This week, I focused my attention on the six NFL teams that entered Week 3 with undefeated records. Contenders? Pretenders? Read on to find out my take!
Randy Moss was targeted repeatedly here but he didn't make many plays. And this team is not taking 'big play' shots down the field; nothing but short, high percentage routes against the Vikings Cover-2. Normally, San Fran is consistently in third and short situations thanks to the strength of their running game. And with Alex Smith very capable of making short, accurate throws, they're going to be converting third downs at a high percentage all season long.
But this OL is better run blocking than they are pass blocking -- Smith was forced out of the pocket repeatedly today by the Vikings pass rush. And for whatever reason, the Niners came out passing instead of running: nine throws on their first ten plays from scrimmage; finishing the game with nearly a 2:1 pass-to-run ratio. When Smith finally threw deep, trailing by eleven with less than three minutes to play, it was an overthrown interception; his first since last Thanksgiving at Baltimore.
The best defense in the NFL came out flat; unable to get the third down stops that characterize their strategy. Aldon Smith is a beast of a pass rusher -- any top D with all eleven starters returning is going to be very good -- but they were a half step slow today. And the Niners, like most teams, aren’t good enough to win when they bring their ‘D’ game, not their ‘A’ game.
From a power rating perspective, there isn’t a more underrated team in the NFL right now than Arizona. We’re talking about a team that is 10-2 SU in their last dozen games, including a seven game home winning streak. Arizona has been an underdog in all three games this year; they’ve won all three times. And this game wasn’t even close; a done deal by halftime.
Larry Fitzgerald remains the ultimate 'throw it up and let your guy make a play on the ball' receiver in the NFL. Fitz had more catches in the first half than he had in the first two games; more than 100 receiving yards too. He finished the game catching every single one of the nine passes that was thrown in his direction.
Whisenhunt trusts his defense more than the offense, punting from 4th and short inside Eagles territory. Can't say I blame him! Safety Kerry Rhodes is a beast. His amazing TD saving tackle before halftime ended up turning into a defensive touchdown a few plays later thanks to his vicious hit on Vick. Daryl Washington was a monster here, with a pair of sacks, and fellow LB Quentin Groves was outstanding as well. This is a very strong DL with Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell at the ends, and Dan Williams eating up blockers in the middle so the linebackers can make plays. Don’t sell Arizona short!
I read a bunch of quotes this week about the great team chemistry in San Diego this year but there was definitely some in-game finger pointing here. Philip Rivers is making a lot of 'chuck it up for grabs' type throws; a strategy that worked well with Antonio Gates in his prime and Vincent Jackson on the outside. But it didn’t work today -- Malcolm Floyd isn't the same type of receiver and he certainly doesn't have great hands. Neither does Robert Meachem – not a physical WR either -- and Gates is essentially a non-factor these days.
When you go 0-fer third down in the first half and trail by 20 at home at the break, it speaks volumes about the struggles of the passing game. Ryan Matthews hasn't exactly filled LT's shoes either, losing another costly fumble here. This defense really wore down as well. There was lots of 'quit' on the Chargers today.
Philly leads the NFL in holding penalties on offense, creating a steady diet of bad 'down and distance’ situations as a result. The #1 ranked offense in the league coming into the game was completely listless here. They had only 65 total yards along with two turnovers through the two minute warning of the first half.
Vick is getting pounded; the third week in a row he's taking nasty hits; an injury waiting to happen. He’s responsible for the vast majority of the Eagles 13 turnovers through their first twelve quarters of the season, losing a pair of fumbles here. That being said, I'll take Vick on third and long over just about any other QB in the NFL -- this offense can be very tough to get off the field.
This was not a good defensive effort either. Philly’s 'Wide Nine' defense has a great pass rush and great cornerbacks, yet they continue to give up big plays. The defensive talent here really is top notch, with DeMeco Ryans owing the middle of the field, Jason Babin and Trent Cole delivering hits on the opposing QB and a secondary loaded with playmakers. I’m still not convinced that former offensive line coach Juan Castillo knows what he’s doing coordinating this stop unit.
This team is very real, although their +10 turnover margin through three games could be hiding some deficiencies. That being said, Matt Ryan looks every bit as good as the best QB's in the NFL right now; worthy of mentioning in the same breath as the Brady’s, Rodgers’ and Manning’s of the world.
It’s not like Atlanta doesn’t have some weaknesses though. This secondary is really banged up, and they’ve already lost starting corner Brent Grimes to a season ending injury. That’s bad news for a defense that isn’t generating sacks without blitzers, forcing their secondary into man coverage. And, just like he was in each of the first two games, RB Michael Turner spent most of the game bottled up here – the Falcons run blocking leaves a lot to be desired.
Arian Foster now has a TD in each of his last seven games – the Texans can make a strong case for having the best running game in the NFL. I had questions about the rebuilt right side of the offensive line; but those questions have largely been answered. And when the running game is working like this, you'll see Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter (both with 50+ yard TD catches) running open downfield like they were today.
Let’s give Gary Kubiak some credit for great clock management. Over the Texans last five games, in the last two minutes of the first and second halves (and OT) they've outscored opponents 40-3! Kubiak really does have a great offensive mind; this team has well designed plays. And with Wade Phillips coaching up this defense, I'm not sure there's a better staff in the NFL right now – including New England.
What a monstrous pass rush; JJ Watt is a sack machine. They don't need DeMeco Ryans or Mario Williams; there's talent galore on this stop unit. You cannot run on this defense, period, and they were positively stifling in the red zone as well.
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