Pittsburgh was able to run the ball a bit more; almost like the Texans shut it down a bit on both sides of the ball. This week’s game against Oakland will be no walk in the park.

I’m not ready to say that the Steelers are old, but these guys aren’t able to dominate regardless the opponent like they used to. You can keep the Colts down without your A game, but when you face a team as talented as the Texans, you can’t just show up and expect that to be enough. Ben Roethlisberger is getting abused behind a horrible offensive line, and if he wasn’t the game’s sturdiest passer in the pocket, his lack of protection would be even more obvious. Now he’s got an injured foot going against the upstart Titans this week. The horrid offensive line is extending to the run game too as Rashard Mendenhall has been unable to put up an even mediocre performance. I think after they lose to Tennessee this week, the media will be feasting on the Steelers.

Titans / Browns
These Titans look like the real deal. Matt Hasselbeck is in a big time comfort zone. He threw 3 more TDs giving him 8 on the year. If he keeps this up he’ll outdo his TD output for the last two years combined. Chris Johnson finally got something going on the ground too, so look out. I don’t think Tennessee’s defense is as good as their #1 ranking, but they’re getting plays at every level of the defense. I think they’re a fairly serious contender.

Cleveland isn’t making strides. Colt McCoy has no business throwing 61 passes in one football game, and the Browns aren’t going to win when Peyton Hillis gets only 10 carries. Joe Haden, their best defensive player, got banged up, so they’ll hope he gets healthy real quick during their bye week. Cleveland looks no better than a 5 or 6 win team at this point.

Redskins / Rams
You figure if your top RB runs for just 8 less yards than your QB throws for that you’re probably going to lose badly, but the Redskins can win in spite of Rex Grossman. Ryan Torain was the story of the game, running for 135 yards in his first significant duty of the year. Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan are a lot of fun to watch defensively. I don’t think the Skins are that good and that we’ll learn a lot about them in their three post-bye games – v. Philly, @ Carolina, and @ Buffalo.

Man the Rams are bad. The receivers continue to drop passes. A big one I saw was Lance Kendricks dropping a TD in the endzone on a 4th down trailing 17-0. They had to settle for a FG on that drive and ended up losing by 7. Sam Bradford isn’t capable of carrying the offense just yet, and he’s getting zero help from his receivers. Tackle Jason Smith looks like a huge bust so far as the #2 pick just 2 years ago. Now they get to sit out a week and ponder how pitiful they are before facing the Packers, Cowboys, and Saints in their next three games. They’re looking 0-7 square in the face.

Giants / Cardinals
Imagine if Eli put together 4 quarters of football in a row. Impressively, the Giants were able to win on the road while only generating 54 yards on the ground. Victor Cruz has at least temporarily passed Mario Manningham on the depth chart and is now the #2 receiver. Catching 6 passes for 98 yards will do that for you. Hakeem Nicks is still the #1 on that team, as if he needed to put up a 10 catch, 162 yard performance to make that clear. New York will be atop the division next week after they go to 4-1 by beating the Seahawks Sunday.

The bright spot in this loss was Beanie Wells. After missing last week’s game, Wells threw down 138 yards and 3 TDs on a pretty stout Giants defense. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough as Manning feasted on a secondary that now ranks 26th in passing yards allowed. They should find the going a little easier this week in Minnesota against a must less threatening Vikings passing game. Kevin Kolb hasn’t been terribly threatening since his week 1 performance against the Panthers.

Drama in Dallas
WOW! WOW! WOW! These Lions are something special. Facing deficits of 17-0 and 2 7-3, Detroit scored 34 of the game’s last 37 points to shock and awe Dallas. Calvin Johnson – you can’t stop him; you can only hope to contain him. The Cowboys were able to do that for the majority of the game, but Johnson took over in the 4th, doing what superstars do – stepping up when his team needed him. Titus Young continues to produce when his number is called, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished the year getting more targets than Nate Burleson. As awesome as their 4-0 start has been, Detroit’s biggest game of the year so far by far is next Monday night at home against the Bears. Think that dome will get loud? Matthew Stafford is already gaining priceless experience and confidence, and a MNF win would be another huge step forward.

