Tuesday, October 11, 2011

3 comments J.S.' NFL Power Rankings: Week Five

We're getting to the point now where season long numbers have some relevancy, so we'll include some surprising (and perhaps some not so surprising) season long numbers into the recipe for this weeks power rankings. We also are starting to see some seperation in the divisions. Time for a closer look.

1 - GREEN BAY (-)
5-0, T-1st NFC NORTH
W 25-14 @ATL, next vSTL

People go on and on about Jermichael Finley and how he wasn't there last year, but you know who was there? Nick Barnett, Cullen Jenkins and Nick Collins. Their defense is just nothing special, even with playmakers on each level in Woodson, Matthews and Raji, none of whom have shown their dominanting form this year (especially Raji). The offensive line has been better, and even with injuries did not self destruct. Rodgers mobility also helps, it is an underappreciated feature of his game. He made a number of huge throws outside the pocket in this one, and in all found an incredible 12 receivers. In Rodgers' last fifteen full games, including the postseason, Rodgers has one game with a rating under 89.7, and only two below 111. He's real good.

4-1, T-1st AFC EAST
W 30-21 vNYJ, next vDAL

A game that featured Tom Brady's first ever red zone interception...in his career and then what should have been a second red zone turnover (reversed as down by contact in a lucky break), New England wer nearly outfoxed at their own game. The Jets orchestrated a 7:54 drive in the second, but the New England defense showed they could at least handle the run, as the Jets kept their offensive cards close to their chest. It was probably a lesson that the throw is needed to beat the Pats, as the Jets opened with four straight three and outs and 135 yards through the air is not going to cut it. This is the fifth straight week Green Bay and New England have gone 1/2.

4-1, 1st NFC SOUTH
W 30-27 @CAR, next @TB

Have been slightly unconvincing over the past three weeks, and needed a TD with 50 seconds to go to beat the Panthers. Still, when Drew Brees is driving against a defense that had six sacks in their previous four games and give up a higher YPA than any team in the league, it really can only end one way. The Saints have converted an incredible 59% of their 3rd down opportunities this year.

3-1, 1st AFC NORTH
BYE, next vHOU

Lead the league in scoring defense, sixth in third down defense, third in yards per game and despite not playing this week, are still tied for second in takeaways. Of those teams, Baltimore have proven their offense generally the most functional and consistent, but Pittsburgh seriously closed the gap this week. Face their biggest defensive test next week against battle hardened Houston.

5 - DETROIT (+1)
5-0, T-1st NFC NORTH
W 24-13 vCHI, next vSF

There is something about these nationally televised night games that somehow turns players into raving lunatics. There were 10 combined penalties in the first quarter of this game. The game finished with a ludicrous 25. Detroit gave 49 yards away on a single drive, allowing Chicago to only throw once. For a team who's best asset is its pass rush, that is all but unforgivable, and a sign that the Lions are still making silly mental mistakes. Detroit was leaky against the run all night and we still have yet to see them actually beat anyone of substance yet. Guess who still plays for them though? TD watch - 9.

6 - HOUSTON (-1)
3-2, T-1st AFC SOUTH
L 25-20 vOAK, next @BAL

Hardly a shocker here but missed Andre Johnson badly. Their offense was largely confined to Arian Foster (184 yards from scrimmage on 27 touches) and tight ends (Daniels, 7 catches for 89 yards and Dreessen, 5 catches for 112 yards). Wide receivers had only 99 yards on seven catches all day. He should be back next week - they have no chance in Maryland without him. Got to Campbell 14 times, but not when it counted, as Oakland had two passing TD's in the fourth quarter to steal this one.

3-2, 1st AFC NORTH
W 38-17 vTEN, next vJAX

By far their best performance of the season. Finally put it all together for an entire game, and were up 28-3 before Tennessee put together a couple of touchdowns on junk possessions. The offensive line held a previously rampant Titans defense to just one sack, Ben threw for five touchdowns and even without James Harrison, the defense got past one of the best offensive lines in the league for 3 sacks. They slowed the previously unstoppable Hasselbeck and after a 21 yard opening run, did likewise to Chris Johnson. Even their special teams got involved, with a fake punt setting up a first down completion. Should be able to build on the momentum next week against Jacksonville and start to fatten up on the soft part of their schedule.

