Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Talbuc's Take - Week 1

Cowboys 24 @ Giants 17
The season’s kickoff game saw the Cowboys travel to New York and take down the defending champs.  For what it’s worth, that was the first time the defending champs lost a season opening prime time game in nine years.  With Jason Witten nursing a lacerated spleen and basically playing the role of a decoy most of the night, Kevin Ogletree stepped up with 114 yards and 2 TDs.  The Cowboys never trailed after his first score, and as good as they played, the Giants weren’t exactly giving it their best.  Ahmad Bradshaw was slow and ineffective as a runner, David Wilson fumbled and was benched, and Victor Cruz dropped three passes.  They looked a lot slower overall as a team in the second half as Romo and the running game led by Demarco Murray’s 131 yards took over.  It was a great start for the Cowboys.  They couldn’t have asked for a better game from their defense.  DeMarcus Ware sacked Eli twice, and the cornerback pairing of Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne did a solid job of holding Cruz and Hakeem Nicks in check.  Dallas will now travel to Seattle, while the Giants host the Bucs and try to avoid starting 0-2 at home. 

Rams 23 @ Lions 27
Good teams find ways to win games even when they don’t have their best stuff, and that’s exactly what the Lions did Sunday against the Rams.  Detroit, who trailed at four different points in the contest, rallied for an 80 yard game winning drive with less than two minutes to go, sealing the win on a Matt Stafford TD pass to Kevin Smith.  Stafford struggled for most of the day, throwing 3 INTs and showing too much of the poor decision making that has limited his development in the past.  Jeff Fisher’s defense was reading the plays before the happened and baited Stafford into some pretty putrid passes.  I like how he spread the ball around, completing passes to 10 different receivers, but the disappointment of the group had to be Titus Young.  He was held to 14 yards on 1 catch and wasn’t a part of the action after stupidly head butting Janoris Jenkins.  For the Rams Steven Jackson ran 21 times for a weak 2.5 ypc behind a bad offensive line, a unit that’s going to get Sam Bradford hurt if they don’t step up.  I like their defense, but the offense doesn’t have the firepower to capitalize on turnovers. 

Eagles 17 @ Browns 16
Speaking of ugly wins, there wasn’t an uglier one than this.  Yes, the Browns had the services of Joe Haden, but as good a cover man as he is, there’s absolutely no excuse for a team with the weapons that Philadelphia has to only score 2 TDs and a FG in 16 offensive drives.  That’s horrible.  Michael Vick was awful in completing 29 of 56 passes for an embarrassing 5.7 ypa.  He threw 2 INT and made stupid decision after stupid decision.  He’s going to be Philly’s biggest problem this season, and it’s only a matter of time until he gets hurt.  Think he can turn it around with the Ravens coming to town this week?  Cleveland’s new guys struggled pretty bad.  Brandon Weeden made Vick look like Aaron Rodgers, completing 34% of his passes for a laughable 3.4 ypa to go with his 4 INTs.  If it weren’t for the their defense, the Eagles lose this one.  Trent Richardson struggled too, running for 2.1 ypc on 19 attempts and caught just 1 pass for 5 yards.  You have to wonder if he’s completely healthy yet and if he’s putting himself at risk by playing at less than 100%.  With Haden starting his 4 game suspension this week, the Browns will face Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Joe Flacco, and Eli Manning without him. 

Falcons 40 @ Chiefs 24
Told you so!  Ok, I may have picked the Chiefs to win this game (KC isn’t the easiest place to play), but Julio Jones looked every bit the breakout player I think he’s going to be this season, catching 6 passes for 108 yards and 2 scores.  Nothing against Roddy White who is certainly also among the best in the league, but Jones is simply uncoverable at times.  Calvin Johnson is the only other receiver in the league with more ‘take over the game’ ability.  Michael Turner looked like a turtle, but that weakness is masked by the success of a near flawless passing game led by Matt Ryan.  Sean Weatherspoon started out on a good note with 7 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 TFL.  The Chiefs really missed Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers, as Ryan pretty much did whatever he wanted with the football.  For the Chiefs, Matt Cassel isn’t any better this year.  He’ll take what the defense gives him and nothing more.  Dwayne Bowe wasn’t a factor, but Dexter McCluster looks to have found a real role under the new staff.  The diminutive one caught 6 passes, twice as many as Bowe, for 82 yards and gives the passing game a much needed spark.  Seeing Jamaal Charles run for 5.4 ypc was a nice sight.  He looks fully recovered from last year’s ACL injury.  Atlanta gets a stiffer test this week when they host the Denver Mannings  on Monday Night Football.

