This week, I focused on five NFL teams that can only be described as ‘disappointments’ through the first six weeks of the season. Here are my notes from their respective performances.
This pass defense spent the first month of the season getting torched. Now that secondary gets even weaker without their top playmaker, Aqib Talib, suspended for the next four games after violating the league's drug policy. The run defense, however, was stellar, lots of penetration up front, holding the NFL's leading rusher coming in to eight yards on seven carries in the first half and 40 yards for the game. It’s certainly helped that they were facing a bottom tier QB, allowing their defensive focus to be on stopping the ground game.
At times, it seems as is Josh Freeman is a weaker QB now than he was two years ago, when he inspired his teammates with a series of impressive, gutty, fourth quarter comebacks. This was the first game where Freeman really connected with his big play wideouts Mike Williams and Vincent Jackson, throwing a trio of touchdown passes. Love the rookie RB Doug Martin -- tough between the tackles runner and he's developing into a passing game weapon as well. This was an inspiring performance for a team that has at least some potential to make a mid-season run.
I didn't think it was possible for a QB to look worse than Matt Cassel, but Brady Quinn sure made a case. His first drive? 3 passes for -1 yards; unable to throw a simple slant route to the correct spot. Even with KC dumbing down their playbook for a backup QB, looking for short, quick passes to get their QB in an early rhythm, Quinn looked like a guy that hadn’t started an NFL game in three years, making rookie-type blunders like throwing four yard out passes on third and five. The Chiefs league leading 20th turnover of the year came in the red zone on another bad Quinn throw. Their 21st was returned the other way for a touchdown.
This team has offensive weapons. We had a Dexter McCluster sighting today; Dwayne Bowe is commanding double teams and Jamal Charles looks 100% recovered from his ACL injury, with 461 yards rushing on 81 carries over the previous three weeks. Tight end Tony Moeaki is healthy again, and young receiver Jon Baldwin has all kinds of potential. But the QB play is downright lousy, and I’m not impressed with offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s play calling here any more than I was with his play calling in previous stints with the Dolphins and Browns.
KC still hasn't led at any point in any game this season -- their lone win at New Orleans came via a last second tying field goal and a game winner in OT. They’ve been outscored 51-6 in the first quarter this year -- playing from behind every week -- and that's just not how this team is built.
Where's the pass rush? This team is getting zero penetration with a four man rush -- if they don't blitz, Joe Flacco has all day to throw. DeMarcus Ware finally got some pressure in the fourth quarter, but it was mostly quiet. And without a pass rush, they couldn't get off the field on third down, allowing huge conversions leading to scores on 3rd and 14 and 3rd and 18.
RB Demarco Murray had a huge game against the Giants in his season opener, then was essentially silent for the last month. He was featured here and ran extremely well; hitting the edge quickly showing a great speed/power combo. Then, inevitably, he got hurt, leaving the game with a foot injury. But this rebuilt offensive line with a healthy Phil Costa back as the starting center, blew open holes for Felix Jones and Philip Tanner as well. Yet they still struggled with holding calls and false starts. Both tackles – Doug Free and Tyron Smith -- had crucial penalties, negating offensive momentum and forcing punts.
This team couldn’t get out of their own way here. They couldn’t stop a TD with twelve men on the field defensively. Dan Bailey missed the potential game winning field goal after Jason Garrett’s play calling with the clock winding down left him with a 51 yard try instead of something shorter. Dez Bryant dropped passes; so did Kevin Ogletree. And it’s surely worth noting that Tony Romo hasn’t thrown a TD pass on third down all year, and he's got the single lowest QB rating in the league on third downs!
We definitely saw some offensive improvement here -- New York got good blocking up front, and was able to run the ball effectively all afternoon. But at this stage, it's clearly time to give up on Mark Sanchez. Like Matt Leinart before him, superstardom at USC has not translated to NFL success.
I understand it's tough to bench the guy -- they've spent the last four seasons trying to build up his confidence and his brand. And Sanchez can look very good for a quarter, a half, even a full game. He threw a great strike into tight coverage for the Jets first TD, a brilliant throw. But on a weekly basis, he'll made four or five throws that are simply unconscionable for any starting NFL QB to throw.
Penalties continue to haunt New York, turning a pick six into an Indy first down -- more than 70 penalty yards in the first half alone. We saw another good return from Joe McKnight in the kicking game; the Jets are winning the field position battle. New York showed signs of competitiveness last Monday Night, and this was the best they've looked in any game since their opening day blowout against Buffalo.
There were as many positive signs as negative ones in the Raiders tight loss at Atlanta. Let me start on offense, where Darren McFadden had little room to run. He was blasted in the backfield repeatedly, leaving Oakland in numerous third and long situations. This offensive line was simply not controlling the line of scrimmage. Carson Palmer is better now than he was a month ago, but he’s no longer the QB he was when he came into the league in terms of his accuracy, missing open receivers. His mobility in the pocket wasn't good to begin with; now he's a statue, unable to escape even modest pressure.
These WR's are really fast -- all that attention to drafting speed from the Al Davis era has paid off with some playmakers on their current roster. And while this secondary got picked apart at times, they also made some plays -- three INT's in the first half alone. The Raiders also put together a great goal line stand on D -- this front four wasn't pushed around. Oakland was the better team on the field on Sunday, but, as they’ve done for the last decade, the Raiders found a way to lose.