What can you do but shake your head? This kind of stuff only happens to Tony Romo. Forget how a QB can throw pick-sixes on consecutive drives. How can he even be in a position to throw pick-sixes on consecutive drives? It’s a theme across talk radio this week – Where’s the run?!?! The Cowboys don’t have a bruiser anymore, but you’ve got to be able to run the ball when you’re up more than 3 TDs in the second half. No excuse for losing that one. I’m also a bit surprised (or maybe not) at how many are calling for a change at QB in Dallas, but McAwful continues to get free passes in Minnesota. Romo may make some bad plays at the worst times, but he at least gets his team to compete.

Packers / Broncos
I know these offensive numbers are getting ridiculous, but Aaron Rodgers is still the man. He became the first player in NFL history to throw for 400 yards and 4 TDs to go along with two rushing scores. M-V-P. I love Greg Jennings’ route running, concentration, and hands, especially in the deep passing game where I think Mike Wallace is the only other pro who can rival his “dangerosity”. James Starks would have liked to have seen more than 13 carries, but he ran hard every time he had the ball. Desmond Bishop continues to make a name for himself, totaling 10 tackles, a sack, and a TFL.

Typical Kyle Orton. He threw 3 TDs, but he backed that up with 3 INTs. I think he’s a far more competent passer at this point than McNabb, but I also think the Broncos should make like I propose the Vikings do and see what they have in their young passer(s). Tim Tebow is rumored to be gaining momentum to emerge from their week 6 bye as the starter. Stay tuned. Willis McGahee may be 120 in football years, but Sunday marked his second 100+ yard performance in three weeks. He’s clearly the #1 there over Knowshon Moreno. Von Miller got two more sacks, giving him 4 in 4 games, and getting one step closer to that Defensive ROY award.

Falcons/ Seahawks
I think Matt Ryan has found something he likes. For the second week in a row, Julio Jones put up at least 115 yards, this time catching 11 passes on an insane 17 targets (40% of Ryan’s passes). The guy is a beast and is fitting in perfecting with the Falcons. I don’t like how their defense continues to bend and have trouble putting away the opposition. That’s going to come back and bite them soon, maybe REAL soon. Oh they host the Packers this week.

Tarvaris Jackson resembled an NFL QB against the Falcons, throwing for three scores and a career high 319 yards. Sidney Rice had his second big week in a row and caught his first TD as a Seahawk. I’ll be interested to see how much damage those two can do against the Giants this week.

Giving it Away
Yeah, I know they’re 3-1, but I still don’t think San Fran is any good. A gimpy Frank Gore made Philly look silly. Hell, Michael Crabtree was even relevant, so you know the Eagles weren’t doing their job. The Bucs don’t play well out west, but they should still beat the 49ers. Beat the Bucs and Lions, and I’ll believe.

The Eagles suck. They give up big plays like it’s their job – Gore 40 yd run, Crabtree 38 yd catch, Josh Morgan 30 yd catch, Kendall Hunter 40 yd catch, and Vernon Davis 26 yd catch. Hell, I thought they had three of the best corners in the game, and they can’t stop Alex Smith? They’ve got no heart and play like a bunch of individuals. Look no further for the prime example of how meaningless individual stats are. They’re 1-3 heading to Buffalo in a game that they probably should lose. Are they going to figure out how to play together this week? Doubtful. Stay hot Ronnie Brown.

Bengals / Bills
Beating Buffalo was Cincinnati’s best performance so far, but they’re still a bad football team. Fortunately for them, they have one of the league’s easiest schedules and get to play the Jaguars and Colts next. Again, another example how misleading stats can be – Andy Dalton threw for 298 yards, but he completed half of his passes, threw 2 INTs, and had a QB rating of 64.4. I don’t like where this inflated stats thing is going.

The Bills showed that they’re not quite there yet. Championship teams don’t lose 17-3 halftime leads against punchless teams like the Bengals. I’ll give them a mulligan, but they can’t come out flat this week against Philly. Not much else to say about them right now.

Saints / Jaguars
New Orleans’ offense is borderline criminal. It’s not enough that they’ve got one of the most talented and intellectual QBs in the game running the show, but at his disposal he’s got four reliable receivers, a monstrous, athletic TE, and a trio of backs that attack you from every angle. Jimmy Graham exploded for 10 catches on 14 targets with 132 yds and a TD. Darren Sproles continues to show how much of an improvement he is over Reggie Bush. He has such an influence on how defenses attack this offense, leaving them vulnerable to Brees and the big play. The Saints are looking really strong.