8 - OAKLAND (+1)
3-2, 2nd AFC WEST
W 25-20 @HOU, next vCLE

Full marks to Sebastian Janikowski, who almost single handedly kept the Raiders in it early. The Raiders did not have a first down until the 2 minute warning of the first half, but stayed within a score against one of the best offensive teams in the league thanks to two massive boots (of 54 and 55 yards) by their kicker. Houston threatened to be the first team to shut down Darren McFadden, who had just 12 yards on his first seven carries, but ripped off runs of 8, 14 and 20 yards in the dying stages of the third to set up Oakland's first touchdown, which gave them the lead for good. Next three games are about as easy as it gets - all at home to Cleveland, Kansas City and Denver and should have the AFC West lead going into their first meeting with San Diego on Thursday Night Football.

9 - SAN DIEGO (-1)
4-1, 1st AFC WEST
W 29-24 @DEN, next BYE

Another typical San Diego performance. One for five in the red zone. They got to Teborton just once all day and did not register a single sack. Were -1 in the turnover battle. Were up by just two points to one of the worst teams in football with 3 minutes to go. Antonio Gates continues to sit...and they won again

10 - BUFFALO (+10)
4-1, T-1st AFC EAST
W 31-24 vPHI, next @NYG

Ran unashamedly at Philly all day and the defense put it its best performance on the season. The key is Fred Jackson (111 yards on 26 carries), if Buffalo can run, it makes it a dangerous offense. Buffalo did that and also shrewdly threw in a few screens to slow the Eagle pass rush. If you can stop teams from throwing the house at Fitzpatrick, he can make the throws. Buffalo has picked off Brady and Vick for 4 INT's each now, and leads the league in takeaways. They have recovered all four fumbles they have forced, and there is some luck involved. It is amazing that despite all these turnovers, they have conceded an average of 28.3PPG the last four weeks with just three sacks in that span, the fewest in the league. New England, Green Bay and New Orleans can prop up spotty or even bad defenses, I have serious reservations that Buffalo can - especially now that Fitzpatrick has now thrown for under 200 yards in his last two games, with a TD and a pick. Four of their next six games are on the road (they have only beaten the Chiefs on the road all year), and the home dates are against the Jets and 'Skins. After that, their last two road games are essentially write offs at San Diego and Foxboro. Their playoff dreams still have a long, long way to go.

11 - JETS (-4)
2-3, 3rd AFC EAST
L 21-30 @NE, next vMIA

The verdict is in - you can run on the Jets (Green-Ellis 137 yards at 5.3ypc), which ultimately cost them a final meaningful possession. To be fair, it is partly due to how incredibly hard it is to throw on them. Not only does Revis change everything, but New York is probably the best team at designing and executing blitzes outside the AFC North. They got to Brady 9 times here (4 sacks), behind a top flight offensive line. As so often is the case with the Jets, receivers were dropping balls all over the place, which was especially disheartening because they did a solid job setting up the pass with the run and Sanchez made the necessary throws. He completed seven straight at one point, which isn't especially noteworthy except for the pathetic fact that it was a season high. Joe McKnight is in a rich vein of returning form, with an 88 yard kick return here, on the back of his 107 yard TD last week. It was a very tough road trip, no need to panic yet, but a must win game against Miami - who are coming off the bye remember - next week.

4-1, 1st NFC WEST
W 48-3 vTB, next @DET

Is Alex Smith...good? He needed just 19 throws to land three touchdowns against an awful Tampa who were travelling across the country, but the Niners are now 4-1 with the only loss in overtime. San Francisco have the fourth best run defense in the league by the numbers and held down LeGarrett Blount and co in this game. It is bizarre that a team could lose one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL and become better at the run, especially when surely Patrick Willis can't possibly be any better, but here we are. Carlos Rogers has a pick in three straight games and Ginn had another great returning game with an average of 17 yards on three punt returns. Seattle are the preferred second place team for San Fran, as they already have a head to head win against them - things may be breaking their way out west.

13 - ATLANTA (-1)
2-3, 3rd NFC SOUTH
L 14-25 vGB, next vCAR

If you're going to beat Green Bay, you need to have turnovers. It sucks, because there's at least some luck involved, but that's the level they are at now, you need to catch some luck and them on a slightly off day to win. They just cannot be consistently stopped. One probably is not going to cut it, which is all the Falcons got here. Atlanta forced just one punt in the first three quarters, whereas after taking a 14-3 lead, four of their next five drives ended in three and outs. Looked better than they have in weeks, being back at home, but their road form is still very scary going forward.

