25 Things We Learned from NFL Week 2

Stephen WhiteFeatured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2012

25 Things We Learned from NFL Week 2

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    After two games, it's still very early in the season, but you can start to see some consistencies and inconsistencies for each NFL team as well as some players and coaching staffs. You can start to weed out the contenders from the pretenders. You can also pay attention to what teams and players seem to be ascending and which teams and players are starting to inch downhill. 

    If you watch the games closely enough, you can pick up on quite a bit of this kind of information. Here's what I noticed from Week 2 of the NFL regular season.

Clay Matthews Will Embarrass You If You Let Him

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    After Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews notched two and a half sacks against San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl tackle Joe Staley in Week 1, you might have thought the Chicago Bears would come up with a game plan to help their left tackle J'Marcus Webb block him on passing plays.

    You would be wrong.

    The end result of this major oversight on the Bears' part was Matthews running wild in their backfield and coming home with three and a half sacks on their quarterback Jay Cutler in that game. The crazy thing is if Webb didn't hold him on several other plays, he probably would've sacked Cutler a few more times. 

    Matthews is playing out of his mind right now.

    Consider this a memo to the rest of the teams on the Packers' schedule. You had better do something to help your left tackle block him. Otherwise, your offense is going to have a long day!

The Arizona Cardinals Don't Care About Your Stinking Predictions

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    With the Arizona Cardinals beating the New England Patriots earlier today in New England, they are now 2-0 to start the season. Considering how bad they looked in the preseason, I don't know of anyone who thought that was possible. They won the game today with Kevin Kolb at quarterback, the guy who couldn't beat out John Skelton in training camp. 

    What this reminds us all is that games are won or lost on the field and nowhere else. The Cardinals stayed together and believed in each other, and for now, at least they're sitting tied atop the NFC West two games into the season.

    I'm still very skeptical that this team is for real, but I have to give props to them for proving me wrong, so far.

It's Hard to Travel West to East After a Monday Night Football Game

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    The Oakland Raiders flew into Miami this weekend to play the Dolphins in a one o'clock game today after playing the San Diego Chargers well into the night on eastern standard time in the Monday Night Football game earlier this week.

    It did not go well.

    Dolphins running back Reggie Bush ran for 172 yards and two touchdowns and his backup Lamar Miller rushed for another 65 yards and a touchdown of his own.

    Raiders' star running back Darren McFadden, on the other hand, rushed for just 22 yards on 11 carries.

    To be sure, not all of the Raiders' woes can be attributed to the cross-country trip on a short week. Still, you have to admit it certainly didn't help.

    I'm not sure who doesn't like the Raiders in the league office, but I have to say making them play an early game under the circumstances put them at a definite disadvantage. That disadvantage showed up during the game big time. 

    Now, the Raiders are 0-2 and at the bottom of the AFC West so far.

The Buccaneers Defense Will Live and Die by the Blitz

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    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense had a phenomenal first half earlier today against the New York Giants, and much of their success was attributable to their blitzes. They intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning including three times including a pick six by Buccaneer cornerback Eric Wright.

    Going into the fourth quarter, the Bucs were leading 27-16 and looked to have the game in hand. 

    Then, it all fell apart. 

    Wright went down with a back injury and was out for the rest of the game. The Bucs didn't change their game plan, however, and kept sending extra rushers to try to get pressure on Manning.

    Instead, Manning exploited the man-to-man coverage in the secondary and completed passes of 80 yards, 20 yards, 33 yards, 24 yards and 50 yards, just in the fourth quarter alone

    That's a total of 207 yards on five passes, two of which went for touchdowns.

    I don't know if the Bucs didn't have confidence that they could get pressure with just their front four, but by continuing to blitz so much, they hung their secondary out to dry. At some point, the defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan has to notice Wright isn't out there any more and adjust his play calls accordingly.

    Because that didn't happen, the Bucs' secondary got torched repeatedly,  and that was a big reason why they ultimately lost the game.

    The Bucs will make a lot of plays by being aggressive on defense, but they will always give up quite a few as well. If they are going to be hard-headed and keep blitzing no matter what, then they can expect more games to end just as this one did. 

When the Panthers Run the Ball, They're Hard to Beat

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    Much of the chatter around the Carolina Panthers' loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week centered around them only rushing for 10 yards in that game.

    From my perspective, the bigger story was that they only attempted to run the ball 13 times, even though the game was close from start to finish. This made no sense for a team whose offense relied so heavily on the run a year ago and has heavily invested in their backfield.

