NFL Week 6: Expert Takeaways from Sunday's Action
Week 6 of the 2013 NFL season is just about in the books, and as Sundays in the National Football League usually do, this week's action featured something for almost everyone.
In Kansas City, jubilant fans thrilled with the Chiefs' 6-0 start set a Guinness world record for the loudest crowd noise ever recorded.
Meanwhile, fans in Houston, despondent over the struggles of the now 2-4 Texans, cheered an injury to their starting quarterback.
Amidst the wackiness of the day that was, we asked Bleacher Report's National Lead Writers and Division Lead Writers to provide their insights on this week's games.
Here's what they had to say.
Despite Bright Spots, Geno Smith Is Still a Rookie
In retrospect, this is one we really should have seen coming.
As well as New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith played in last week's win over the Atlanta Falcons, the fact remained that Smith was a rookie preparing to face a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that had two weeks to prepare for him.
As AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz points out, Smith's Week 6 struggles serve as a reminder that the youngster still has a way to go:
The Geno Smith bandwagon got a little heavy after a big game against the Falcons. The added weight may explain why things were a little slow for the Jets against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The rookie quarterback has all the talent in the world but had been much maligned for his mental mistakes. He finally cleaned it up by going 16-of-20 for 199 yards, three touchdowns and a 147.7 passer rating last Monday night.
Thus, of course, the first reaction to the Jets' struggles against the Steelers might be that Smith has taken a step back. A stat line reading 19-of-34 for 201 yards, two interceptions and a 48.8 passer rating might have you thinking he came back down to Earth like a meteor falling out of the sky.
The truth is, it’s already been an up-and-down season for Smith, and the turbulence figures to continue for the Jets' aerial attack. That’s just the natural order of life with a rookie quarterback at the helm.
There were some bright spots, like the drive at the end of the first half that gave the Jets a field goal to cut their deficit to 9-6. Then, of course, there were the two interceptions—glaring mistakes that overshadowed Smith’s bright spots. He threw the first into triple coverage, while the second was a late desperation drive while still down by two possessions.
Smith’s ball security was an issue in the first four games of the season, when he turned it over 11 times. The Jets will need him to play more like the quarterback who kept it ultra-efficient last week, versus the one who couldn’t get anything going this week.
Inconsistent Bengals Aren’t Living Up to Their Talent Level
After downing the Buffalo Bills 27-24 in overtime, the Cincinnati Bengals are all by themselves atop the AFC North at 4-2.
However, AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst cautions that all is not necessarily well in the Queen City:
The Cincinnati Bengals should consider themselves lucky to have gotten out of Buffalo with the win. At one point in the third quarter, they had a 24-10 lead, only to give up two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The overtime mercifully ended thanks to a 29-yard Brandon Tate punt return that led to Mike Nugent's winning field goal.
It was a win, but it wasn’t a perfect one, and it wasn’t one reflective of the high degree of talent on the Bengals roster. The Bengals have one of the deepest and most complete teams in the NFL, but on the field, it sometimes hasn’t shown.
In Week 5, the Bengals held the New England Patriots to just two field goals in a 13-6 win. They snapped Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s streak of consecutive games with a touchdown and held him to under 200 yards passing. In Week 6, the Bengals held Buffalo’s Thaddeus Lewis to under 220 passing yards, but he had two passing touchdowns and one rushing score.
Despite having one of the most aggressive front sevens in the league and a secondary full of former first-round draft picks, they couldn’t keep the Bills from putting points on the board. This was Lewis’ second career start, but the former undrafted free agent out of Duke was able to do things that Brady couldn’t just a week ago.
The defense completely broke down in the fourth quarter, when the Bills easily marched down the field for two touchdowns. Cincinnati’s best players failed to step up in a situation designed for them to dominate.
Equally frustrating was the Bengals’ offensive slowdown. They weren’t able to answer Buffalo’s two fourth-quarter scoring drives. Each possession ended in a punt, and they all showcased the run game rather than the myriad passing weapons available to quarterback Andy Dalton. Yes, the Bengals have needed to run the ball more, but they have to also choose the right situations in which to do it.