Patriots 24 @ Titans 13
Another ho-hum win for Tom Brady and the Patriots.  After spotting the Titans to a 3 point lead, the Patriots scored 3 unanswered TDs and put this game comfortably out of reach.  Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez both caught 6 passes and scored a TD, but the stat that stands out is that Wes Welker caught a measly 3 passes for 14 yards on 5 targets.  Was that a one week anomaly?  Welker and his agent hope so.  What likely impressed Bill Belichick and crew most was the rushing performance by Stevan Ridley.  The second year back ran for 125 yards on 21 carries with a TD and showed that he’s more than capable of playing the primary ball carrier role.  Ridley could prove to be quite the asset this season.  I liked seeing rookies Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower combine on a strip sack fumble recovered for a TD.  I’m sure we’ll see more of the same from those two over the years.  There wasn’t much to be happy about if you’re a Titans fan.  Chris Johnson still isn’t running hard, and the interior of his offensive line is still garbage.  Jake Locker showed me quite a bit and looks like starting material, if he can stay healthy.  He suffered a shoulder injury late on the turnover that wasn’t a turnover.  Kenny Britt returns to action this week and should take over the role of Locker’s primary target. 

Redskins 40 @ Saints 32
Well that went well.  I figured RGIII would be able to put up some points on the Saints’ decent defense, but 40 points in your first game as a pro, on the road, in the Superdome, against a Saints team that has played the role of pissed off victim all offseason.  Well done rookie.  The Redskins started the game with 4 straight scoring drives, including an 88 yard scoring pass on the first play of their second drive.  Drew Brees and the Saints offense were just slightly off.  Did the fact that Brees held out during training camp lead to the poor offensive rhythm?  Is he assuming too many play calling responsibilities with Sean Payton suspended?  Not to take anything away from RGIII and the Redskins, but the replacement refs gift wrapped a TD for them on a 4th and 1 on the first drive of the 3rd quarter.  Roman Harper was flagged for a ridiculous PI call, and Alfred Morris walked it in on the next play.  The Saints went from having the ball on their own 33 down 6 with momentum on their side at the start of the 3rd quarter to down 13 and struggling to find consistency.  They ran 3 plays inside Washington’s 10 late in the 3rd quarter but had to settle for a FG.  You can’t get that deep and settle for FGs.  Jimmy Graham is a beast.  He makes it look too easy at times.  Back to Morris, the Redskins primary ball carrier this week ran for 96 yards and 2 scores.  He looks to have earned another week atop the depth chart.  The Saints will look to get in the win column this week at Carolina, while the Redskins travel to St. Louis, where RGII and that suddenly dynamic offense gets to play their second straight game in the controlled climate of a dome. 

Colts 21 @ Bears 41
Now this didn’t go well.  While RGIII was shining in New Orleans, Andrew Luck struggled through 3 INTs and a fumble in his first NFL start, a bruising 41-21 loss to the Bears.  Luck may have been trying to do too much, but that’s not hard to do given what he has to work with on offense.  Aside from Reggie Wayne, the veteran he connected with 9 times for 135 yards, his only other receiving threat was his collegiate security blanket, Coby Fleener.  It didn’t help that the Bears lost Dwight Freeney left the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle.  Jay Cutler on the other hand has to be thrilled with the way things went in week 1.  The veteran three for 333 yards and 2 scores, hooking up with his long lost #1 Brandon Marshall 9 times for 135 yards and a TD.  With the duo looking like they haven’t missed a best from their Denver days, Cutler may finally have the threat he’s sorely needed since joining the Bears.  Matt Forte might not like sharing the pigskin, but the Bears are a better running team with Michael Bush in the fold.  The former Raider rushed for two scores on the day and finished with a near split in carries with Forte.  I know it was the Colts, but the Bears did the things they were supposed to do and did them well.

