Here in Colorado’s high country, fall comes and goes quickly, and you can miss it if you’re not paying attention. One day you’re sure it’s summer, then the next you’re turning on the heater instead of the air conditioning. Oh, the fall here is brilliant, leaves turning yellow and orange and red in a triumph of lively colors before the white monochrome of winter, but the oomph behind the tree-powered pulchritude drops off too quickly—think something like the career of Priest Holmes. You’ll be glad you saw it in it’s prime.
Fall football is beautiful too, in it’s own way. It’s often the craziest and least predictable time of the year, where nobody knows what anybody else is going to do. Every year around this time there are enough surprises to make fans say it’s the strangest year in a decade. Surprises like Air Force cracking the Top 25. But things might begin to settle down now soon, as we accumulate statistical data about each team and each player. There will still be plenty of the unexpected to leave us all open-mouthed, all right, but certain things will become a little more predictable. And predictability will be the topic of my next post, previewing week 6. But first, a look back at week 5.
San Diego Chargers 27 @ Oakland Raiders 35
Football is three parts offense, three parts defense, and one part special teams. Sometimes, special teams can overshadow the rest of the team. San Diego’s offense and defense both rank as the 3rd best in the league, but you might not realize that, since their special teams are so bad. Mike Tanier has some ideas about what they’ve been doing so poorly, and some ideas about how to fix it.
Green Bay Packers 13 @ Washington Redskins 16 (OT)
Washington won last Sunday despite a horrid performance by their offensive line—Clay Matthews and pretty much the rest of the Packers defense destroyed guards Kory Lichtensteiger and Artis Hicks like acid breaks destroys swiss cheese. But as the Broncos demonstrated two weeks ago, a team can win without a competent line, as long as they have a QB who can read the defense and get the ball out posthaste. Donovan McNabb dropped back 54 times last week, taking 5 sacks but avoiding many more with some nifty scrambling moves.
Green Bay, for their part, demonstrated once again that a team can lose despite gaining a ridiculous number of yards. In the first quarter alone, Green Bay was up 208 yards to Washington’s 24. The score was only 7-0.
Lorenzo Alexander—multipurpose football player extraordinaire—had another solid game starting at OLB opposite Orakpo. The Redskins have had no trouble beating down offensive lines this year and hurrying QBs. Their problem is actually tackling the QB once they get there, and they should improve as a unit when they begin getting sacks for negative yardage rather than allowing 4 yard dumpoffs.
Denver Broncos 17 @ Baltimore Ravens 31
Early in the 4th quarter, trailing 24-7, the Broncos go no-huddle; Orton hits 5 straight passes, flying 54 yards to the Ravens 19. On 2nd and 3, Orton appears to hit Jabar Gaffney for a first down, but Gaffney was ruled out of bounds. Instead of challenging the call, McDaniels calls another play—incomplete again. On 4th down they kick a field goal, now down 24-10. Though there were 12 minutes left, it felt like the game was over. And it was; on the next drive the defense allowed the Ravens to score a touchdown while taking 5 more minutes off the clock. Not even Dan Gronkowski and Tim Tebow combined could save them then.
The Broncos lost even though Orton had more positive value than any player Sunday. We know the Broncos offense isn’t the problem, though it would be nice if they could use those expensive backup QBs to help out somehow. The defense has bright spots—on one play D.J. Williams read a run correctly and shot up the guard/center gap where Ray Rice was headed, only to be blocked smack out of the play by fullback John McClain. Nobody was able to clean up, and Rice comfortably gained a first down. It was that kind of game for the defense.
New Orleans Saints 20 @ Arizona Cardinals 30
Fumble recoveries are random. Forcing fumbles is a repeatable skill—some teams force more fumbles than others—but no team recovers more fumbles than others. Every time the funny egg-shaped football bounces on the turf, it’s a 50-50 shot who gets it, and who gets it can make a terrible difference on who eventually wins a game. The Cardinals recovered 5 out of 6 fumbles on Sunday. They scored touchdowns on two of them, and scored a third on an interception return. Those plays all made big differences in the result, but none of them are likely to happen again. The Saints are the better football team, and they outplayed the Cardinals. I know it’s rough right now if you’re a Saints fan, but cheer up, your football team isn’t doomed, they will win their share of games, possibly starting this weekend. And if you’re a Cardinals fan, I hope you enjoyed last Sunday’s victory, because you’re not likely to see anything like it again.
Tennessee Titans 34 @ Dallas Cowboys 27
The first sentence in the A.P. Recap of this game describes a penalty—a 15 yard one, where Marc Colombo slipped and fell while spiking the ball after a Jason Witten touchdown—and that seems to be the story of the Cowboy season. I love watching the Cowboys lose, but I loathe the rules governing how to celebrate after scoring a touchdown. My favorite celebration was Chad Johnson’s “Riverdance” in 2005 in a game against the Bears less than a week after Brian Urlacher impregnated the woman who sued Michael Flatley with a false rape charge. It was a subtle, brilliant dig at Urlacher. That kind of dark wit isn’t possible anymore in these dark days for the NFL.
Unlike the Broncos two weeks ago, the Cowboys failed to contain Chris Johnson, who needed only 19 carries to gain 131 yards and two TDs.