The dynamic tight end tandem of Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert had a combined seven targets and four catches on the day for 18 yards—and it wasn’t just because of Buffalo’s coverage.
The Bengals have all the talent in the world, but they don’t know how to maximize it. That they lucked out in Buffalo to improve to 4-2 and take sole possession of the AFC North should be the coldest of comforts. They have been lacking in execution, consistency and decision-making all season long, and we saw it again on Sunday, despite the win.
Nick Foles Should Be the Eagles’ Starting QB Going Forward
NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon believes the Philadelphia Eagles came away from Week 6 with more than just a 31-20 win and a share of first place in the NFC East.
Gagnon also thinks the team learned who its starter under center should be:
The unwritten law of Wally Pipp states that players shouldn’t lose their starting jobs to injury, but the Philadelphia Eagles have to be prepared to break that. Nick Foles has proven over the last six quarters that he’s the best option this team has at quarterback.
With veteran Michael Vick sidelined due to a hamstring injury, the second-year Arizona product completed 22 of 31 passes and produced four touchdowns (three passing, one running) as the Eagles took care of the Buccaneers Sunday in Tampa.
Since relieving Vick just before halftime last week against the New York Giants, Foles has six touchdowns (five passing, one rushing), zero turnovers and a passer rating of 125.1.
He’s completed 68 percent of his passes. In the previous three games, Vick had completed just 47 percent of his attempts. Foles has led the offense into the end zone on four of six red-zone possessions. Before getting hurt, Vick was just 5-of-19 on red-zone passes.
We don’t know yet if Foles is the long-term answer under center, but he’s the much hotter hand. And we do know that the 33-year-old, injury-prone Vick isn’t the long-term answer. Statistically, the comparison between Vick and his 24-year-old teammate isn’t close right now.
Foles has also simply looked better. He is confident and comfortable, and he gets rid of the ball faster than Vick. He’s already established a ton of chemistry with top receivers DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper. We all know how much Chip Kelly hates sacks, and Foles has been taken down only twice on 58 dropbacks in relief of Vick. That sack percentage would rank second in the NFL.
I know, Foles has been able to feast against the Giants and Bucs—two teams that are a combined 0-11. But Tampa Bay’s defense had actually performed pretty well prior to Sunday’s game. A unit featuring Darrelle Revis, Gerald McCoy, Mason Foster and Lavonte David ranked 12th in the NFL in sack percentage, 15th against the pass and seventh in scoring defense.
But Foles dominated that D on Sunday, and I believe that should be enough to earn him the full-time job, regardless of the state of Vick’s left hamstring.
Gutsy Performance from Packers D Fuels a Win
As NFC North Lead Writer Zach Kruse relays, it was Green Bay's defense that propelled the team to victory:
The highlights from Green Bay's win over the Baltimore Ravens included an ugly play that saw Tandon Doss spring wide open for 63 yards on a late 4th-and-forever situation late in the fourth quarter. But take away that inexcusable blunder, and the Packers defense clearly played better than even the most optimistic of projections given the team's current injury situation.
A team missing Clay Matthews (thumb surgery) recorded five sacks, including three from A.J. Hawk and another from Nick Perry, who replaced Matthews at right outside linebacker.
Starting inside linebacker Brad Jones (hamstring) also missed the contest. But backup Jamari Lattimore—a former defensive end turned linebacker—filled in admirably, and the Ravens were only able to rush for 47 yards on 22 attempts (2.1-yard average).
Torrey Smith, who came into the game with 556 receiving yards, caught just one pass for 12 yards, with Sam Shields primarily lined up across from the Ravens' top receiving threat. No Casey Hayward (hamstring), no problem.
The defense also made a number of big stops, including a goal-line stand in the first half and a forced field-goal attempt after Baltimore had a 1st-and-goal situation in the third quarter. Overall, the Ravens went just 2-of-14 on third down and failed to score a point in the first half.
