Tuesday, September 27, 2011

5 comments J.S.' NFL Power Rankings: Week Three

Lot of talk about an early "seperation week" in the NFL, and with eight divisional games this week, there was ample opportunity for the first step in clarifying what this season is going to look like. What we got instead was a confusing mess that resembled the rantings of a delirious Salvador Dali. Here's my effort to try and work a week of astonishing results out. By the way, Blogger is mysteriously anti the pretty little colours to indicate up or down, so my artistic streak will just have to sit out this week.

1 - GREEN BAY (-)
3-0, T-1st NFC NORTH
W 27-17 @CHI, next vDEN

An island of stability in a world where five of my top ten teams lost (with Detroit and Pittsburgh having shaky wins against low quality opposition), Green Bay did it pretty easily. Jermichael Finley was great from kickoff to the end of the game, not only for three touchdowns, but several big third downs. Despite only rushing once in the first ten plays, Green Bay had its best rushing day in a long, long time. There was a ridiculous debate between Buck and Aikman over Starks or Grant. It's clearly Grant (92 yards on 17 carries). Contrary to the popular myth, James Starks was poor in the postseason (he rushed for under 4YPC) and had 5 yards on 11 carries here...and a fumble lost for good measure. Give the job to the proven, and apparently fully healthy, Ryan Grant.

2-1, T-2nd AFC EAST
L 31-34 @BUF, next @OAK

I have to level with you, I saw this at 21-0 with six minutes left in the first half and checked out. I mean, Brady had 100 yards passing in the first eight minutes of the game. He followed that by throwing for as many interceptions in this game as he had all last year. You have to go back to the 5th of November 2006 for the last time he threw four in a game, and that was to the much more highly regarded Colts. New England fell into their bad habit of just throwing until Brady's arm falls off, they rushed just 26 times in this game (out of 71 plays) despite the huge early lead. Defense was something of a concern last week and is a DEFCON-5 level problem now. I would move them down, except that of the three teams below them last week, only Pittsburgh won, and they lost some respect in doing so. Would be remiss, even in a loss, not to comment on Welker's 217 yards on a Patriots record 16 catches. He even had another 19 yards rushing to give him an unbelievable 236 yards from scrimmage. Oakland is not the gimme it looked a week ago.

3 - NEW ORLEANS (+3)

2-1, T-1st NFC SOUTH
W 40-33 vHOU, next @JAX

Can be burnt by throws underneath. They don't handle screens well. Darren Sproles is working out nicely as the new Reggie Bush, doing a bit of everything, rushing for a touchdown, catching six balls (second most on the team against Houston), picking up 103 yards on kick returns and handling the punt return stuff as well. Still want to see more emphasis on the rushing game but as long as Brees is upright, they have a chance, they were down twice in the 4th and he forced them back into it.

4 - BALTIMORE (+3)
2-1, T-1st AFC NORTH
W 37-7 @STL, next vNYJ

Is Torrey Smith the downfield threat the ancients prophecised? It seems Baltimore has been looking for such a player since the dawn of time, as the final piece of their offense to make them a truly daunting team to defend. Smith absolutely looked the part with TD receptions of 74 and 41 yards, creating seperation on both catches. It's a good thing too, because I'm quickly running out of hope that Lee Evans, with two catches all season, is going to be remotely relevant. It goes without saying that the Ravens are going to need to be less schizophrenic, and much of that is on Flacco, who was unstoppable against St. Louis (103.6 rating). They called 12 passes in their first 15 offensive plays and Flacco came through. When he doesn't come through, it increasingly looks as though Baltimore are unsure of what to do.

5 - JETS (-2)
2-1, T-2nd AFC EAST
L 24-34 @OAK, next @BAL

Part of me wants to forgive them for a cross country loss, with plenty of positives. I mean they led large chunks of the game, Sanchez had his best performance (359 yards, with a 96.0 QB rating), LaDanian Tomlinson (154 yards from scrimmage) showed he can still make people miss and Shonn Greene started to get back on track (59 yards on 15 carries). But two things worry me. Ultimately this team lost to Oakland, and should have lost to Dallas, two middling teams. They still have to play Baltimore, San Diego, Philadelphia and New England twice. Washington and the Giants may or may not be issues as well. Slaughtering Jacksonville, however comprehensively, is not entirely reassuring. Secondly, their defense, especially the foundation, the run defense, was murdered here. Maybe it was just a bad matchup (who does Revis cover on the Raiders?) but they miss Jenkins/Pryce/Ellis. Their D-Line is probably the worst they've trotted out in two seasons in DeVito, Wilkerson and Pouha. They aren't on the same level as their previous group and I'm worried the Jets defense might not be either. Enormous game to prove otherwise next week against Ray Rice and the Ravens.