Jaguars 23 @ Vikings 26
I caught a good bit of this one, and it turned out to be a pretty good game, especially the ending.  Adrian Peterson is definitely back.  Only that guy can come back from a severe knee injury in what seemed like a couple of months and run for 84 yards and 2 scores.  He’s in a league of his own.  Christian Ponder showed great chemistry with Kyle Rudolph, the second year TE who caught 5 passes for 67 yards.  Look for him to assume the role of Ponder’s #2 target behind Percy Harvin.  Peterson might be back, but Maurice Jones-Drew isn’t.  The reigning rushing leader looked a little sluggish in his return from holding out the preseason and wasn’t able to be much of a factor on his 22 touches.  Blaine Gabbert had a really nice opener, completing 23 of 39 passes for 260 yards and 2 scores without a turnover.  Gabbert didn’t throw for more than 221 yards in a single contest last season.  He looks to have developed a nice rapport with Cecil Shorts, which came in handy with rookie Justin Blackmon matched up with Antoine Winfield the whole game.  Jacksonville’s reward for a hard-fought loss is returning home to host the Texans.

49ers 30 @ Packers 22
That kids is what we call an ass kicking.  The 49ers came to town and smacked around the Packers in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score shows.  The dominant Niners defense held the high octane Packers to a single score through three quarters.  They shut down the deep game, limiting the vertical strikes to Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings, and forcing Aaron Rodgers to settle for dinking and dunking it through repeatedly wasted drives.  The run game was, unsurprisingly, nonexistent, leading Mike McCarthy to play Randall Cobb in the backfield quite a bit.  I’ve made no secret of my fondness for Cobb’s game, and his athleticism was on full display Sunday with 9 catches for 77 yards and a huge punt return for a TD.  It wasn’t enough on this occasion as the Niners played what I thought was their best game in Jim Harbaugh’s tenure.  Frank Gore isn’t done yet.  He ran for 112 yards and a score on just 16 carries, while Michael Crabtree stepped up in the passing game for 7 catches and 76 yards.  I’m admittedly not a big Alex Smith fan, but that guy just keeps playing sound, smart football.  For Green Bay, it’s just one game, but that defense doesn’t look any better yet.  They couldn’t make the stops when they needed to and didn’t get any pressure on Smith outside from Clay Matthews and a blitzing Charles Woodson.  If I can provide the slightest defense for the Packers it would be that David Akers kicked a record tying FG at the end of the first half that bounced off the crossbar, and Rodgers threw an INT deep in his own territory that the Niners turned into six on just one play.  The Packers can’t afford to feel sorry for themselves with the Bears coming to town Thursday.  An 0-2 start would set off quite a few panic alerts in cheese country.

Bills 28 @ Jets 48
If there was an anomaly of week one, I believe it was the Jets/Bills game.  Sandwiching a 56 yard score by CJ Spiller were 5 Jets TDs and 1 FG.  Buffalo trailed 41-7 late in the 3rd quarter before they found the endzone a second time.  Mark Sanchez needs to grab a ton of Monday’s newspapers because I’m not sure he has many more 3 TD games in him this season.  The rookie Stephen Hill was the primary beneficiary of Sanchez’s solid showing, catching 5 passes for 89 yards and 2 TDs.  The tall vertical threat looks to have established himself as Braylon Edwards’ replacement as Sanchez’s deep threat.  Heck, even Shonn Greene had a decent game.  The circus stayed on the sidelines for most of the day which has to be a good thing for the Jets.  The less we see of him the better.  For Buffalo, the L in the standings wasn’t their only loss on the day.  Starting running back Fred Jackson sustained a knee injury that will have him out of action for at least a month, and #2 receiver David Nelson was lost for the year with a torn ACL.  It’s not exactly the start the Bills were looking for, but I think Spiller will do a more than admirable job of picking up the slack.  The question, as it has always been, is will Ryan Fitzpatrick eliminate the mental mistakes. 

