NFL Week 13: Expert Takeaways from Thursday's Thanksgiving Action
Thanksgiving football gave us a Detroit Lions blowout of the hapless, Matt Flynn-led Green Bay Packers, the Oakland Raiders sticking with the Dallas Cowboys before Matt McGloin's inexperienced showed and Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin getting an assisted tackle in the loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
We asked each of Bleacher Report's NFL National Lead Writers and Division Lead Writers for their biggest takeaways from the holiday triple-header.
Now that the beloved extended family is gone and sanity is restored in the house, it's time to grab some leftovers and read the experts' thoughts.
Eddie Lacy Can’t Carry the Packers Offense by Himself
The Green Bay Packers were an offensive disaster in their humiliating loss to the Detroit Lions.
With Matt Flynn under center, Mike McCarthy's team just doesn't have the aerial potency to field a balanced attack. NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter points out that despite Eddie Lacy's solid rookie season, he can't do it all for the Packers:
It’s not Eddie Lacy’s fault.
The rookie tailback has been the Packers’ best story and brightest hope so far this season, racking up 806 yards and six touchdowns in just 10 games. The addition of a power run game brought balance to the high-flying Packers offense, carrying them to a 5-2 start.
Once Aaron Rodgers went down, though, the offense came crashing back to Earth. On Thanksgiving, Lacy couldn’t rise above it, taking 10 carries just 16 yards.
Losing a quarterback like Rodgers would be a huge blow for any team, but the Packers’ collapse is more than that.
The Packers offense is now unbalanced in the other direction; without fearing the Packers passing game, defenses can load up to stop the run. If center Evan Dietrich-Smith, lost to injury during the game, is out for any extended period, Lacy’s running lanes are going to get narrower before they get wider.
Head coach Mike McCarthy shares some of the blame with general manager Ted Thompson for not having a viable backup for Rodgers in place. He should take a lot more of the blame for not being able to construct a viable passing offense out of the same receivers.
Many at Fault for Packers’ Defensive Collapse
There's sure to be some finger-pointing in Green Bay after the Lions dismantled the Packers in front of a national audience on Thanksgiving.
NFC North Lead Writer Zach Kruse believes just about everyone involved in the Packers organization is to blame for the team's recent struggles:
After several weeks of obvious regression, and in the wake of Thursday's 40-10 drubbing, most onlookers have a particular person to blame for the Green Bay Packers' defensive collapse.
Some will call for the head of Dom Capers, the defensive coordinator. Others will fault the players. And there's a group that will point the finger at general manager Ted Thompson.
In reality, no one person is singularly to blame. But all three viewpoints are rooted in truth. A lot of people have contributed to the Packers' regression.
Capers hasn't led an above-average NFL defense since 2010, the last season the Packers went to the Super Bowl. His blitz calls and coverage schemes are weekly matched and beaten by opposing offenses.
The players clearly aren't executing. Effort at the line of scrimmage has waned since a strong start, and seemingly all the 50-50 plays—such as the deep touchdown to DeSean Jackson a few weeks back—are going against the Packers. These failures are on the players, not coaches.
It's also possible that the Packers simply don't have enough talent on defense to consistently compete against good offenses. That's on the general manager. Safety and inside linebacker have been obvious deficiencies that Thompson has mostly patched over.
Thursday's result—which featured 40 points and 561 yards of offense from Detroit—highlighted all three failures. Capers was out-schemed, the players were beaten up and down the field and the talent—remember, only Casey Hayward was missing from Green Bay's preferred defense—wasn't able to match the Lions.
The Packers have seen rapid regression on defense, but there's no one person to blame. This is a collective effort that has resulted in too many recent failures.
Dallas Cowboys Are a Complete Football Team
The Dallas Cowboys haven't played flawless football recently, but they've won two straight and have gotten to 7-5 with consecutive well-rounded performances.
DeMarco Murray scored three touchdowns in the win over the Oakland Raiders, and the defense made a handful of big plays for Dallas.
NFC East Lead Writer Brag Gagnon identifies the positives on both sides of the ball for the Cowboys:
Tony Romo and Dez Bryant get all or most of the love for what the Dallas Cowboys are doing as they revive their season entering December, but Dallas wouldn’t have staved off the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving had it not been for an underrated, opportunistic defense and a running game that is quietly becoming more than respectable.
Monte Kiffin’s defense got two big turnovers right when it needed them most, first recovering a fumble inside the Oakland five-yard line to eradicate any moment the Raiders had gained by way of a touchdown on the opening kickoff, and then later intercepting a Matt McGloin pass in the end zone.
That pick, from $50 million cornerback Brandon Carr, was pretty much a game-clincher in the final quarter, and it was the Cowboys’ 25th takeaway of 2013. Only the Seattle Seahawks have reached that mark faster than Dallas.
Yeah, that defense has had some embarrassing lapses this season, and they’ve surrendered more total yards than anyone in football, but the turnover battle is so critical, and this D continues to make big plays despite a slew of injuries at all three levels. As a result, the ‘Boys walked away Thursday with the second-best turnover margin in the NFL.