I wonder why the Cowboys wear their white jerseys at home. This allows the other team to show off their team colors there in Cowboy Stadium. Maybe that’s why they keep losing!
Minnesota Vikings 20 @ New York Jets 29
Brett Favre is just not having fun out there. How could he, knowing that the world’s seen his dong? Meanwhile, the Jets are winning games by playing good offense, while their defense is just hanging on for the ride so far. Mark Sanchez has thrown 147 passes without an interception, and the Jets recovered the only time he fumbled.
Jacksonville Jaguars 36 @ Buffalo Bills 26
Who is Steve Johnson, and is he really having a great year, or is he just beating single coverage all the time while defenses slide coverage toward Lee Evans on the other side of the field? The answer is TBD, but I am intrigued. It looks like Jacksonville tried to lose this game by not covering Johnson OR Evans, but they didn’t try hard enough. The defense did their job, spotting the Bills a 10-0 first quarter lead. And you can forgive David Garrard for throwing 3 TD passes, because after all, he has himself on his fantasy team. But when you have a guy like Josh Scobee kicking five field goals for Jacksonville, four of them from 40 yards or more, well, you can’t lose ’em all.
Chicago Bears 23 @ Carolina Panthers 6
The Panthers don’t have a very good offense. Even their running game powered by DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, isn’t very good this year. But it’s just regular everyday bad. Their passing game, however, is currently the worst any team has had in the past 20 years. So when you see that Carolina coaches called 20 handoffs to 39 passing plays, you know something is seriously wrong.
Stupid note: I started Todd Collins in one of my fantasy leagues—Tom Brady had a Bye, and Michael Vick was hurt—and he scored me -7 points. He only attempted 16 passes, and 4 of them were intercepted. Fortunately, I also started Matt Forte, who rushed for 100 yards and 2 TDs in the first quarter alone. Oh, and somebody named Julius Peppers who used to play for Carolina and now plays for Chicago had a pretty badass game too.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 @ Cincinnati Bengals 21
Cedric Benson carried the ball 23 times last Sunday, and only 2 of those carries were for no gain. That’s astonishing consistency. It’s too bad that Carson Palmer threw two 4th quarter interceptions, giving the Bucs the opportunity to come from behind to win. I recognize Josh Freeman and his receivers for actually taking advantage of the opportunity and moving downfield; the Bengals have two very good corners, they’re no slouch in pass defense.
Atlanta Falcons 20 @ Cleveland Browns 10
Payton Hillis has scored a touchdown in every game this season. Brady Quinn has not thrown a pass in every game this season.
St. Louis Rams 6 @ Detroit Lions 44
The Lions are back, and how! After the game Rams QB Sam Bradford said, “we have to make sure this never happens again… I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a loss like this.” The Rams didn’t only lose the game, they lost ace receiver Mark Clayton for the year due to injury.
New York Giants 34 @ Houston Texans 10
Hakeem Nicks is the new Andre Johnson? Nicks is remarkably adept at using his body to get position on defenders, kind of like Antonio Gates but faster. Some things are predictable already: if you play fantasy football, you might know that #2 wide receivers are averaging 100 yards and a TD a game against the Texans. Opposing tight ends are averaging about the same. The Giants sure knew that, as they got good performances out of Steve Smith and Kevin Boss as well.
Kansas City Chiefs 9 @ Indianapolis Colts 19
On their first drive of the game, the Chiefs moved the ball 73 yards to the Indy 8. On 4th and 2, QB Matt Cassel threw incomplete into triple coverage, turning the ball over. I’m sure Todd Haley knows that run plays convert 40% more often in those situations, being an NFL head coach and all. But at least they went for it. If you commit to going for it on 4th and short throughout the game, you can get your offense a serious advantage.
Toward the end of the 3rd quarter, the Chiefs faced a 4th and 5 on the Indy 25. They kicked field goal. This is one of the reasons why they did not win the game. At the end of the 4th quarter trailing by 10, they faced a 4th and 4 from the Indy 33. They missed a field goal. This is one of the reasons why they did not win the game. Jamaal Charles gained more yards per rush (5.4) than QB Matt Cassel did per pass attempt (5.3), yet Charles was handed the ball 16 times, compared to Cassel’s 30 pass attempts. The Chiefs were never down by more than 10, there was no reason to feel pressured into going pass-wacky! I’m pretty sure Thomas Jones is Todd Haley’s boyfriend, because otherwise I can’t understand why he would give Jones the ball 8 times in a close game when he’s averaging 2.4 yards per carry. It’s not like Charles had 35 carries and needed a break. These are some of the reasons why they did not win the game.
On one play in the 3rd quarter, Chiefs OLB Tamba Hali busted through the Colts line to strip-sack Manning. Even though the Colts recovered, that play doesn’t happen often. Hali is one of the best players you probably haven’t heard of—but you will hear of him soon.
Philadelphia Eagles 27 @ San Francisco 49ers 24
Chris Collinsworth made a great point in this game, that QB hits and hurries are a good predictor of sacks. 49Ers DE Justin Smith sacked Kevin Kolb twice on Sunday, but based on his 15 QB hits so far, it was only a matter of time before he started turning hurries into tackles. Everything about this game was what you would expect: Collinsworth making some good observations, Mike Singletary getting angry and yelling, Frank Gore fumbling spectacularly, the Eagles winning after the 9ers can’t put the game away.