A rash of injuries could have provided the Packers with a convenient excuse for the defense playing under par Sunday. Instead, a patched-up unit put together an impressive performance that fueled a gut-check win in the house of the defending Super Bowl champs.
Patriots Offense Holding Its Own, Trending Upward
After a wild finish that culminated with the New England Patriots beating the undefeated New Orleans Saints 30-27, it's hardly surprising that one of our experts would want to address that game.
Did you hear the one about the Patriots offense on the milk carton?
For all of the well-intentioned (or ridiculously trollish) concern for the Patriots offense, one might think that the team moves down the field solely on Tom Brady-drawn 15-yard penalties and the occasional out-of-character catch by one of its totally overmatched wide receivers.
In the words of Mark Twain, the reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated.
Following a win against the formerly unbeaten New Orleans Saints, it’s clear the Patriots defense is stirring the drink right now. With the help of cornerback Aqib Talib, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham was shut down like a Chick-fil-A on Sundays. Heck, even after Talib sat down due to injury, guys like Kyle Arrington covered Graham admirably.
Yet the offense wasn’t exactly slouching out there—especially when one remembers that this Saints defense has been legit all season long. Did it look like the Patriots offense back in the heydays of wide receivers Randy Moss or Wes Welker? No. Is it better than it looked earlier in the season? Absolutely.
The Patriots have yet to get tight end Rob Gronkowski on the field in 2013, and they haven’t gotten more than a cup of coffee out of wide receiver Danny Amendola. Right now, the Patriots offense is going through growing pains with wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson.
Focus on the drops, the miscues, the mistakes and the gaffes all you want. Listen to the bloviators about body language, trust and whose cell Brady is blowing up this week. In the end, the Patriots are still 5-1 and have three favorable matchups (Jets, Dolphins, Steelers) between now and the bye week.
Moral Victories Are a Thing—Just Ask the Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jacksonville Jaguars remain winless after falling to the Denver Broncos 35-19 in Week 6.
However, NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller thinks the Jaguars were victorious in a way:
Jerry Jones famously said after his team’s Week 5 loss to the Denver Broncos that it was a “moral victory” for his Dallas Cowboys. He was on to something.
No one expected the Jacksonville Jaguars to make noise against the mighty Broncos, but they did. At halftime the Broncos were up just two points in a tight 14-12 ballgame that displayed all the heart, grit and determination that you could expect from a team favored to lose by 28 points.
Head coach Gus Bradley can be disappointed that his team is 0-6 after six weeks, but he cannot be disappointed with the way it played against the undefeated Broncos on their home turf. In all three phases of the game, the Jaguars played hard no matter what the experts said about their chances. And that is a credit to their head coach.
The road through the 2013 season will be a long one for Jacksonville, but Week 6 proved to all who watched that owner Shad Khan has the right man in place to lead this team back to contention. Bradley, who coaches as tough as his team plays, is that man.
Chiefs Defense Is the Catalyst for 6-0 Start
As we mentioned in the introduction to this article, the Kansas City Chiefs are 6-0 after a 24-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
In the eyes of NFL National Lead Writer Matt Bowen, it's the Kansas City defense that deserves most of the credit for the team's hot start:
Why are the Chiefs off to a 6-0 start this season? Look at the defensive side of the ball in Kansas City. This unit can generate pressure up front, and it challenges receivers in the secondary consistently throughout the route stem.
On Sunday, the Chiefs forced three interceptions and recorded 10 sacks versus quarterback Terrelle Pryor in their 24-7 win over the Raiders. Tamba Hali posted 3.5 sacks, Derrick Johnson added two and Justin Houston also got in the mix with one.
In the secondary, the Chiefs’ physical defensive backs played with technique, attacked the football and closed this game out in the fourth quarter with two interceptions—including a pick-six from Husain Abdullah in 2-Man coverage.
I love watching this defense play because it doesn’t need added window dressing to run its scheme. Remember, you don’t have to run a complex system when you can get home with four, bring some pressure (based on the game situation) and lean on your defensive backs to play lockdown coverage in the secondary.