And while Romo was 12-for-12 in the second half, he had to split Phil Simms’ silly turkey-related MVP award with running backs Murray and Lance Dunbar. Because, unbelievably, the Cowboys were actually so solid on the ground Thursday that they were eventually—and this might sound foreign to some of you—running to set up the pass.
Murray and Dunbar finished with 145 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries. And during Dallas’ mini two-game winning streak coming out of that Week 11 bye, they have 251 yards and are averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
Throw in decent pass protection, some solid run blocking and DeMarcus Ware’s continued improvement, health-wise, and this Dallas team is as complete as its been in years. Consider that Sean Lee and Morris Claiborne have been missing and should soon be back and there’s no reason to believe these guys can’t make a run.
Matt McGloin Is Still a Rookie
For the third week in a row, Matt McGloin was good but not great as the Oakland Raiders' starting quarterback.
Unsurprisingly, he was out-dueled by Tony Romo on Thanksgiving, but to AFC West Lead Writer Chris Hansen, just because McGloin doesn't look like the franchise savior, he very well could have some future value to the team:
Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin has taken over for Terrelle Pryor for the last three games, but he proved on Thursday that he is still a rookie. Rookies are inconsistent and they make mistakes—an accurate description for McGloin’s performance against the Dallas Cowboys.
McGloin was impressive in the first half when he was throwing into tight windows with accuracy. McGloin helped the Raiders to a 21-7 lead with his arm. In the second half, McGloin was off the mark. He had a hard time getting on the same page with his receivers and the Raiders fell apart.
For an undrafted rookie, McGloin looks good. Unfortunately for the Raiders, the NFL isn’t played with a handicap—McGloin doesn’t get anything just for being a lot better than anyone expected.
When the Raiders had their best opportunity to score in the second half, McGloin threw a jump ball to 5’9” wide receiver Jacoby Ford. Maybe that was the play call, but McGloin has to know when to make a safer throw.
The Raiders probably haven’t found their quarterback of the future, but they may have found a quarterback who can start until they find one. McGloin is still a rookie, which is easy to forget when the fanbase hasn’t had a legitimate franchise quarterback since Rich Gannon.
Ravens' High-Risk Offense Makes Them a Complete Crap Shoot
The Baltimore Ravens lost three of four before their most recent string of three victories in five games—they're undeniably a schizophrenic club.
It's been nearly impossible to peg what type of game Joe Flacco will have each week, and the running game has been a major disappointment.
NFL National Lead Writer Michael Schottey thinks Baltimore's tremendous offensive ebb and flow is tied directly to its foundational, relatively low-percentage roots:
If anyone says they know what they’re going to get out of the Ravens offense on any given Sunday, they don’t actually know the Ravens.
This year, the Ravens offense has been beset both by injuries and a lack of offseason investment. With stalwarts like offensive guard Kelechi Osemele, tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Anquan Boldin no longer in Ravens’ black and purple, it’s turned the offense into deep shot after deep shot.
It works, at times, but it’s also not a sustainable model.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has an arm, and wide receiver Torrey Smith is a decent enough deep receiver, but shots like that are called high-risk/high-reward for a reason. Right now, it’s all the the Ravens have, but it’s not enough.
Without the ability to grind out yardage in the run game or pick up first-downs with regularity through the air, the Ravens are going to be consistently reduced to taking big shots to Smith, and that makes them predictable.
Prior to the season, I had high hopes for the Ravens. But because their offense has been reduced to constant gambling, it’s made them impossible to bet on for the rest of 2013.
Ravens Need to Find a Replacement for Michael Oher in 2014
Michael Oher had a forgettable outing against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was flagged for three false starts and had trouble imposing his will against an assortment of Dick Lebeau-sent blitzers.
AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst thinks the Ravens should move on from their former first-round pick and find an upgrade at the offensive tackle spot heading into 2014:
When the Baltimore Ravens drafted offensive tackle Michael Oher, they likely had long-term designs for him to be quarterback Joe Flacco’s premier protector. However, after allowing 14 sacks in his first two seasons he was moved to right tackle. Things haven’t gotten much better.
On the right side of the line, he gave up 21 sacks in the next two years. In 2013, he’s already given up eight, including two to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. But it’s not even the quarterback pressure alone that has made him a liability—it’s the number of penalties he’s amassed.
Since coming into the league in 2009, Oher has 43 penalties, the most in the NFL in that span. Three of those were on Sunday, all false starts. In a game of inches, Oher is singularly adept at finding ways to make the Ravens offense lose them.
Oher is a free agent in 2014, and there’s been little about his play that indicates the Ravens should offer him a new contract. Experienced tackles are often more prized than their rookie counterparts, but the Ravens would be smart to move on from Oher. He’s been too much of a liability to warrant being rewarded with another four or five years as their starter.
The only way Oher should remain in Baltimore if he gets demoted. This is a team that just gave its starting quarterback over $100 million and has become increasingly pass-first. Oher simply cannot protect their investment, which is why he repeatedly tries to get a step on pass-rushers, causing his many false starts.
Baltimore’s issues on the offensive line have been a problem all year. It cannot run well behind the line and protection has been shaky. Oher is in the center of these issues, and with the rest of the line playing worse than ever how poorly he’s performed is highlighted even more.
Oher is a bust. The Ravens would be smart to move on.