Sunday, October 9, 2016

Week 5 NFL Notes

Some people might not be aware of this, but the baseball playoffs are underway. Perhaps like most sports fans, I have don’t have any particular interest in the outcome, although it would be nice to see if the Cubs can follow-up their dominating regular season with their first World Series victory in one hundred years or so. Part of the problem with baseball is that it has become “tribal” after it largely abandoned network television for cable, exactly the opposite of what the NFL has done. While NFL games are readily available to the poorest fan, you have to pay extra to watch baseball games, and typically they involve only the local team.  Fox’s “game of the week” has seen a dramatic 50 percent loss in viewership since 2001, which suggests that nationally, most fans are just not that interested in baseball generally. 

Locally, the Mariners were third in the American League in runs scored and earned run average, yet they failed to make the playoffs for the 15th straight year. So while there was some vague interest locally during the summer, interest in the remainder of the baseball season disappeared, and all anyone is interested in anyways is Seahawk football. Myself, I’m still a Brewer fan, but even their local viewership numbers have seen a dramatic decline, not surprising because they are not very good this year. I find myself occasionally checking the stats of Ryan Braun, who with or without his PED issues is the closest thing the team has had to a “franchise” player since Robin Yount’s retirement. That might not be for long, however, considering all the trade talk of the past year.

So now the week that was:

Vikings 31 Texans 13 The Vikings defense once more was dominating, and they may be this season’s version of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl winning team—but with one difference: The Vikings don’t have a running game with Adrian Peterson out of the lineup. Against the Texans they ran the ball 37 times for a meager 2.6 yards-per-carry average. Last year, it was Peterson who carried the offense on his back; this year, it is Sam Bradford, who is clearly having the finest start to a season in his career. One is reminded of Randall Cunningham in 1998 and Brett Favre in 2009, both of whom had their best seasons statistically with the Vikings, both falling just short of the Super Bowl. Regardless of when or if Teddy Bridgewater returns, the Vikings would be wise to let this run through; but being a Packer fan, I hope they are not.

Cardinals 33 49ers 21 Drew Stanton, subbing for Carson Palmer, looked like a backup quarterback, but the Cardinals scored 19 gift points and David Johnson’s 157-yards rushing did the rest. No one should mistake this game for a return of the last two Cardinal teams, just an inability for the 49ers offense to get on track. Will it be any different if Colin Kaepernick is the quarterback? Probably not, but we’ll never know unless Chip Kelly decides he can stomach him and his grandstanding, which is clearly something that Kelly dislikes in a player.

Patriots 33 Browns 13 Like this was any great surprise. Tom Brady was itching to get back to padding his stats, and he did just that, throwing for 406 yards. With the Patriots up 23-7 and the Browns down to their fourth-string quarterback, you knew that this was only going to make Brady salivate.  The item of interest in this game is how Charlie Whitehurst has lasted 11 years in this league. He earned his sobriquet “Clipboard Jesus” when he was a backup for the Chargers and never once set foot on the field from 2007 to 2009. 

Lions 24 Eagles 23 The Lions had no business winning this game, but this time it was not the Lions who had the late game mental breakdowns, but the previously unbeaten Eagles. A late fumble when the Eagles were ready to put the game away for good, and then a brain cramp of a pass that was intercepted allowed the Lions to escape another week of calamity. 

Colts 29 Bears 23 Andrew Luck continues to take a beating, his five sacks in this game adding-up to a league-high 20, already half the number he was sacked as a rookie. Despite this—or because of this—he was forced to “rise” to the occasion and carry the team on his back once more. The Colts defense wasn’t much help; the Bears Bryan Hoyer was not pressured at all and had a career day, completing 33 of 43 passes for 397 yards as the Bears piled-up 522 yards of total offense. Yet the Bears scored only 23 points, perhaps explained by the fact that the Colts had no turnovers and because of that the Bears had six drives averaging 66 yards, four ending in field goal attempts. With the Texans losing badly to the Vikings, the Colts are once more in the “thick” of things in their division.

Titans 30 Dolphins 17 Marcus Mariota threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions, and with DeMarco Murray’s career is getting back on track it wasn’t any trick for an otherwise mediocre team to get back into the AFC South race against a team like the Dolphins. When are the Dolphins finally going to give-up on Ryan Tannehill? Matt Moore, the backup, has been around forever and did have a 6-6 record as a starter in 2011. 

Redskins 16 Ravens 10 Bizarro play-of-the-week: with the score 13-10, the Ravens’ C.J. Mosely intercepts a Kirk Cousins pass at the Redskins 13, runs for an apparent touchdown but fumbles at the one-yard-line while stretching for the end zone, and the ball goes out of the back of the end zone. The Redskins get the ball back, and promptly march downfield for the final points of the game. Joe Flacco was flustered all day, averaging only seven yards per completion, his longest completion only 15 yards.

Steelers 30 Jets 13 At 1-4, the Jets are not having the type of season they were expecting when they re-signed Ryan Fitzpatrick. There seems to be two “bad” Fitzes—the one that slings the ball downfield, and as with Joe Namath you take your “chances,” and the one who doesn’t take chances, doesn’t turn the ball over, and basically nothing happens. That was the Fitz of this game, which also exposed how awful the Jets’ secondary is, again.

Falcons 23 Broncos 16 You knew that eventually the Eagles and the Broncos couldn’t keep up their string of good fortune, winning in spite of and not because of their rookie quarterbacks. Paxton Lynch may be 6-feet 7-inches tall, but history tells us that quarterbacks 6-feet-6 or taller don’t make it in this league, the sole exception being Flacco. 

Cowboys 28 Bengals 14 It is the Cowboys, not the Giants or the Redskins, who increasingly look like the “cream” of NFC East, which for the past few seasons has uncharacteristically been one of the worst divisions in the NFL. Ezekiel Elliot ran through the Bengals defense like butter, and Dak Prescott—who has only thrown four TD passes in five games, but has yet to commit a turnover—continues to be efficiently cautious. Next week’s game at Green Bay looks no longer to be a gimme game for the Packers as it did at the start of the season.

Bills 30 Rams 19 This game turned on two plays: An interception returned for a touchdown, and a “trick” play from punt formation that merely led to another easy touchdown. The Bills no longer look like a joke; even when Tryod Taylor lined up behind a lineman who wasn’t the center, the joke was soon lost when the Bills promptly recovered and marched down for a touchdown. The Rams, meanwhile, lost an opportunity to prove that they were for real because of their mistakes. 

Raiders 34 Chargers 31 Aside from a fumble leading to a Raider touchdown and failing to convert on a third-and-2 late in the game, Melvin Gordon had a reasonably good game rushing, and scored on an 18-yard pass, his fifth straight game scoring a touchdown. Thus blaming Gordon for the Chargers 1-4 record this season is a little unfair, and it was plays like a botched hold during the game-tying field goal attempt that cost the Chargers again, despite their average of 30 points per game; the defense has to take some of the “credit” too.

Packers 23 Giants 16 Not a "pretty" game by any stretch. Despite perfect football weather, both Aaron Rodgers and Eli Manning looked out of sorts, meaning that at least this time Rodgers had "company" in that department. Rodgers threw for a season high 259 yards, but he had to throw 45 passes to do it, and finished with a 65 passer rating. I still don't see any advantage in the return of Jordy Nelson; he was targeted 13 times, yet caught only 4 passes for 38 yards. Unfortunately for the Giants, they could not take advantage of two Rodgers interceptions, averaging a meager 4 yards a play and 219 total yards. The Packers are 3-1, but increasingly do not look efficient enough to compete with the Vikings for the division.

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