That’s a beautiful thing—and it was on display once again on Sunday for this Chiefs defense in the team's sixth straight win.
Terrelle Pryor Isn’t Going to Hold Up Behind Oakland’s Offensive Line
He struggled in Week 6, but the play of Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor has been a bright spot for the Raiders in 2013.
However, AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen cautions that Pryor isn't going to survive the season if Oakland doesn't improve up front:
One of the main arguments against running quarterbacks in the NFL is durability. Many believe that running quarterbacks take more hits and that it will eventually lead to injuries. Since starting quarterbacks are so valuable and very few teams have quality backups, it’s a legitimate concern.
Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor might not get hurt because he’s running; he might get hurt because he has to run. Realistically, Pryor isn’t going to hold up behind Oakland’s offensive line if it can’t either get healthy or drastically improve.
The Kansas City Chiefs sacked Pryor 10 times on Sunday and hit him about a dozen other times. Pryor avoided another 10 sacks with his legs, and it would have been even worse with a pocket passer at quarterback.
The Chiefs were the top-ranked defense in football, but it was a one-score game until there were two minutes left in the fourth quarter. This wasn’t a situation where Kansas City’s pass-rushers just pinned their ears back and exposed a thin offensive line.
Oakland’s best healthy lineman was probably left tackle Khalif Barnes, but he looked the worst in pass protection and allowed 3.5 sacks to Tamba Hali. The Raiders finished the game with Lucas Nix at left guard, right guard Mike Brisiel at center, Lamar Mady at right guard and Matt McCants at right tackle—neither a talented nor experienced group.
The offensive line has been shuffled so much due to injury that it’s tough to really know who the starters would be if everyone were healthy. Realistically, all five starters on Sunday were either hurt or playing out of position, including both their starting tackles and their center.
Left tackle Jared Veldheer, center Stefen Wisniewski and rookie second-round pick Menelik Watson are still out with injuries. Andre Gurode moved from left guard to center and was injured during the game. Oakland picked up Tony Pashos on waivers just before the season began to start at right tackle, with Barnes moving from right tackle to left tackle with Veldheer and Watson out.
It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Raiders fielded the worst offensive line in the NFL on Sunday against the best defense and predictably got burned. If Pryor doesn’t start getting more protection, there’s very little chance he’s going to finish the season healthy.
“I didn’t take a beating,” Pryor said after the game, via Jerry McDonald of Inside Bay Area. “I’m a big man, I’m a grown man. They just tackled me.”
On Sunday, Pryor hurt his hand and was able to play through it, but he’s already missed a game with a concussion. Despite what he may think, he’s not going to last if he keeps getting tackled as much as he did on Sunday.
Carolina’s Defense Deserves All the Love, Needs Offense to Continue Stepping Up
The Carolina Panthers throttled the Minnesota Vikings in Week 6, and while quarterback Cam Newton and the offense will likely get the credit, NFC South Lead Writer Knox Bardeen gives the Carolina defense its due:
After Sunday’s 35-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings, the Carolina Panthers have three times held opponents to 12 points or less. The defense is giving up just 13.6 points per game, second in the NFL to the Kansas City Chiefs.
As good as that sounds, the Chiefs are 6-0, and the Panthers are 2-3.
The pass-rushing tandem of defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson instills fear in opposing quarterbacks. Rookie defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is proving to be every bit the first-round talent the Panthers hoped for. Second-year linebacker Luke Kuechly is the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and playing like he wants more.
But this superb defense can only carry this team so far, as shown by Carolina’s record. The offense needs to pack more of a punch.
That’s exactly what happened Sunday in Minnesota.
The Panthers put 35 points on the board, the second time they’ve reached 35 this season after only doing it twice all last season. Quarterback Cam Newton had a quarterback rating of 143.4, the highest of his career, and hit three different targets in the end zone with zero interceptions.
If the offense—and Newton—can continue along this trend, this Panthers team can win more than a few football games. But that’s been the problem. For every offensive explosion, there are too many games where the offense fizzles.
This quality defense deserves more. It deserves week-after-week efforts like Week 6 from Newton and the offense.