14 - WASHINGTON (+1)
3-1, 1st NFC EAST
BYE, next vPHI

Only San Diego holds the ball longer than Washington (33:40 a game) which has helped them to 6th in total defense, conceding just 15.5 first downs a game, the third best in the NFL. Opponents convert just 26% of their third downs - five percentage points better than the Jets at 2nd best. So far so good, but they must take advantage of the soft NFC East situation, from November 20, they play Dallas, @Seattle, Jets and Pats and @Giants. Their next five games are against teams a combined 10-14, and that includes the Niners and Bills. Go 4-1 here, and the division is all but theirs.

15 - CINCINNATI (+7)
3-2 T-2nd AFC NORTH
W 30-20 @JAX, next vIND

Their campaign for an unlikely playoff challenge continues. This was a game that I fully expected Jacksonville, on their home field, to win. And it shaped up as a battle between Benson and Jones-Drew, which seemed like it could only possibly end one way. Cincinnati's special teams were excellent, Brandon Tate had three returns for an average over 14 yards, while Jacksonville couldn't return one all game. With both teams sputtering for offense, those yards were like gold. Their defense, which leads the league in yardage, held Jacksonville to just three first downs in the second half, and produced two fourth quarter turnovers.

16 - TENNESSEE (-3)
3-2, T-1st AFC SOUTH
L 17-38 @PIT, next BYE

Had 69 yards of offense on their opening drive, which ended with a field goal with 8:17 left in the first. They had 49 more yards and 2 first downs when they took the ball with 4:44 left in the third down 28-3. Johnson began the day with a 21 yard run, and collected just 26 more yards on the next 12 attempts. Tennessee are last in rushing this year. Read that sentence again. Can't help but feel they just ran into a better team as Pittsburgh outplayed them in every facet of the game.

17 - DALLAS (-)
2-2, 3rd NFC EAST
BYE, next @NE

With Philly and the Giants both suffering bad losses (on dates they would have circled as easy wins a month ago) and a badly needed week to get Austin and Romo that much healthier, this was probably Dallas' best week all year. Not even the NFC West, with San Fran's win, may be quite as up for grabs as the NFC East this year.

18 - TAMPA BAY (-7)
3-2, 2nd NFC SOUTH
L 3-48 @SF, next @NO

Ultimately all those head scratching, statistically improbable victories had to catch up to them, and boy did they ever this week. San Francisco had seven yards a play against them, most of them rushing; 213 yards rushing on 36 attempts. Tampa are 22nd in total defense and 20th in total offense this year, and their smoke and mirrors act might be running thin. Thankfully the league of possible NFC wild cards (Giants, Redskins, Bears, Falcons, Cowboys) spent this week running in place.

19 - GIANTS (-5)
3-2, 2nd NFC EAST
L 26-35 vSEA, next vBUF

It is astonishing to me that the Giants, one of the best pass rushing teams in the NFL, would let the Seahawks pass 21 times and run just 8, as the Seahawks began this game, and get away with it. The Hawks had 242 yards at the half. To be fair, the Giants front four did their job, with Pierre-Paul and Umenyiora picking up 4 sacks and 6 hits between them, but Jackson still made a number of big plays with his arm. We always knew that secondary, with all its injuries, would eventually catch up with them, but I never imagined it would be this graphic or it would be Tavaris Jackson/Charlie Whitehurst dynamic duo that broke them.

20 - CHICAGO (-2)
2-3, 3rd NFC NORTH
L 13-24 @DET, next vMIN

The ongoing, season long domestic dispute between Jay Cutler and his offensive line began anew on the very first play of the very first drive in this one. Before Chicago could even attempt their first third down conversion, three false starts had been called. Their defense on that Jahvid Best run was simply non existent, against a back who had accrued less yards than any starter in the NFL. While their offense could have been better (the line only slightly relented on the false start pace as the night wore on), this is probably as good as it gets for the Bears, who have rededicated themselves to the run (Forte ran 20 times in the first three quarters alone here). They got 249 yards with a TD and no picks from 38 Jay Cutler throws and 116 yards rushing from Forte. If Chicago is going to beat teams the quality of the Lions, they have to defend better, particulary on the rush.

21 - CAROLINA (-)
1-4, 4th NFC SOUTH
L 27-30 vNO, next @ATL

They seem to have hired the most anti-John Fox coach they possibly could get their hands on. Disgusted at his backs 134 yards on 18 carries last week, he weaned them down to 15 carries this week, mainly because they gained a paltry...135 yards. Next week? 8 carries for 150 yards. The goal is for infinite yards on no carries. To be fair to Ron Rivera, New Orleans has such an impotent offense that there really is no need to hold onto the ball and work down the clock, and conceding over nine and a half minutes in the time of possession battle is entirely acceptable. Also remember Cam Newton was completing a scintillating 51.6% of his passes.