    The Panthers came out today against the New Orleans Saints determined to get back to what they do best. 

    They ran the ball a total of 41 times for 219 yards and three touchdowns including 71 yards from their quarterback Cam Newton who was the leading rusher for them in the game. I don't care what NFL team you're playing against, those are some very impressive numbers.

    With the running game going, Newton was able to get the passing game going too, completing 14 of his 24 for 253 yards and another touchdown on the way to a 35-20 victory.

    When the Panthers get their running game going like they did today, they are very hard to deal with on offense. I'm not sure if they just got a little pass happy against the Bucs or not, but it seems they have seen the error of their ways. 

    And, that's bad news for the remaining teams on their schedule this season.

Cam Cameron Doesn't Like Winning

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    I can't come up with another reason why the Baltimore Ravens don't utilize Ray Rice more except, maybe, their offensive coordinator Cam Cameron doesn't like to win. In Week 1, Rice only carried the ball 10 times but averaged 6.8 yards per carry.

    Today, against the Philadelphia Eagles, he only gets 16 carries and averaged 6.2 yards a carry.

    You're talking about a guy almost getting you a first down every time you hand it off to him, and he can't even get 20 carries?

    Rice is also excellent as a receiver out of the backfield, and to his credit, Cameron called enough plays for him that he caught six passes for over 50 yards. Yet, when the game was on the line near the end of regulation and the Ravens only needed a field goal, Rice didn't even touch the ball and was only targeted once on the very last play.

    Sometimes, coaches turn checkers into chess, I swear. If the Ravens really want to be a championship team, they had better find a way to put the ball in Rice's hands on a much more frequent basis.

A Healthy C. J. Spiller Is Very Dangerous

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    Do you know who is leading the NFL in rushing after two weeks? If you said anybody other than Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller, you were wrong.

    That's pretty impressive for a guy who didn't even start in the first game of the season. With Fred Jackson out with an injury, Spiller ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns against the visiting Kansas City Chiefs.

    He accomplished this feat on only 15 carries, meaning he averaged over eight yards a carry. That's almost unheard of in the NFL these days.  

    Of course, he averaged over 12 yards a carry last week on only 14 carries, so maybe, it's not an anomaly at all for him.

    My only question is why doesn't he get to run the ball even more?

    An injury limited Spiller to only two games last year, but he has definitely bounced back with a vengeance. If he can stay healthy for the full 16-game season, it will be interesting to see just how many yards he can rack up.

The Saints Sorely Miss Sean Payton

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    Sometimes, we overrate the effect a head coach has on a team. In the case of the New Orleans Saints suspended head coach Sean Payton, we all may have underrated what he means to their success.

    The Saints aren't a much different team talent-wise than they were just a year ago, but after losing today to the Carolina Panthers, they are now 0-2 to start the season. That's a record few people would have predicted before the season started.

    The most obvious area where you can see Payton is missed is on the offensive side of the ball. Drew Brees is still throwing for a lot of yards, but he has as many interceptions as touchdowns on the season, thus far. The offense in general doesn't seem to be as effective either. Payton was such a talented play-caller that he kept defenses on their heels all game.

    The Saints have the same playbook, but they don't seem to have the same cohesive game plans installed. It appears more like they are picking plays out of a hat and hoping that success comes because of the talent they have on offense.

    I thought that the Saints would struggle some without Payton because he pulled double duty as their offensive coordinator. I never imagined the team would look quite this out of sorts to start off the season, however.

    That doesn't mean that the Saints would be undefeated if Payton was still coaching the team. It does mean that they would likely at least have looked better as a team, regardless of the outcome of the games. 

That Andrew Luck Kid Is Pretty Good

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    Nobody should be surprised that Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck is the real deal. He performed pretty well in the preseason after all.

    There is a difference, however, in being a good quarterback and having the ability to lead your team to a win.

    The later is exactly what Luck pulled off today in just his second regular-season start of his career. 

    Luck's stats against the Minnesota Vikings earlier today weren't all that gaudy. He completed 20 of his 31 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns on the day.

    What was impressive was how he calmly led his team down the field at the end of the game, with the score tied at 20, to get into field-goal range for the winning score. 

    Starting at his own 20-yard line with just 31 seconds left in the game, Luck completed two passes and drew the Vikings offside to put his team in a position to win the game. Adam Vinatieri kicked the ball through the uprights, and Luck earned the first regular-season win of his young career.

    Yes, it was just the second game of the season, and it, by no means, indicates the Colts will have a winning season. A few more performances like that, on the other hand, will bring even more people onto the Luck bandwagon.