Dolphins 10 @ Texans 30
This one was close for a quarter.  After spotting Miami a 3-0 lead, the Texans scored 3 times in the 2nd quarter, taking the guessing out of this contest at halftime.  Arian Foster’s shaky knee held up as he carried the ball 26 times and scored twice.  Andre Johnson added 119 receiving yards and a TD on 8 receptions, showing the league that’s he’s still a dominant force to be reckoned with.  The defense brought their A-game, sacking and intercepting rookie Ryan Tannehill 3 times each.  JJ Watt was the standout up front, compiling 1.5 sacks and defending 3 passes.  This defense comes at you from everywhere, and Tannehill and his 39.0 QB rating certainly felt it.  Reggie Bush accounted for 42% of the Dolphins’ yardage and took 14 of the team’s 19 carries out of the backfield.  With Daniel Thomas suffering a concussion, Miami would be in awful shape should Bush ever miss any substantial time.  Miami looks to be making an early push for the first pick in next year’s draft.  The Texans look to be getting off to a great start in their race for New Orleans.

Steelers 19 @ Broncos 31
He’s baaaaaaaaaaaaaack!  Peyton Manning didn’t break any records last night, but he did convince me that he’s capable of being the game changer he was prior to the neck injury.  Manning threw for 2 TDs, but more importantly he didn’t turn the ball over and was able to get up from the couple of hits that Pittsburgh managed to put on him.  Oops he did it again.  Demaryius Thomas caught a quick pass from Manning and took it 71 yards for a score, on a play that had to bring back horrible playoff memories for Steelers fans.  Willis McGahee isn’t a dominant runner any more (or even close to it), but with Manning under center showing that he still deserves ultimate respect, the balky kneed one was able to average 4 ypc against the Steelers defense.  Thomas, Eric Decker, and Jacob Tamme each caught 5 passes and should remain the three most targeted receivers on offense.  For Pittsburgh, the losses on the offensive line may be greater than the 31-19 opening game setback.  Right guard Ramon Foster and right tackle Marcus Gilbert left the game with injuries, further weakening an already shallow pool of offensive line talent.  They can’t afford to have Ben Roethlisberger get sacked 5 times a game like he was in this one.  Jonathan Dwyer was the biggest bright spot for the Steelers.  After a solid preseason showing, Dwyer averaged 4.8 ypc and was clearly the best runner of he, Isaac Redman, and Chris Rainey.  I’m anxious to see how he does against the Jets this week.  Peyton goes from one prime time game to another, heading to Atlanta to take on the Falcons on Monday Night Football.  

Seahawks 16 @ Cardinals 20
This one, expectedly, wasn’t pretty.  In a game that was close throughout, Braylon Edwards’ drop of a potential game winning TD exemplified the kind of day Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense went through.  This already isn’t the most explosive set of wideouts, and when they start dropping very catchable passes, you’re really hamstringing your QB.  Yes, it was only an opener, but as someone who has high expectations for this team, to see them come out as flat as they did offensively definitely wasn’t encouraging.  The Cardinals can’t be encouraged knowing that their starting QB is out at least a couple of weeks after suffering an ankle injury.  Kevin Kolb was able to lead them on the game winning drive, but the guy was a backup for a reason.  Defensively, Daryl Washington is off to a nice start with 10 tackles, 1 TFL, and a sack.  If Seattle is going to contend for anything, they need to step it up. 