2-1, T-1st AFC NORTH
W 23-20 @IND, next @HOU

They look broken on offense. I mean, despite the high profile sacks, the offensive line, which was using tight ends as tackles, wasn't as bad as you might think, but Roethlisberger was just walking around in the backfield unable to find open men. Outside Mike Wallace (who is outstanding and even better and more polished than last year, he had five catches in this one, and a few were of the critical, drive extending, possession variety - he's not just a downfield guy anymore) no receivers could get open against a savvy and committed, but not exceptionally talented defense. Hines Ward looked very old. Defensively they were good, but not Pittsburgh good, they were unable to stop Curtis Painter lead a game tying score for God's sake. Last chance to leave a genuine positive impression (and something to relax the doomsday crowd) for a long time next week at Houston. The next game where they can really improve their stock is at home to New England on Halloween - lose any of the three prior to that and we will be writing our obituaries for them as a threat in the playoffs (would need to be something monumental for them to miss the dance), so next week is big and should be judged accordingly.

7 - DETROIT (+2)
3-0, T-1st NFC NORTH
W 26-23 (OT) @MIN, next @DAL

Playing with fire without any semblance of a running game. They will need one to win, as teams are playing deep and sagging off without consequence. One possible temporary solution is beating them with screen throws underneath - the biggest play in the comeback was a screen to Best that eventually went for 60 yards. Cannot count on such poor tackling from everyone though. Bottom of the Barrel's Calvin Johnson TD watch - 6, as well as the key catch in OT that led to the winning field goal. He can't be covered. Only rising due to the atrocious performance of some of the ostensibly best teams in the league, next week at Dallas is their first real pressure game since Week One, win there and they are probably a top five team. Lose and they are in the Buffalo and Oakland pile.

8 - HOUSTON (+2)
2-1, T-1st AFC SOUTH
L 33-40 @NO, next vPIT

This is going to sound absurd, for a team that just conceded 40 points, 354 yards of passing offense and three touchdown passes, but I really do believe their pass defense is improving. They choked the Saints up in the first half and picked Brees off twice. He's still going to be able to burn you sometimes because he's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Don't give up on this unit just yet. Their offense, meanwhile, spent much of the game looking like the best and most complete in the NFL - and Arian Foster did not play. Schaub passed for a 103.9 rating and three different Texans caught TD passes, and none were Andre Johnson (128 yards receiving). Book them into the playoffs, no doubt in that division, and I feel much better about them now than I did when they were bullying Miami and Indy.

1-2, 4th NFC EAST
L 16-29 vNYG, next vSF

The offensive line, predictably, struggled with Pierre-Paul, Tuck etc. but the big problem was again, the linebackers and safeties. Jacobs was insanely open on his touchdown catch despite being "covered" by Matthews. Safety Kurt Coleman missed a regulation tackle on Cruz for the first of his two TD catches. The pressure generated by New York up front contained Vick, both rushing the ball and not giving him time to get down the field to Maclin and Jackson (it also forced them to keep either McCoy or a tight end in pass protection frequently). He was checking down constantly, it was all very unPhiladelphia-like. Eventually he was knocked out of the game...again. LeSean McCoy was absolutely huge in this game (not even the 128 yards at 5.1 a carry does justice to it), especially early when the Eagles really were at a loss to work out the Giants. His TD run was truly brilliant, and this game may be the best performance by a running back this season. At one point the Eagles led time of possession 35:00 to 13:22 and the game 16-14, but a Kafka's entry to the game and a subsequent pair of INT's killed the game for them. Still, they should have put this game away early against an ailing Giants. There are real problems here, especially with the uncertain status of Vick. A terrible loss. They host the Niners next week and even without Vick they both need to, and should, win handily (pun not initially intended, but now? Fuck it, it's in).

