We witnessed the No.1-ranked scoring defense give up 41 points and lose at home, two overtime battles and three teams that failed to score a touchdown in their matchups.
So what did we learn from it all? Here are my notes from the week’s results:
Washington Redskins–Maybe it’s the scheme OC Kyle Shanahan is running, and maybe QB Robert Griffin III isn’t an accurate quarterback, but the fact remains, this offense is in complete disarray, and looks out of sync.
The zone-read is not having anywhere near the success it had last season when the team ran it. It could be due to opposing defenses watching tape and making the necessary adjustments, or maybe RGIII isn’t fully recovered since his knee surgery and doesn’t have the mobility or explosiveness in the open field as he once did. Maybe he never will.
The Redskins secondary is a mess and Monday night’s game showed CB Josh Wilson is not capable of starting on the outside in this league right now. He looked completely lost and was abused many times by veteran WR Anquan Boldin, who got much more separation than a 33-year-old should get. QB Colin Kaepernick targeted him often and ate him for dinner. The Niners did a great job of using shifts and motion to get favorable matchups for Boldin and TE Vernon Davis, and it worked, as the two combined for 164 of Kaepernick’s 235 passing yards.
I’m not sure if the Shanahans will be fired or not after the season, as
humanitarian owner Dan Snyder has really liked them both from day one. But the proof is in the pudding: RGIII and Shanahan cannot coexist, the locker room is beginning to turn, and his system is just not working. The Shanny era has run its course.
Dallas Cowboys– QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant deserve all the credit in the world for putting together an excellent game-winning drive en route to victory—converting multiple third downs along the way. Here’s something you might not know, for all the criticism he gets, Romo has the most game-winning drives of any quarterback since 2009.
This team is still the class of the NFC East, and at this point, the division is theirs to lose. They’re slowly getting some guys back from injury at the right time. And even if the race is close come Week 17, they host the Eagles, and their fate is in their hands.
Something else you may not know: Romo also boasts a QB rating of 118.2 in fourth quarters of games. It may be time to put that “choker” label to rest.
New York Jets– Live by Geno Smith, die by Geno Smith. It’s been a rollercoaster year for the rookie QB, but fans and analysts expected as much heading into the season. Following the Saints game, Smith was leading the league in game-winning drives. He’s now followed up with two abysmal performances, making rookie mistakes and looking completely rattled. In this particular loss vs the Ravens, Smith had trouble going through his progressions, and also caught a case of “happy feet” in the pocket on numerous occasions. He needs to be more decisive and also must stop staring down receivers.
The good news, is team’s defensive front continues to manhandle opposing offensive lines and bottle up the run. But the secondary still struggles to defend the deep ball and S Ed Reed’s presence hasn’t helped matters–as WR Torrey Smith burned him for a 60-yard touchdown, doing his former team one last favor.
While the Jets may field one of the best defenses in the NFL, their offense is among the league’s worst. Not only is Smith currently struggling, but he also has a group of receivers that fail to get separation and make things difficult on him.
Can this team wright the ship and sneak into the playoffs? Sure. Smith has shown plenty of flashes of brilliance this year, and the Dolphins season seems to be trending downward. Their remaining schedule is a cake walk, and 4-1 is absolutely possible down the stretch (with @CAR being the possible loss). However, previous losses to the Steelers and Titans won’t help matters as far as tiebreakers go. And with the cold, frigid weather now making its mark again at New Meadowlands Stadium, things aren’t going to get any easier for Smith.
Saying Sunday’s game vs. the Dolphins is a “must-win” is an understatement. If the Jets want to salvage their season and keep in the playoff hunt, they’ll need to get back to the run game to regain their rhythm on offense and take the pressure off Smith.
And maybe spend a little more time in the film room, and a little less time at Dave & Buster’s.
Kansas City Chiefs– The Chiefs defense may not be as stout as we once thought, as QB Philip Rivers threw for 392 passing yards (3 TD, 0 INT) on just 27 completions. There were blown coverages and missed tackles galore–but no turnovers forced.
The team had a different identity with the absence of its two top pass-rushers. Injuries sustained by LB Justin Houston and LB Tamba Hali could not come at a worse time, and the impending MRI results could be very important as the playoffs are just around the corner.
If the defense can’t perform at the exceptional level it was operating at previously, and QB Alex Smith is forced to make throws outside of his comfort zone (anything more than 7-10 yards), this team will be vulnerable and could struggle against the league’s elite squads.
The Chiefs are a good team. Andy Reid is already resurrecting the franchise and the future is promising. But are they elite? I don’t think so, at least at this point in time.
San Diego Chargers– Every time I want to write this team off and look toward next season, they come up with a big win to shut me up. Rivers put together another solid game-winning drive, and it’s clear Mike McCoy was exactly what he needed. He’s now getting the ball out of his hands quickly and his reads have been simplified. His 70.8 completion percentage and 22:8 TD/INT ratio clearly illustrate that, as the QB is well on his way to a career year.
