Sunday, September 21, 2014

NFL week 3 notes

Although the Detroit Lions were slight favorites to defeat the Green Bay Packers at home, it seemed that most observers presumed that a healthy Aaron Rodgers would take care of business and lead the Packers to victory. Despite leading the game 9-7, I observed that the Lions scored their points on a 40-yard return of an Eddie Lacy fumble, and then a safety, with Lacy again the culprit. Surely after a slow start, the “elite” quarterback, Rodgers, who slice-up the Lions beat-up secondary and carry the team going away.  After all, this was a Lions that beat up the Giants bad defense in week one, but were smothered by Carolina’s serviceable defense last week. 

But I, like most other commentators, forgot something: The Packers still have a defense of questionable quality--at least compared to the Lions'. Sure, after spotting the Jets 21 points last week, they shut down Geno Smith the rest of the way. But that was just Geno Smith, not Matthew Stafford who can on occasion light-up the yardage (if not necessarily the scoreboard). He didn’t really do either in this game, throwing for 246 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a paltry 61.6 QBR. 

Yet the Lions dominated the Packers more than the 19-7 final indicated. Rodgers’ one touchdown pass, no interceptions and 88.8 QBR may have looked “good” compared to Stafford’s line, but he had one of his worst days ever for covering ground over the course of an entire game free from injury. The Lions pass rush made Rodgers look like a rag doll all day; his 162 yards passing was the fewest he threw since way back in November of 2008 against the Vikings, his first season as a starter, when he threw a career low of 142 yards while playing the entire game. 

It is interesting to note, however, that in Rodgers’ case stats don’t necessarily “lie.” His career passer rating is the highest in NFL history, at over 100. In his 90 career starts, he has had a passer rating of 100+ 52 times, and has won 43 of those games. On the other hand, Rodgers is 16-22 in games in which his passer rating was less than 100, of which only 9 were below 80. Of course, much of the blame has to go to the defense, but at times—such as in this game—the blame principally lies with the offense. 

After that mind-blowing blow-out loss to the New York Giants after finishing the 2011 season 15-1, I’ve never taken anything for granted with Rodgers. This isn’t in the same way you never took anything for granted with Brett Favre was on the field, where you had a tendency to keep your fingers crossed and hope for the best every time he went back to pass. With Rodgers, you either could expect the “big play,” or nothing—and those “big plays” can really be impressive on the final stat line, even if the rest doesn’t amount to much. 

In other games, for the second straight week Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers squandered an early lead and were offensively inept in the second half. Whose is to blame?  The quarterback who is decision-making-challenged? How about what was supposed to be the “laugher” of the day, New England against the hapless Raiders? Only an opportune call that nullified a game-tying touchdown kept the Patriots from experiencing a more embarrassing loss than the one in week one against Miami. The Redskins’ Kirk Cousins threw for 427 yards and 3 touchdowns in a 37-34 loss to Philadelphia; I don’t think this result will cause many Redskins fans to pine after Robert Griffin III. Andrew Luck had the most efficient game of his career so far, completing 31 of 39 passes for 370 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions; even if you are playing the defenseless Jacksonville Jaguars, it still takes some skill to hit a stationary target every time. 

And the Seahawks squandered a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter and stellar defense with inept offensive play by Russell Wilson and company. After Kam Chancellor apparently “saved” the game late with an interception, the Seahawks gave the ball right back and “predictably” the defense fell apart, allowing Peyton Manning to march 80 yards in just 41 seconds to tie the game at 20-20 and send the game into overtime. Fortunately for the Seahawks, they won  in overtime, as this time it was the Broncos’ defense that forgot that there was a still a game going on, taking a “breather”—apparently unmindful of the rule that a touchdown by the team that has the ball first is the automatic winner. There will be those who will complain that the Seahawks were “fortunate” to win the game based on a coin toss, but the fact was that it was Seahawk mistakes in the fourth quarter that even allowed the Broncos to avoid another shaming defeat. 

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