10 - BUFFALO (+9)
3-0, 1st AFC EAST
W 34-31 vNE, next @CIN

While I thought the Bills were a snowball's chance in hell to win this game (Peter King is going to be even more insufferable), I have always loved their corners, the two Macs. Still, let's not pretend that this defense is good as such, they have given up 35 to Oakland, and amazingly, even with 4 turnovers, gave up 31 to the Patriots (that's hard to do!). Fitzpatrick again rebounded after a terrible start. You can't say they are not resilient. Steve Johnson in particular stands out amongst the skill players (especially his size in the red zone), at least his greatness is more plausible than Fred Jackson suddenly becoming Earl Campbell. My big question is what happened to the offensive line? Wasn't it one of the absolute worst in the NFL last year? They added no one of consequence. Buffalo dropped back 40 times and were not sacked once by an aggressive and ingenious defensive front, and have allowed only 2 all year. Jackson is running all over everyone and is fourth in the league in rushing. Just remember - Cleveland beat New England last year too. Will be hard to know if there is definitely something here against Cincy, but good teams take care of business, we'll see if there's a let down.

11 - TAMPA BAY (+3)
2-1, T-1st NFC SOUTH
W 16-13 vATL, next vIND

An unexpected defensive tussle. When you can beat a division champ despite your best offensive player throwing no touchdowns and two interceptions, you've had quite a day. Even more amazing when you consider that Roddy White (with 140 yards on 9 catches) owned Talib. Were better on defense than they have any right to be against an offense of that class, and Tampa, much like last week against Minny, seem to turn water into wine. This happened last year as well, somehow winning games they had no business winning. Is the bubble about to burst and regression to the mean about to break through that door?

12 - ATLANTA (-4)
1-2, T-3rd NFC SOUTH
L 13-16 @TB, next @SEA

Sorry Ben, but that was a bad loss to Tampa. I do still think they can improve over the course of the season, but in the NFC South, with two games against the Saints still to come, I'd be a little worried. Turner remains the key, and Tampa made sure they stopped him early in this one, holding him to 9 yards on his first seven carries (he finished with 20 on 11). Giving up 4 sacks to a mediocre Tampa defensive front is unacceptable, and contributed mightily to the turnover problems that doomed them on Sunday. Roddy White carried them in the first half, with 96 receiving yards out of 137 passing, keeping them in it while Tampa skipped away by two scores. On the positive side, the defense looked much better than against Philly, excellent against both pass and run. Last week I confidently asserted we'd know more about Atlanta and Tampa after this week and now, I think I know less than last week. A confusing pair of teams right now. Considering their middling road record (5-5 since opening day last year), and the distance involved, Seattle is not a complete gimme next week.

13 - SAN DIEGO (-2)
2-1, T-1st AFC WEST
W 20-17 vKC, next vMIA

I always think San Diego is overrated and this year seems like a banner year for that opinion. Have not looked impressive for any of the 180 minutes they've played so far (their most encouraging performance was probably the semi-competitive road showing against the Pats), and now, it looks like even the Raiders might be able to give them a run for their money. Had outgained the Chiefs 211 to 29 at the half and even with the two turnovers should have done much better than 10-0. With Rivers struggling, they rushed better (115 yards on 27 carries) but are hardly bowling me over. They got to Cassel (who admittedly was chucking the ball the instant it touched his fingertips) just twice all day. Must do better to be taken seriously.

14 - OAKLAND (+10)
2-1, T-1st AFC WEST
W 34-24 vNYJ, next vNE

Jason Campbell has played well the last two weeks. Not setting the world on fire, but not making mistakes and keeping defenses honest. There is a really nice balance and rhythm about Oakland's offensive play. Oakland again were perfect scoring TD's in the redzone and they might just be the best rushing team in the game. It's allowing them to do things like the reverse that led to Denarius Moore's TD. There's not a lot of subtlety to McFadden's style, he's big, he's fast, and he runs in a straight line, but he is also the rushing leader in the NFL after three weeks by nearly fifty yards, averaging 6.4YPC. The defense is still a worry, the Jets had just about their best offensive day of the season. But I was as skeptical as anyone this year and I have to admit, that victory is making me think twice. If they can beat the Jets and New England (who have historically struggled with power running teams) in consecutive weeks, the AFC West will have a new favourite.