Panthers 10 @ Bucs 16
Maybe it’s the 10 year magic.  Maybe it’s a one week deal.  Whatever the case may be, the Buccaneers came out of the gates incredibly focused and actually carried out the game plan.  It was refreshing to see, and there are plenty of accolades to pass around.  I’ve got to start with the new guys.  Doug Martin, Mark Barron, and Lavonte David all met or exceeded game one expectations.  Martin handled the load as primary ball carrier and gave the Buccaneer running game an element it’s missed since Cadillac was in his prime.  Barron was an instant intimidator on defense, whether it was covering the secondary to knock down passes or closing on and knocking the piss out of Steve Smith.  David led the team in tackles and made the play of Geno Hayes look even worse than we already knew it to be.  I’m very pleased with the way this team looked.  Hell, even Gerald McCoy showed up for this one.  The cherry on top was the play of old man Ronde Barber.  Not only is he still playing football at the age of 106, he’s learning a new position as well.  The NFC’s Defensive Player of the Week totaled 5 tackles, 2 TFL, one sack, an interception, and two defended passes.  Great start for a great veteran.  Can’t say I’m not shocked about the way the Bucs shut down Carolina’s offense.  After averaging 43 points in two games against the Bucs last year, the Panthers were held to a meager 10, including a first half shutout.  Cam Newton threw more INTs than TDs and got absolutely nothing on the ground (5 carries 4 yards).  Hell, the entire Panthers team ran for 13 yards on 10 carries.  Bravo Bucs!  Your reward – a trip to New York to face the pissed off 0-1 defending champs.

Bengals 13 @ Ravens 44
I love it!  Joe Flacco unleashed!  If this is what we’re going to get from the Baltimore Ravens on a consistent basis this season, they should start making February reservations for New Orleans.  Flacco led a no-huddle offense that had no trouble moving the ball against a no-slouch Bengals defense.  Call me a Flaccoholic baby, I’m drinking the juice!  I’m not sculpting his Canton bust just yet, but I think very good things are ahead for him this year.  Another plus for the Ravens is that they only had to give Ray Rice 10 carries; save those legs.  I still expect big things from Torrey Smith, but he had a quiet night.  Good to see Dennis Pitta, the extremely productive BYU grad, being utilized early and often.  The Ravens defense brought its A-game too.  Andy Dalton was sacked 4 times and threw an interception to, who else, Ed Reed.  You don’t replace or not miss a guy like Terrell Suggs, but this was an excellent ’12 premier for the Ravens.  If you’re a Bengals fan, it’s got to hurt that they couldn’t even get anything done during garbage time.  Baltimore put it on cruise control for the 4th quarter, and Cincinnati couldn’t muster any points.  Another disappointing note for the Bengals is the inability of Dalton and Green to get any rhythm established.  Green was targeted 11 times, but recorded only 5 receptions.  Things will be a bit easier for the Bengals this week as they return home to open against the Browns.  Baltimore hits the road at the right time I believe to battle Philly. 

Chargers 22 @ Raiders 14
This is the one game I saw the least of in week 1.  Of what I did see, I had my belief confirmed that this Raiders team is going only as far as Darren McFadden takes them.  And for a guy who’s had a history of missing games, that’s a pretty big risk.  The inability to stay healthy has always been McFadden’s biggest knock, but there’s no denying that there aren’t more than maybe a couple of backs in the game who are more dangerous with the ball in their hands in space.  Great game catching the ball by McFadden as well; most ever in a game by a Raider rusher.  Oh by the way, the Raiders lost.  Phillip Rivers will take a victory, but I know he wishes they were more efficient on offense.  They moved the ball well but couldn’t consistently capitalize on field position.  It didn’t help that the running game was utterly useless.  Antonio Gates left with a rib injury, but it’s apparently a minor thing.  I’d hate to see this guy miss a ton of action again this year.  As much praise as I’m giving McFadden, the guy only rushed for 32 yards on 15 carries.  San Diego’s front seven did a tremendous job of shutting down the Raider run game and forcing Carson Palmer to beat them.  Wise move.  Palmer’s stat line doesn’t look bad, but from the action that I saw, he’s a step or two slow in going through his progressions and taking advantage of open windows.  I still think both of these teams are going to be looking up at the Broncos and Chiefs in the end. 

Best and Worst
I’m going to continue the ‘feature’ I started last year by naming my best and worst teams in the league each week.  I do my best not to overreact to one week’s worth of action, so this list is formed based on a combination of my gut and what I witnessed last week. 