Looks like “rebuilding” is coming along just fine, as we’ve seen the recent emergence of speedy TE Ladarius Green (22.1 ypc). Green (3 receptions, 80 yds in game) looks to be a suitable replacement for Antonio Gates, who’s lost a few steps and isn’t as dangerous after the catch as he used to be. And WR Keenan Allen, another YAC monster in the open field, will be a dominant No.1 receiver for years to come. He and QB Philip Rivers seem to already be developing a lot of chemistry together, too.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers– The Mike Glennon era has officially begun, and his emergence, coupled with Josh Freeman’s absence, seems to have completely rejuvenated this team, on both sides of the ball.
And no one benefits more than head coach Greg Schiano. Had the Bucs blown their Monday Night Football matchup with the Dolphins just weeks ago, Schiano would’ve likely been fired that week. But the team hung on and has now strung together three consecutive wins.
Detroit Lions– Sunday’s stinker proved the Lions are still the Lions, and continue to find the most odd ways to win and lose games. This particular week featured WR Calvin Johnson—league’s best and most consistent receiver–mishandling a pass at the Bucs 5-yard line, leading to a tipped-ball interception. Had he caught it, the Lions likely would have won and gained complete control of the division. Everything has set up perfectly this year, and they were finally supposed to win the NFC North. But they couldn’t seal the deal, and now Thursday’s game is a must-win for them.
QB Matt Stafford consistently throws for a ton of passing yards and touchdowns week in, week out. But he also makes occasional “bonehead” interceptions, throwing into double and triple coverage. Often, Megatron bails him out with his exceptional ball skills to go up and make the catch, but there are other times where he kills drives and leaves points on the board. And he did so on Sunday, tossing four interceptions (three of which were his fault).
And maybe that “revamped” secondary isn’t as reliable as we thought it was. There were multiple blown coverages in the game, which allowed Glennon to have a very efficient game (247 yards, two TDs, 0 INTs). If the defense doesn’t create turnovers, they’re going to need to score 30 points per game to win.
DET’s combined defensive #’s for last 2 games: rush yards-62, pass yards-565…they’ve given up 6 pass TD’s and produced 0 INT’s. #Secondary
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) November 25, 2013
Denver Broncos–This team will go as far as QB Peyton Manning takes them, and he’s going to need to generate a bit more velocity on his throws to get the job done. At this current point in time, it’s working out, as the Broncos currently sit in first place in the AFC West. But he’s had stretches where he’s been taken out of a rhythm, especially when under pressure. And Sunday night’s game highlighted some red flags which could plague the team in the coming weeks.
Manning is one of the best quarterbacks of all time, but he has, historically, struggled in cold weather games, and Sunday night in Foxborough was no different. There were times when he wasn’t able to get enough on his passes. It’s hard to say if something mechanics-wise is bothering him, or he just can’t get the velocity on his throws that he used to since his surgery, but on Sunday night he floated balls which allowed Patriots defensive backs to recover and make a play on the football.
And he completed only 19 of 36 passes for only 150 yards–certainly not Peyton-like numbers. The heavy wind surely played a role here, but he missed some throws as well.
RB Knowshon Moreno’s ankle injury couldn’t have come at a worse time, being that he gained a career-high 224 rushing yards, but sustained an injury during overtime and was seen after the game in a walking boot. He’s now listed as day-to-day, and the injury isn’t believed to be serious, but it’s still something to monitor.
LB Von Miller looked explosive on Sunday night, and if the defense can get enough sacks and turnovers to hide the issues in the secondary, they’ll be just fine in that area.
With Super Bowl XLVIII being held in the frigid New Meadowlands Stadium this season, the Broncos will need more consistent play from Manning in cold weather, and a healthy Moreno to run the football and take the pressure off the veteran QB, and also to keep him upright. The talent is clearly there—and I think they will find a way to wright the ship, win in Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, and will go on to win another division title—but it’s what you do in January that really matters.
St. Louis Rams– Who kidnapped OC Brian Schottenheimer and what did they do with him? It’s like he woke up one day and finally decided to get first-round draft pick WR Tavon Austin involved in the offense—I mean, they did trade up to get him—and the team is reaping the benefit. After totaling just nine receiving yards (two receptions) vs the Seahawks and Titans, the big-play WR has amassed 246 all-purpose yards in his last two games (two touchdowns).
The combination of Austin and the emergence of RB Zac Stacy (a powerful, downhill runner) has absolutely boosted the Rams offense—so much that even journeyman QB Kellen Clemens has won his last two starts by a margin of 51 points.
And the defense, we know, is good. They do an excellent job of generating pressure on opposing quarterbacks and play tight, physical man coverage in the secondary.
Arizona Cardinals– The Cardinals field one of the most underrated defenses in the NFL, and they showed that on Sunday, holding QB Andrew Luck to a 51% completion rate with only 163 passing yards. DC Todd Bowles has done an outstanding job confounding quarterbacks with his pressure schemes, coaching up a defense loaded with young playmakers who are now coming into their own and showing well week in, week out.
This young, up-and-coming team is quietly 7-4 and a franchise QB away from competing for a Super Bowl. They’ll likely use this year’s draft to shore up that area. The combination of tall, 6’3” WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd provides mismatches against smaller defensive backs, and the elusive RB Andre Ellington is a huge threat when in space.
This young team, like the Rams, continues to improve by each passing week. The NFC West is now parity central–loaded from top to bottom.