15 - GIANTS (+3)
2-1, T-1st NFC EAST
W 29-16 @PHI, next @ARI

Full kudos on a brilliant performance here. And I mean brilliant in the cerebral sense. Bradshaw, Jacobs and Beckum caught half the passes thrown by Manning, exploiting the linebacker and safety concerns. When the Eagles focused on them, then Cruz went nuts, picking up a pair of TD's and 110 yards. Defensively, they concentrated on what they do well - rushing the passer - which they are still as good as just about anyone in the league, to cover up their secondary issues. It was a great gameplan, but how long they can survive without a plan B because of the injury list?

16 - WASHINGTON (-4)
2-1, T-1st NFC EAST
L 16-18 @DAL, next @STL

Essentially a coinflip game that turned on a blocked field goal. At one point, after trading sustained drives that ended in field goals, Dallas and Washington accrued 60 yards on the next 24 plays, that also included a lost fumble and an interception. Those 11 minutes were excrutiating to watch. To top it off, the teams were a combined 1/6 in the red zone, with two more missed opportunities dying less than five yards outside the twenty. By and large, this was a very bad week for the NFC East, which lacks nothing in self glorification and importance.

17 - DALLAS (-)
2-1, T-1st NFC EAST
W 18-16 vWAS, next vDET

You need a functioning offensive line. Dallas' best offensive lineman is probably Doug Free, who gave up a number of costly penalties. At times, the Cowboys struggled to even snap the ball from the shotgun. You need competent receivers to make plays. Combined, Dallas' receivers on Monday night had just 151 receptions in their career. You need a back that can go between the tackles for consistent positive yardage. Having apparently given up on Felix Jones doing that job, Tashard Choice rushed for five yards on seven carries. You also need a quarterback, who preferably, doesn't have to play with a punctured lung. Dallas' offense just doesn't have the pieces, and while I thought Romo was excellent considering he had basically two guys to catch the ball and excepting one fourth quarter run, no run game, you can't win in this league with what they have. The defense can get by on the quality of their game changing outside linebackers - it can be presentable - but through three games, they do not look a serious threat.

18 - TENNESSEE (-3)
2-1, T-1st AFC SOUTH
W 17-14 vDEN, next @CLE

Panic time in Tennessee. Beating the abysmal Broncos at home doesn't change the fact that Chris Johnson is playing like the worst running back in the league (21 yards on 13 carries, and was 13 yards on his first 12). I'm absolutely worried about him - Denver's defense is terrible. Kenny Britt is probably out for the season, and he is (was) by far their best weapon this season. Remember they lost Bo Scaife in the offseason and while Hasselbeck (119.1 QB rating in this one!!!) is a great story, the fact is he is 36 and there will be better teams than Denver (who they trailed deep in the fourth quarter) to play.

19 - CHICAGO (-6)
1-2, 3rd NFC NORTH
L 17-27 vGB, next vCAR

The line was better, but even at its best, this offensive line is mediocre. Still, the rampage of Green Bay never materialised. Chicago's receivers are just not good. They were better than last week, both Knox and Hester had big catches in the first half, but also whiffed on many others. Knox in particular dropped a huge 3rd and 16 catch. Cutler overthrew a ton of throws as well as two picks. Not even Matt Forte could get anything here. Chicago had just 13 rushing yards. So while they avoided unmitigated disaster, the outlook, especially with Detroit also winning this week, is quite poor.

20 - CAROLINA (+1)
1-2, T-3rd NFC SOUTH
W 16-10 vJAX, next @CHI

Someone may need to have an intervention with the Panthers about their addiction to Cam Newton. I know, I know, he's been great, but there's no reason a team with Jonathan Stewart and d'Angelo Williams, in a game with monsoonal rain, should be throwing the ball 34 times. It's not good for anyone. Hard to really take anything out of a game where there is three inches of water on the ground, but picked up their first victory, albeit by taking the scenic route.

21 - CLEVELAND (+1)
2-1, T-1st AFC NORTH
W 17-16 vMIA, next vTEN

Pulled a rabbit out of the hat to beat Miami, Colt McCoy has not had a good start to his season, and began this game throwing 2/8 for 19 yards and with a pick. Peyton Hillis, their only competant skill player, was unable to play and Cleveland missed him badly. Got to Henne 13 times including five sacks, but the secondary was so leaky he still had a good day behind centre. Technically are 2-1 but lost to Cincinnati at home and beat Miami by one, the winning TD coming with 43 seconds left.