1-4, 4th NFC EAST
L 24-31 @BUF, next @WAS

Played incredibly tight, you could see the pressure on their shoulders. The pass blocking was terrible, although Vick was hit "only" seven times, and contributed mightily to three first half interceptions. There was a red zone wildcat play (yes, teams still run it!) where Brad Smith (!) just ran straight and carried a linebacker into the end zone from like, 5 yards out. He wasn't even close to stopping him. They just aren't physical enough on either side of the ball. Was symptomatic of their season. As was a red zone possession in the fourth, when two penalties (including a holding call that took a touchdown off the board) doomed the Eagles here. To give the coaching staff their share of the blame - 32 of their last 38 plays were called passes. The shock loss by the Giants helps their NFC East hopes, they are only 2.5 games back in the East with five division games remaining so this isn't quite over, but it's a long, long way back.

23 - SEATTLE (+4)
2-3, 2nd NFC WEST
W 35-26 @NYG, next BYE

Marshawn Lynch made a play! For postive yards! Rushing! To be fair, it was largely due to the playcalling, as Lynch had no one in front of him on an outside run as the Giants sent the house on an interior blitz. He had 98 yards on 12 carries in this game for 8.2 per. That was the most yards per carry since early December 2009 and most yards full stop in a regular season game since December 2008. Seattle are third in third down defense and are equal first with Dallas in rushing defense at 3.1YPC. After three very solid performances, and their first road win (something that seemed more likely to occur in December, if at all this year) suddenly a season dedicated entirely to developing young talent has positives all over the place.

24 - CLEVELAND (-)
2-2, 4th AFC NORTH
BYE, next @OAK

The only thing I have to say about this team is that Cincy's 3-2 start is very, very bad news for the Browns, and that the Colt McCoy development process is not going especially well...he is ahead of only Sam Bradford and Kerry Collins in YPA this year.

25 - MIAMI (-)
0-4, 4th AFC EAST
BYE, next @NYJ

Miami's rank in total defense has dropped from 6th to 28th this year. A tough game next week at the Jets, but coming off the bye gives them a shout, and after that come five straight winnable games (Denver, @Giants, @Kansas City, Washington, Buffalo). Regardless of the Jets result, they'll need to win them all for any chance at a wild card spot. The good news is that the Jets, Tennessee, Oakland and Pittsburgh have all lost at least two games, and Buffalo hardly look impregnable.

26 - MINNESOTA (+6)
1-4, 4th NFC NORTH
W 34-10 vARI, next @CHI

It's pretty amazing that a team can be up 28-0 with its quarterback starting 2 of 10, but that's exactly what happened here for the Vikings. If McNabb can't complete at least half of his throws and get a touchdown against that pass defense and with that much help from the rushing game (176 yards at 4.6 a carry), the defense (4 turnovers) and special teams (punt returns of 23 and 22 yards) then he's a lost cause, put Ponder in.

27 - KANSAS CITY (+4)
2-3, 3rd AFC WEST
W 28-24 @IND, next BYE

Just know that their defense actually inspired Kevin Harlan to utter the words "Curtis Painter is on fire!", which I think is the way to summon Pinhead from Hellraiser. Just before halftime, CBS showed a graphic of biggest Chiefs comebacks in their history, at the time it seemed cruel, but they actually managed to pull it off. Full credit to Kansas City for fighting hard without three of their best four players and their offense looks functional, moving to Bowe based offense with Bowe and Bowe, Bowe to Bowe and Bowe. If they can pull off an upset at Oakland next week, it will be more than an admirable run, as they then start a three game homestand, including two divisional encounters - could this season still have some life?

28 - ST. LOUIS (-)
0-4, 4th NFC WEST
BYE, next @GB

The one saving grace for the Rams so far this year was that their schedule was tough. This week ripped even that condolence away from their fans. Are the Eagles really that hard to beat on the road? After all, division mate San Francisco was able to do it in Pennsylvania. Are the Giants really that hard to beat in New Jersey? The Hawks, supposedly the worst road team basically of all time, just did them by two scores. I would say next week was a must win, but going into Wisconsin, is there really any point?