The “experts” figured MJD would put up good game against the Saints, but he was held to just 87 total yards and no scores. That’s not going to help a rookie QB get the team to a W. Blaine Gabbert’s second outing wasn’t an improvement upon the first, going 16 of 42 for 196 yd with 1 TD and 1 INT. Brees is elite, but the Jags defense/secondary put up a really weak opposition. Jack Del Rio might beat Tony Sparano to the unemployment line.

Vikings / Chiefs
The Chiefs still suck, but fortunately for them, so do the Vikings. I saw a lot this yawner and watched Kansas City FG Minnesota to death. Sure they got the win, but their run game is pathetic and Matt Cassel and Todd Haley got into it a bit on the sidelines. Tamba Hali dominated a piss poor offensive line, collecting 7 total tackles, 2 sacks, 2 TFL, and 5 QB hits. Having a pass rusher like Hali will make up for a lot of weaknesses. The Chiefs try to run their streak to 2 games against the Colts this week in what’s being billed as the Suck for Luck bowl. Love it!

The Vikings are bad, but they can’t be any worse with Christian Ponder under center. McNabb is a joke. He’s still useless in the pocket, can’t hit open receivers, and has zero big play capability. What more do we need to see? If they can’t beat the Cardinals at home this week, I’m not sure how many more excuses can be made for McNabb.

Monday Night (Flag) Football
20 total ACCEPTED penalties, 14 on the Bucs. Again Ron Winter’s crew of officials shows itself to be one of the worst in all of sports. Way to go men!

The Bucs closed out week 4 with an extremely unnecessarily frustrating win over the Colts. They’re 3-1, but I think it’s pretty clear that this team has a long way to go before it’s a serious contender. The Bucs don’t do the little things it takes to be a champion. You don't step out of bounds before the ball gets to you as a receiver. You don't have stupid defensive breakdowns, letting receivers run free for long scores. You don’t jump offsides from the DT position. You don’t make stupid penalties that have no impact on the play. You don’t take a sack on 3rd down with minimal time left in the half or game. You get your offense off the field in time to kick a FG.

That bitching aside, there were plenty of individual performances to praise, starting with Josh Freeman. In addition to capping the victory with a critical fourth down conversion, I think the Bucs QB did a tremendous job managing the game action. He’s getting labeled a check down guy for the number of short passes he threw against the Colts, but that was simply a case of a QB taking what the defense gave him. Pat Angerer clears out the middle in the Tampa 2, and the Bucs were just running in players to where he was, getting those intermediate gains. Smart move in my opinion. No need to go for the big one when the defense is letting you walk down the field.

If Sucker Punch can string together a few more games like this one where he consistently hits the right hole and drags tacklers for extra yardage, I just might have to start calling him by his name. Until then… I’d like to see Mike Williams separate himself from this group of receivers, but I’ve got to say that I’m pleased that Preston Parker is making himself a regular factor. Again, I think we can do better talent-wise, but he’s got some of the quickness/suddenness that’s been missing. The offensive line did a great job giving Freeman time to look downfield and kept Dwight Freeney completely out of the stat sheet. Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but the Colts are one of the weaker defensive fronts in the league. Tampa won’t find things so easy in San Francisco this week.

Defensively, it was nice to see Adrian Clayborn and Gerald McCoy get after Curtis Painter. After two invisible weeks, this was Clayborn’s second straight game with a sack. Michael Bennett added two himself and looks really solid at LE. I did see him struggle with his hands and leverage a couple of times when trying to disengage from blocker moving laterally. Other than that, I can’t complain about what he’s doing. Aqib Talib is the only guy I’ve really got a beef with. All Pro players make All Pro plays. They don’t let Pierre Garcon run free for a long score, and they don’t drop near automatic pick sixes.

The Bucs are better than the 49ers and should win Sunday’s game. If they play as sloppy as they did for the majority of the Colts game, it’s going to be a long flight back to Tampa.

Best and Worst
At the quarter mark:

Best Teams (Previous Rank)
1 – Packers (1)
Dominated Denver and looking to repeat last year’s playoff visit to Atlanta.

2 – Ravens (2)
Speaking of dominating, their defense has given up 31 total points in their 3 wins.

3 – Saints (3)
Avoided a potential letdown in Jacksonville; looking to welcome Cam to the NFL this week.

4 – Patriots (4)
Played pissed off from that Buffalo loss, and I think they carry that over to a sound beating of the Jets.