Elite Eight
1 – San Francisco
2 – Baltimore
3 – Green Bay
4 – New England
5 – Houston
6 – Atlanta
7 – Denver
8 – Chicago

Funk Bunch
1 – Miami
2 – Cleveland
3 – Jacksonville
4 – Indianapolis
5 – Oakland
6 – Arizona
7 – Minnesota
8 – St. Louis

Top Performers

QB –
Robert Griffin III – 19/26, 320 yds, 2 TD, 139.9 QBR (#1), 10 car 42 yds
Matt Ryan – 23/31, 299 yds, 3 TDs, 136.4 QBR
Joe Flacco – 21/29, 299 yds, 2 TDs, 128.4 QBR
Tony Romo – 22/29, 307 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 129.5 QBR
Peyton Manning – 19/26, 253 yds, 2 TDs, 129.2 QBR
Mark Sanchez – 19/27, 266 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 123.4 QBR

RB –
Adrian Peterson – 17 car, 94 yds, 2 TDs, 1 rec, 3 yds
CJ Spiller – 14 car, 169 yds, 1 TD, 2 rec, 25 yds
DeMarco Murray – 20 car, 131 yds, 2 rec, 9 yds
Stevan Ridley – 21 car, 125 yds, 1 TD, 2 rec, 27 yds
Frank Gore – 16 car, 112 yds, 1 TD, 1 rec, 1 yd
LeSean McCoy – 20 car, 110 yds, 6 rec, 26 yds

WR –
Randall Cobb – 9 rec, 77 yds, 6 returns, 153 yds, 1 TD
Kevin Ogletree – 8 rec, 114 yds, 2 TDs
Julio Jones – 6 rec, 108 yds, 2 TDs
Reggie Wayne – 9 rec, 135 yds
Brandon Marshall – 9 rec, 119 yds, 1 TD
Andre Johnson – 8 rec, 119 yds, 1 TD

Cortland Finnegan – 10 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT, 1 TD
Ray Lewis – 14 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF
Stephen Nicholas – 12 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT, 1 fumble rec
NaVorro Bowman – 11 tackles, 2 PD, 1 INT
Paris Lenon – 2 sacks, 8 tackles
Wesley Woodyard – 12 tackles, 1 sack
Clay Matthews – 2.5 sacks, 2 tackles
DeMarcus Ware – 2 sacks, 5 tackles

Worst Performers

QB –
Brandon Weeden – 12/35, 118 yds, 0 TDs, 4 INTs, 5.1 QBR
Ryan Tannehill – 20/36, 219 yds, 0 TDs, 3 INTs, 39.0 QBR
Michael Vick – 29/56, 317 yds, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 51.0 QBR
Matthew Stafford – 32/48, 355 yds, 1 TD, 3 INTs, 69.4 QBR
John Skelton – 14/28, 149 yds, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 51.0 QBR
Andy Dalton – 22/37, 221 yds, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 65.3 QBR

RB –
DeAngelo Williams – 6 car, -1 yds, 1 rec, 5 yds
Trent Richardson – 19 car, 39 yds, 1 rec, 5 yds
Cedric Benson – 9 car, 18 yds
Isaac Redman – 11 car, 20 yds, 2 rec, 7 yds
Michael Turner – 11 car, 32 yds
Chris Johnson – 11 car, 4 yds, 6 rec, 47 yds

WR –
Braylon Edwards – 9 targets, 5 rec, 43 yds, dropped potential winning TD
Wes Welker – 5 targets, 3 rec, 14 yds
Titus Young – 3 targets, 1 rec, 14 yds, 1 head butt
Victor Cruz – 11 targets, 6 rec, 58 yds, 3 drops
Justin Blackmon – 6 targets, 3 rec, 24 yds
Antonio Gates – 8 targets, 4 rec, 43 yds, missed catchable TD pass
Dwayne Bowe – 6 targets, 3 rec, 53 yds

I don’t know that I’ll go into each game in this much detail each week, but it’s nice to be talking about football games again. 

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