22 - ARIZONA (-6)
1-2, T-2nd NFC WEST
L 10-13 @SEA, next vNYG

Ugh, I hate you NFC West. Really missed Beanie Wells, who was great the first two weeks. Got just 74 yards on 25 carries from Chester Taylor and some guy named Alphonso Smith. Even their TD throw was an absolute miracle catch by Fitz, covered by two guys, and a throw off the back foot from Kolb. Still look like the most capable team in the division, which is a bit like being the sanest person in a mental asylum - the division might actually be performing below expectations, which is amazing considering how low they were pre-season.

23 - MIAMI (-)
0-3, 4th AFC EAST
L 16-17 @CLE, next @SD

A devastating loss in a game they had to have and controlled for about 57 minutes. Daniel Thomas' numbers (95 yards on 23 carries) don't look much, but he made some big yards and avoids negative plays. I was quite impressed with his production. Henne too was excellent without overly relying on Marshall, getting the ball to seven receivers. They managed to contain Cribbs. I literally don't know how Miami lost this game.

2-1, 1st NFC WEST
W 13-8 @CIN, next @PHI

Relied on conceding a safety to preserve a lead against Cincinnati. They didn't pass halfway until 7:46 remained in the third quarter. Ladies and gentlemen, your NFC West leaders! I don't know why they are putting the ball in the hands of Alex Smith so much, there just has to be a better way - they threw twice as often as they ran in the first half.

0-3, 4th AFC SOUTH
L 20-23 vPIT, next @TB

Better! Defensively the Colts were great. All we heard all night was how great Freeney and Mathis were, and they were very good (and need to be, as I mentioned last week, for these new look Colts to win), but no one talked about the secondary. I thought the coverage was superb (that first sack/fumble from Mathis was a coverage sack - Roethlisberger had time), including some important tackles. The offensive line is doing much better in run blocking and Addai (over 5YPC) really stepped up. Still, they are struggling mighty in the red zone, as they have all year. Was a lion hearted performance.

26 - ST. LOUIS (-6)
0-3, 4th NFC WEST
L 37-7 vBAL, next vWAS

I know the schedule has been tough and I know it will get easier, but really, what have they done to make it look like they can compete this year? I don't mind the 0-3, but they are struggling to get within two scores of these teams, and what's more, they look to be getting worse rather than improving. Absolutely crying out for Steven Jackson to return at full speed; he got four carries here, and productive carries (5.8 yards per pop) as Bradford just cannot handle being option #1. He had 17 yards and an interception at half time, connecting on just four of fifteen passes. That enabled Baltimore to get out to a 27-0 lead and seal the game. At one point, Baltimore had over 300 yards passing and St. Louis had 3. Probably their most winnable game so far at home to the Redskins next week and considering their next game is at Green Bay, if they don't want to be winless in late October, this is a must win. Even in the NFC West an 0-5 start will sink you.

1-2, 3rd AFC SOUTH
L 10-16 @CAR, next vNO

Unwatchable game. I mean, it didn't look very tasty from the outset, Jags and Panthers, but in driving rain (was hard to see through the water on the lens of the cameras) and with sixteen penalties, it became something from the seventh circle of hell. The first 25 plays of the game generated 67 yards of offense. I have absolutely no idea how Josh Scobee kicked a 53 yard field goal. Gabbert actually wasn't terrible in a very challenging first start, but Jones-Drew just took too long to get going (13 yards on first 8 carries) and the defense finally broke down in the 4th.

28 - DENVER (-2)
1-2, 3rd AFC WEST
L 14-17 @TEN, next @GB

Were lucky to be as close as they were. McGahee was terrible (52 yards on 22 carries), Orton was terrible (4.4YPA with 2 picks) and the defense only got to Hasselbeck four times. It's hard to even give them credit for Johnson's bad day, considering how his season has gone so far. Here's a positive - they were great on special teams. Quan Cosby averaged nearly sixteen yards on three punt returns and Britton Colquitt had four punts inside the 20..hooray!