5 – Lions (5)
Someone tell these guys they’re allowed to play with the lead. 

6 – Texans (7)
Three tough ones ahead (OAK, BAL, TEN) without Andre Johnson will be rough.

7 – Chargers (NR)
They’re finally off to a good start at 3-1 but lost to the only decent team they’ve played so far (Patriots).

8 – Titans (NR)
Huge week ahead. I think they go all out and beat Pittsburgh on the road, get a week of to regenerate, and then host Houston in a huge division showdown.

Worst Teams
1 – Indianapolis (2)
Take away Pierre Garcon’s two long TD runs, and Indy’s offense was pitiful yet again. They’re getting banged up on both sides of the ball at an absurd rate.

2 – Minnesota (5)
They’ll continue to play badly as long as McNabb is under center.

3 – Jacksonville (4)
Sunday against Cincinnati might be their only winnable game for a month.

4 – Kansas City (1)
Sure they got a win, but they’re still awful and are now fighting on the sidelines.

5 – Miami (6)
You know things are bad when you’re upset about losing Chad Henne. 

6 – St. Louis (8)
I surrender!

7 – Seattle (3)
Played Atlanta close, but I expect to see a truer representation Sunday against the Giants.

8 – Denver (7)
Tebow! Tebow! Tebow!

Best Performances
Aaron Rodgers (GB) – 29/38, 408 yds, 4 passing TDs, 1 INT, 134.5 QB rating, 9 rushes, 36 yards, 2 rushing TDs
Eli Manning (NYG) – 27/40, 321 yds, 2 TDs, 108.4 QB rating
Matt Hasselbeck (TEN) – 10/20, 220 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 108.3 QB rating
Philip Rivers (SD) – 21/31, 307 yds, 1 TD, 110.6 QB rating

Matt Forte (CHI) – 25 carries, 205 yds, 1 TD, 4 catches, 23 yds
Arian Foster (HOU) – 30 carries, 155 yds, 1 TD, 3 catches, 11 yds
Beanie Wells (ARI) – 27 carries, 138 yds, 3 TDs
Ryan Torain (WAS) – 19 carries, 135 yds, 1 TD

Calvin Johnson (DET) – 8 catches, 96 yds, 2 TDs
Steve Smith (CAR) – 8 catches, 181 yds
Jimmy Graham (NO) – 10 catches, 132 yds, 1 TD
Julio Jones (ATL) – 11 catches (17 targets), 127 yds
Wes Welker (NE) – 9 catches, 158 yds, 1 TD

Jason Babin (PHI) – 3 total tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Brian Orakpo (WAS) – 5 total tackles, 2.5 sacks
Tamba Hali (KC) – 7 total tackles, 2 sacks
Kavell Conner (IND) – 18 total tackles (14 solo)
Stephen Tulloch (DET) – 12 total tackles, 1 INT
Michael Bennett (TB) – 5 total tackles, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Paul Posluszny (JAX) – 13 total tackles, 1 sack

Worst Performances
Mark Sanchez (NYJ) – 11/35, 119 yds, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 30.5 QB rating, 3 lost fumbles
Jay Cutler (CHI) – 9/17, 102 yds, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 46.7 QB rating
Rex Grossman (WAS) – 15/29, 143 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs, 48.5 QB rating
Joe Flacco (BAL) – 10/31, 163 yds, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 37.4 QB rating
Blaine Gabbert (JAX) – 16/42, 196 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, 51.3 QB rating

Shonn Greene (NYJ) – 10 carries, 23 yds
Peyton Hillis (CLE) – 10 carries, 46 yds, 5 catches, 23 yds
Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG) – 12 carries, 39 yds, 1 TD, 4 catches, 11 yds, 1 fumble
Ronnie Brown (PHI) – Anyone see him throw the ball to the ground on that goal line carry? What the hell was he thinking?

Deion Branch (NE) – 1 catch, 4 yds (at least it resulted in a TD)
Nate Burleson (DET) – 2 catches, 16 yds
Roy Williams (CHI) – 1 catch, 15 yds
David Nelson (BUF) – 2 catches, 18 yds
Anquan Boldin (BAL) – 1 catch, 28 yds
(Quarter Way) MVP Voting
Here’s how I’d cast my ballot at the quarter mark:
1 – Aaron Rodgers
2 – Tom Brady
3 – Darren McFadden
4 – Drew Brees
5 – Matt Forte

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