The Bears Have Not Fixed Their Offensive Line Issues

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    It's easy to pick on Chicago Bears left tackle J'Marcus Webb, and he definitely had a terrible game against the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night. The entire Bears offensive line had issues, though, and they collectively were a big part of why the Bears lost that game.

    Bears quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked a ridiculous 52 times in 2010 and another 23 times during the 2011 season. The forced resignation of former offensive coordinator Mike Martz and the elevation of former offensive line coach Mike Tice to that post was supposed to help alleviate that problem.

    It's hard to say that the move has had the desired effect with Cutler already having been sacked nine times in the first two games.

    Unfortunately for the Bears, good offensive linemen don't just grow on trees. There aren't many out there on the streets, either, because if they were any good, some team would probably have signed them by now. The Bears will just have to make do with what they have, and that's where Tice should come in.

    When your offensive line has problems blocking pass-rushers one-on-one, there are two things you can do to help them. First and foremost, you call running plays on early downs, so you can keep the pass-rushers honest. You can also keep a tight end and or a back in to help the offensive linemen out. 

    So far this season, Tice inexplicably hasn't done much of either, and his quarterback is the one paying the price.

    The Bears have a bunch of talent at the skill positions, and when given time, Cutler can pass with anybody. Until Tice and the Bears solve their protection problems, however, none of that is going to matter.

    They will not contend for a championship, and for that matter, they may not even make the playoffs.

The Texans Are Who We Thought They Were

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    Heading into the season I thought the Houston Texans were one of the most complete teams in the NFL. Their performance earlier today, against the Jacksonville Jaguars, only served to reinforce that perception.

    The 27-7 score sounds dominant enough in its own right, but when you look at the statistics from the game, you can only come away even more impressed.

    The Texans defense held the Jaguars to less than 80 yards passing, less than 70 yards rushing and came away with three sacks. Their offense rushed for over 200 yards, and their quarterback Matt Schaub passed for 195 yards and wasn't sacked all game. 

    That's what you call domination on both sides of the ball.

    If the Texans can stay healthy all year, there's no telling how good they can be.

Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden Are Going to Be Alright

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    Even though the Cleveland Browns lost to the Cincinnati Bengals today, I would have to think their city is excited about how they played. More specifically, rookies, running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden, gave some glimpses to their fans about how good they can be.

    Richardson went over 100 yards rushing on the day on 19 carries with a touchdown. He also caught four passes for 36 yards and another touchdown. 

    Weeden completed 26 of his 37 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns. Maybe, more importantly for him after throwing four interceptions in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, he didn't throw any against the Bengals.

    Behind those performances, the Browns were competitive in the game all the way until the end. If the rookies continue to progress like this, the Browns may not be cellar dwellers for much longer. 

Even Star Players Can Be Benched

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    After St. Louis Rams running back Steven Jackson spiked the football to protest the replacement referees not giving him a touchdown on his goal-ine carry against the Washington Redskins, he never touched the field again the rest of the game.

    Rams head coach Jeff Fisher claimed after the game that it was because Jackson had an injured groin not because he was benched.

    Unless he hurt himself spiking the football, I'm not sure when that injury could have happened. 

    We all know that Fisher is a guy who will put his foot down, and Jackson's penalty, although in my opinion unwarranted, forced the Rams to kick a field goal rather than try again for a touchdown. It appears to me that Fisher was trying to send a message to the rest of the players that, no matter who you are, you can get benched if you hurt the team. 

    Maybe I'm wrong and Jackson really is hurt, but it would be one big coincidence if so. It will be interesting to see how this plays out for the rest of the week in St. Louis. 

The Replacement Refs Are Still Terrible

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    The more games that are played with the replacement referees officiating, the more people are starting to hate them. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to when they call something and when they don't.

    There was a pass-interference call on the Pittsburgh Steelers today when the cornerback literally didn't touch the wide receiver at all. Coaches are having to waste their challenges on stuff like where the ball should be spotted

    There were also more fights and scuffles this weekend during games than I can ever remember having happened in one week of football. That is almost certainly because the replacement refs are not keeping the games under control.

    The regular refs weren't perfect, but they were definitely better than these guys by a long shot.

You Have to Play 60 Minutes to Beat the Eagles

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    The Philadelphia Eagles are 2-0, but both of their wins have been ugly. Today, against the Baltimore Ravens, they turned the ball over four times and were down by six with just under five minutes left in the game.

    These Eagles don't give up though.