29 - MINNESOTA (-2)
0-3, 4th NFC NORTH
L 23-26 (OT) vDET, next @KC

It happened again! Their offense is entirely Peterson, gimmicks (Harvin had an end around for 39 yards) and kick/punt returns. It might be time to consider Ponder, but it won't fix their pass defense, their secondary is awful. Are now 6-67 in the second half and overtime this season, sure, much of that is McNabb and defenses pinching on the run, but ultimately, they can't stop teams throwing on them. I hope you all have your tickets to LoserBowl 2011 next week.

1-2, 4th AFC NORTH
L 8-13 vSF, next vBUF

Are not a good team, but I was actually more impressed with them than San Francisco (yes, in a cruel, Kafka - Franz, not Mike - like twist, after decrying this game as unwatchable last week, my network decided to broadcast this game as the early game for me here). They may have a decent defensive front with Dunlap and Peko and so on. They sacked Smith five times and hit him another eight. Cedric Benson was terrible, although he did improve as the game wore on. They are 1-2 against all-awful Cleveland, Denver and San Fran.

31 - SEATTLE (+1)
1-2, T-2nd NFC WEST
W 13-10 vARI, next vATL

Needed that win to get the "0 for" monkey off their backs. Put in a tough performance in their home opener, they may not be such a bad defensive team. They picked off Kolb twice, when he had only thrown one in the previous two games and choked Arizona's run game. The offense is...not good, but it's certainly a lot closer to average with Sidney Rice in there, they look a different team. He caught 8 passes and had 109 yards out of a total of 139 passing. They are young and obviously more focused on 2014, but this was a nice little morale booster.

32 - KANSAS CITY (-1)
0-3, 4th AFC WEST
L 17-20 @SD, next vMIN

Improvement, but with Seattle grinding out a win, unquestionably the league's worst team now. What a fall from grace. Cassel picked himself up with a presentable performance, and McCluster was, dare I say, explosive at times, refitted as a running back (45 yards on 9 carries, easily besting Thomas Jones who had 31 on 13). Still, the Chargers should have been up by much more than they were, and it's a sad indictment of the Chiefs that their best performance of the season was a game where they had no first downs at the half versus 14 for their opponents.


Jonathan Rogers said...

So...you guys don't follow the Cowboys very closely obviously.

Definitely agree about San Diego though.

J.S. said...

Why is that Jonathan?

Jonathan Rogers said...

I get pointing out Dallas' offensive problems Monday night, but without mentioning the injury problems I think it skews things.

Dallas had no problem throwing against either the Jets or Niners on the road (the second without Dez Bryant). Bryant was very limitted Monday night, probably more of a decoy than anything else. With a healthy Dez Bryant and Miles Austin (also didn't play), and Witten not ganged up like he was Monday, Dallas can throw on anyone.

Felix Jones still has trouble running inside (always has), but he actually compiled 115 yards rushing on only 14 attempts, averaging over 8 yards a carry. And he's playing with his shoulder in a sling from dislocating it last week. Using Choice late in the game wasn't due to inside running frustration but because Jones had tweaked his shoulder again.

While the line had lots of problems on Monday, they actually kept Romo pretty clean. Even Redskins radio people in D.C. are admitting that the Skins used the Cowboys snap counts against them to cause all the premature snaps. And the line overall looked surprisingly good the first two weeks given expectations before the season.

So I grant your point that the offense looked like it had problems on Monday night, but I don't think it was fair to present it as a snapshot of the season, or to omit the injury issues.

But hey, I freely admit I'm a homer here.

J.S. said...

Thanks Jonathan. I have mentioned the injury issues before, and I suppose I figured Miles Austin's issue was so well known it went without saying. He'll be back, but it is so shallow at receiver - Ogletree as the slot guy? Really? I know Jones had a good night, and it's not like he's a bad player, but he's a change of pace back, and he's a big play guy, not an every down guy. And they don't currently have an every down back they can rely on, and with the receiver issues (admittedly if everyone is healthy, Witten, Bryant and Austin is a formidable trio, but it's a dangerous game relying on everyone being healthy) there's big problems here. And the offensive line issue isn't going away, and one more hit to Romo and it might be curtains. You're right to say if everything goes right they might be ok, but it's a dangerous game they are playing.

Super Bowl Commercials 2012 said...

I have no words for this great post such a awe-some information i got gathered. Thanks to Author.