29 - ARIZONA (-6)
1-4, 3rd NFC WEST
L 10-34 @MIN, next BYE

After a promising start to the year, Kolb is just getting worse and worse (his QB rating has gone down for four straight games, from 92.5 to 46.9). He started 1/5 here with an interception and a sack fumble. Jared Allen (who got to him five times by himself) terrorised him all game. About to enter a hellish stretch after the bye with four of next six on the road, and one of the home games is next up against the Steelers.

30 - DENVER (-)
1-4, 4th AFC WEST
L 24-29 vSD, next BYE

OMFG Tim Tebow! OMFG Tim Tebow! OMFG Tim Tebow!

1-4, 3rd AFC SOUTH
L 20-30 vCIN, next @PIT

The good news is that they picked themselves off the bottom of the scoring offense standings to the lofty heights of 31st. Jones-Drew started strong with 42 yards on six carries (including a patented bowling ball, bouncing off five guys TD run) but a powerful Cincinnati defensive front eventually found a way to stop him. Gabbert was his usual ineffectual self aside from a 74 yard completion to Jason Hill for a TD, which was essentially their only offense of the second half. Still, his 91.5 QB rating was his highest yet, so there are some very faint positives for the Jaguars.

0-5, 4th AFC SOUTH
L 24-28 vKC, next @CIN

Garcon is really the only silver lining here, as he had his second productive week, this time doing it primarily with several big first down catches - he looks to be Indianapolis' best receiver right now. Were absolutely murdered by Dwayne Bowe with 128 yards and two TDs. Joseph Addai has shown glimpses of being a competant running back, but their inability to close out a 24-7 lead is telling. The Colts are third worst in the league in allowing first downs, worst in third down defense, last in time of possession defense per game, and third last in scoring defense per game. And their offense (now potentially without Addai) ain't nothing pretty either. I might be the last person on Earth to concede this, but they are the worst team in the NFL.


Bengoodfella said...

I think it is abundantly clear the best two teams in the NFL are the Patriots and the Packers. At least I feel like right now they are in a class by themselves.

That Bills defense is still pretty leaky. I'm not confident in their ability long-term during this season.

I like how the media is all over Cam Newton but are ignoring how Andy Dalton has played really well this year and actually is winning games with his team. I've been very impressed with the Bengals this year and I will be interested to see what Dalton's ceiling ends up being.

Nice "Hellraiser" reference. Didn't see that coming.

The good news for Jacksonville and Indy is they play each other twice this year. Someone has to win.

rich said...

We always knew that secondary, with all its injuries, would eventually catch up with them

The secondary is actually the least injured part of the defense. The D-Line (Tuck, Osi, Austin) and LB (Goff, Sintim) were much harder hit. Three of the four starters (Phillips, Rolle, Webster) are still around, but ya, losing Thomas and Prince means that Aaron Ross now starts, which is sad.

The problem that the Giants had with Seattle was with their shitty LBers though. The secondary wasn't particularly bad, but the LBers were terrible. Other than Osi and JPP, the defense couldn't get any pressure.

Essentially, the LBers were completely ineffective. They couldn't help in the short passing game and they couldn't get pressure on blitzes (which they seemed to do less than they normally do, which was odd).

The numbers are also skewed a tad because the Seahawks had great field position all game. At one point in the third quarter, they showed that the Seahawks average starting field position was the 40. Two Eli interceptions (thanks Cruz) and a shitty snap gave the Seahawks 7 points and great field position.

As for the rest of the rankings, I may be biased, but how are the Giants 19th, but the Jets 12th? The Jets defense looked terrible (Green-Ellis put up a ton of yards) and their offense looked pathetic against one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The Giants played like horseshit, but if not for Victor Cruz batting the ball into the defenders hands, actually have a shot to win the game.

J.S. said...

Hi Rich, criticism is relatively muted this week! The Jets had a hellish road trip (Oakland, Baltimore, New England), you'd be hard pressed finding more than one win out of that bunch and I have been quite forgiving because of that. There is no excuse to lose to Seattle at home, if you have ambitions to be a team in the top half of the NFL.

Miami beating the Jets is the only real upset I can see on the sked this week, and think it really may happen (or is this just missplaced optimism for a winless team like I held onto with the Colts?). If it does, the Jets will drop like a stone, for now, I am giving them the benefit of the doubt.

But yeah Rich, it is...well, rich...to complain about the Giants ranking after a loss of that magnitude, and remember that the Jets were in the AFC title game last year.