This week we’ll try to dissect some of the more surprising team performances of Week 3. We’re going to take a closer look into which surprises are legitimate, and which need to right the ship before moving forward.
Onwards and upwards, to Week 3 of Sports Nickel’s NFL Rewind!
Keeping Up with the Contenders
A few games this weekend were critical not for the immediate standings, but for determining some squads’ true identity in 2010. Kansas City-San Francisco, Dallas-Houston, Miami-NYJ, New Orleans-Atlanta, and Minnesota-Detroit all gave us significant conclusions moving forward. Most of these teams had issues through two weeks, but there wasn’t enough evidence. After three games, the future for many is still unclear.
Starting in Kansas City, where the Chiefs are 3-0 and feeling confident for the first time in a decade, one can’t be too definitive. Heading into the season, if one were to tell you KC would beat both San Diego and San Francisco, you’d be impressed. Both were projected to be solid teams capable of beating up on their weak respective divisions. Yet looking at the Chargers and 49ers now, they’re clearly two teams in turmoil. San Diego has started just 1-2, while the Niners are winless and have already fired their Offensive Coordinator, Jimmy Raye. Neither club seems like a true contender (at least not yet), so Arrowhead may have to see a few more matchups before printing playoff tickets.
How about those in the NFC South? Many have proclaimed the Saints as the clear favorite, but after offensive struggles not seen in ’09, and a crisp Atlanta offense (whose only loss came at the hands of the hellish Steelers D), can one be so sure? Matt Ryan and the Falcons hung 41 on Arizona last week, and demonstrated impressive, physical play against the Saints. It’s very possible Atlanta will challenge in the division and the conference.
Looking at the former crises in Minnesota and Dallas, neither team is out of the woods yet. Minnesota needed Adrian Peterson to put on his Superman cape once more to beat the Lions, as Favre and the passing game are still a far cry from 2009. Big D can exhale after a win, but then again Houston is a historic day from Arian Foster and a shanked field goal from 0-3. Any less from Foster, even half the yards, and Peyton is unbeaten.
As for Dolphins-Jets, it simply confirms that the AFC East is for real. I wouldn’t be surprised to see New York, Miami, and New England all go 1-1 against one another. Who makes it out of the divisional brawl will be a tough test for any team come playoff time.
So out of all the headlines and front-page stories proclaiming glorious breakouts and season-killing disasters, remember to be cautious. The NFL is exciting because it’s spontaneous and the landscape is ever-changing. No Week1 game versus San Diego or Week 3 win over Houston is enough to base a season on. There’s a long road ahead for everyone.
For Week 3′s set of downs, we’re highlighting which units have over-achieved and which have failed to fulfill expectations.
1st Down and Atlanta
Keeping with Atlanta, it appears that we’re seeing a team more like the 2008 Falcons that went 11-5 rather than last year’s squad. This year, Matt Ryan is leading the offensive charge with a steady run game posed by Michael Turner and Jason Snelling behind him. The Falcons have the second most rushing yards so far in ’10, and Ryan maintains a 94.3 rating, due in large part to an impressive 67% completion percentage. To add onto their stats, the Falcons have also found discipline on offense. They have just 15 penalties and have achieved balance.
They have already posted 41 points against the Cardinals, and managed to hang right in there with New Orleans. Their only loss came at Pittsburgh, where they took the league’s best defense to overtime. Ahead of them on the schedule are the Niners, Browns, and Eagles; three teams Atlanta will be able to impose their recent offense success upon.
2nd Down and Baltimore
The Ravens have always been known for their harsh AFC North-style defense, but their offense is what drew headlines in Baltimore. To accompany the breakout of Ray Rice and sustained role of Joe Flacco, the Ravens acquired top wideout Anquan Boldin and the troubled yet talented Donte Stallworth. What always was a lacking offense finally seemed to have the weapons necessary to dominate on both sides of the ball. 2010 has told a different story, though.
Baltimore ranks in the bottom ten in total yards, the bottom five in scoring, and their run game (what was supposed to be a major strength) has amassed just 267 yards. Boldin has had two excellent games early on, but Rice and Flacco have struggled. Even Boldin, after just one completion for -6 yards, has a better passer rating than Flacco. That should tell you something about how badly the Ravens need their offense to click, especially with Pittsburgh at 3-0.