Zac Stacy Fueled St. Louis’ Offense for the 2nd Time in as Many Weeks
The biggest surprise of Week 6 had to be the St. Louis Rams' 38-13 blowout of the Houston Texans.
Not only was the outcome of the game a shocker, but according to NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland, so was the fulcrum for the Rams offense on Sunday:
Prior to the 2013 season, the St. Louis Rams believed they were an offense that could spread the opposition out with a dynamic passing attack. In theory, the thought was nice based on the fact the Rams added valuable skill position players at wide receiver, yet offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense hadn’t had the appropriate time to gel.
This, in turn, meant Schottenheimer had to take some of the pressure off franchise quarterback Sam Bradford. How did he do it? He scaled back the spread-type offense after four games and went back to a more balanced attack that involved multiple-tight end sets.
Additionally, St. Louis inserted rookie running back Zac Stacy into the mix to give the run game a shot in the arm. Fortunately for the Rams, Stacy and the new-look offense made Schottenheimer look like a genius, especially against the Houston Texans.
Since the fundamental changes, the Rams are 2-0, and Stacy has provided the necessary balance this team was looking for. On 32 carries, the fifth-round pick out of Vanderbilt has amassed 157 yards rushing.
His best performance of the season came against the Texans. Carry after carry, Stacy battled from the beginning of the game until the end to secure 79 yards on 18 carries.
Even though the Rams haven’t scored a rushing touchdown this season, Stacy’s presence in goal-line situations has helped the effectiveness of play-action passes in the red zone. Opposing defenses actually feel like St. Louis has a legitimate red-zone threat on the ground.
Moving forward, Schottenheimer will need to stick to his current game plan week in and week out if St. Louis wants to get back into playoff contention. St. Louis’ schedule gets brutal over the course of the next six games, so it will be crucial that the Rams continue to lean on Stacy during that stretch.
RGIII Is Fine—Now All the Redskins Need to Fix Is Everything Else
Sunday's last game featured a win by the Dallas Cowboys over the Washington Redskins.
There's been plenty of hand-wringing about Washington quarterback Robert Griffin, but NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter thinks that Washington has other fish to fry:
As Redskins Nation doubtlessly spent all bye week hoping, Robert Griffin III looked rejuvenated against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. He ran with most of his old speed, including an impressive 26-yard scramble on 3rd-and-5, highlighted at NFL.com.
Best of all, Griffin turned on that speed with ease and grace—none of the labored galloping we saw in the first few weeks. He moved in the pocket fluidly, avoiding the rush, and didn’t hesitate to roll out when needed.
It wasn’t just Griffin’s running that benefited from the week off; Griffin threw with plenty of zip too, racking up 134 first-half yards on 10-of-18 passing.
Unfortunately, every other Redskins unit let him down.
Alfred Morris was bottled up in the first half, gaining just 16 yards on nine carries. The offensive line didn't do him any favors either; Morris frequently made moves just to get back to the line of scrimmage. He broke open on a busted play in the third quarter, getting free for a 45-yard touchdown run after the Cowboys were called offside—but outside of that run, Griffin was the Redskins offense.
On defense, things got off to a promising start, keeping Tony Romo from blowing the lid off the game. But an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown by Dwayne Harris in the second quarter and a 90-yard Harris kickoff return that set up an easy Romo touchdown pass put the Redskins down 21-9 in the third quarter.
The Redskins also couldn’t stop shooting themselves in the foot; they were flagged six times for 54 yards in the first half, including a bizarre bench penalty for standing too far out onto the sideline and obstructing an official’s path during the Harris return touchdown.
At points, it looked like Griffin’s rapport with his receivers still hasn’t caught up to his regained velocity. The Redskins’ last chance to get back in the game ended when wideout Santana Moss fell on a deep corner route, and Griffin’s pass sailed for the back of the end zone, where only Cowboys safety Orlando Scandrick could get to it.
The Redskins can cross “RGIII” off the laundry list of things they need to fix if they want to get back to the playoffs, but the rest of that list is long indeed.
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