3rd Down and Kansas City
Turning to the other 11-man squad, the Chiefs defense has been by far the most surprising of the year. The fact is, KC has been an inept franchise for some time now, and the defense has always been atop the list of those to blame. They haven’t won their games in too flashy a fashion, but the defense is now what deserves the credit. The Chiefs have held their opponents to just 12.7 points per game, tied for second in the NFL. They are outside the top 20 in opponent passing, but have stuffed the run nearly completely.
A quick survey of the offense should tell anyone that the defense’s maturation couldn’t have come any later. Matt Cassel finally showed signs of life last week, but for the most part KC has had to rely on Jamaal Charles. With such an unreliable unit, the defense comprised of young stars Eric Berry, Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, and Brandon Flowers needs to maintain its pace throughout 2010.
4th Down and San Francisco
Seems as though we keep coming back to the same teams, doesn’t it? Well, in a segment that’s covering both the good and bad surprises, it’s hard to overlook the Niners’ defense. The Bay Area offense hasn’t been structured to win games like Indianapolis, New England, and Green Bay, we know that much. Frank Gore is a star, but Alex Smith isn’t the next Montana or Young. Therefore, the burden fell on San Fran’s defense long ago to improve to elite status. It fit the bill in ’09, but now it’s in shambles.
The SF defense, lead by All-Pro Patrick Willis, has been nothing short of a major disappointment thus far. 31 points to lowly Seattle. 25 points to the Saints (perhaps more understandable). 31 points and 250 yards passing to Matt Cassel and the Chiefs. The Niners have lost their defensive identity, and need to find it fast. Otherwise, they could be looking up at everyone in their division, even the Rams.
- It’s no surprise to see San Diego, Indy, and Houston at the top of offensive rankings, but Denver’s passing game has vaulted it to #2. I’ll be keeping an eye out to see if Kyle Orton’s 476 yard game was a fluke or an omen of things to come.
- As perhaps one of the most tumultuous franchises in sports, would anyone think the Bruce Gradkowski-led Raiders would be in the top ten in total yards?
- The quarterback situation may be troublesome for Carolina, but there’s no excuse for being a below-average rushing team with both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart healthy.
- New England’s lack of a pass rush is no secret, but their young secondary isn’t doing them any favors either. Good thing the offense scores seemingly at will.
Flag on the Field
A question was posed on Monday that has arisen in sports countless times. With the score tied and less than two minutes left, the Bears had the ball in the red zone against the Packers. With the clock running down and just one timeout remaining, Mike McCarthy was faced with a decision: try to stop Chicago with his solid defense, or let the Bears score and hand the ball back to Aaron Rodgers with well over a minute left?
The Packers’ D remained on the field, Chicago ran down the clock, and Robbie Gould put away the game-winning field goal. Chicago 20, Green Bay 17.
Naturally, Packers and football fans alike were up in arms, and have a point. I’ve heard multiple analysts and “experts” claim that the Packers made the right choice. They claim the defense worked too hard all game to just give up and throw in the towel at the end.
Well, Mr. Former-Player-Turned-Analyst, you’re wrong. The Packers were not going to stop the Bears, or Gould, one of the NFL’s more accurate kickers (career 30-30 from less than 30 yards). Better to let Rodgers take control and play for a tie/overtime, than idly watch the clock tick down to 0:04.
Winning comes before personal pride, and you win as a team.
Next on the Schedule
Team vs. Team – Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
One of the NFL’s classic rivalries, Ravens-Steelers is always assured to be a brutally physical matchup. While defense will be the mantra for each team, seeing which offense will be able to make the correct adjustments will tell a lot about their future.
Player vs. Player – Patrick Willis, San Francisco 49ers vs. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons
These two players, both alluded to earlier in Rewind, are the leaders of two units going in opposite directions. Ryan’s Falcons seem legitimate threats in the NFC, while Willis works to establish his unit as competent, let alone elite. If San Fran is going to win on the road, Willis will need to keep tabs on Ryan at all times.
Offense vs. Defense – New York Giants O vs. Chicago D
The Giants need to start gelling now, and what better time to do it than at home on Sunday night? Philadelphia holds the NFC East by a slight margin, but New York still has what it takes after two virtual blowouts in Weeks 2 and 3. Look for the Giants to try numerous schemes, while Chicago relies on Julius Peppers causing havoc for Eli.