    They marched down the field on a 10-play drive capped off by quarterback Michael Vick's one-yard touchdown run. 

    That score with 1:57 left in the game ultimately provided the slim margin of victory for the Eagles. For a team that many people see as flashy, they have won these first two games with heart and determination at the end. The more a team gets comfortable in these situations, the more likely they won't panic when they come up again.

    It also means that their opponents can no longer relax at any time before the final whistle blows. 

    That has to be an encouraging sign for most Eagles fans that this team may be built to last this year. If they can ever cut out all of the turnovers, they are going to be a very dangerous team. 

Some Players Don't Need Training Camp

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    Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace both missed almost all of training camp in contract disputes with their respective teams. Neither looks to have lost a step since they have come back in the fold.

    Jones-Drew, after coming off the bench in Week 1, started for the Jaguars today against the Houston Texans with the injury to Rashad Jennings. It was pretty tough sledding for the whole Jaguars team, but Jones-Drew carried the ball 15 times for 60 yards and had a short receiving touchdown as well. 

    Wallace had five catches for 74 yards, including an outstanding 37-yard touchdown catch to help the Steelers topple the New York Jets.

    While I still think training camp is essential for rookies and guys who haven't played much, I think it's clear in this day and age that veteran players can still perform well without it. Jones-Drew and Wallace just offer more proof of this.

It's Good to Be Home

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    The home team won 13 out of the 15 games played today. I guess home-field advantage can, in fact, make a difference.

The Cowboys Are Still Wildly Inconsistent

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    No matter how good the Dallas Cowboys look one week, you can never truly buy in to this team. It's not just the fact that they lost to a pretty good Seattle Seahawks team today. It's that they got demolished in the process. 

    How does a team that went on the road and beat the defending Superbowl champion New York Giants 10 days ago come out today and look like they don't belong on the same field with a team that lost to the Arizona Cardinals last week?

    That is a question for the ages.

    It's certainly not a talent issue because the Cowboys have as much as just about any team in the NFL. For whatever reason, they just can't seem to show it on a consistent basis, however.

    Until they do, it will be hard to believe that this team is going anywhere this year.

Having a Volatile Player in at Crunch Time Is a Bad Idea

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    I don't know if I've ever seen a more selfish act than what Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Morgan pulled today at the end of their game against the St. Louis Rams.

    With the Redskins in position to kick the game-tying field goal and likely send the game into overtime, Morgan decided to retaliate against known instigator Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan for pushing him in the head and threw the ball at him right in front of the refs.

    I mean, even replacement refs aren't going to let that kind of stuff slide.

    So, instead of the Redskins having a fourth down inside the 30-yard line with a minute and twenty seven seconds to kick the field goal and tie the game, they had to try to kick a 62-yard field goal from the 44-yard line.

    I'm sure the replacement refs had let too much stuff go on in the game up until that point. That is still no excuse for Morgan costing his team, at least, the chance to extend the game. I don't think the Redskins will cut him, but they should definitely make sure he is never in the game again at crunch time.

    Too many other guys on that team worked too hard to have one guy literally throw it all away.

Yes, Darrelle Revis Is That Important

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    Darrelle Revis is one of the only true shutdown cornerbacks in the NFL today. When he is on the field, he allows the New York Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine the leeway to take more chances, sending pressure at opposing quarterbacks.

    When he isn't in the lineup, as we saw today against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Jets defense has to play more conservative.

    That translates into fewer blitzes, fewer defensive big plays, and potentially, longer drives for the opposing offense.

    His absence is further magnified because of the Jets' anemic offense. When Revis is playing, there is always the potential for a big interception to set their offense up in great field position to score or kick a field goal. If he isn't in the lineup, then the offense has to try to take the ball all the way down the field on their own. 

    That's not something they will have a lot of success doing against a quality defense.

    For the Jets to contend for the division title and more this year, they will have to hope that Revis comes back quickly and stays healthy from here on out. If he doesn't, its going to be a long year for the team and all of their fans.

Coach Schiano Doesn't Respect the Code

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    First-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Greg Schiano ordered his defensive players to dive hard into the New York Giants offensive line while they were taking a knee to end the game.

    To be blunt, that was Bush League.

    Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, whom no one would ever describe as being soft, rightfully read Schiano the riot act after the game. In his comments at his postgame press conference, Schiano still didn't seem to get it as he tried to justify his actions and say he wouldn't apologize for them, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

    First of all, for all of us who played the game, we know that there is a certain code you are supposed to uphold. You give everything you have to defeat your opponent, but you never intentionally try to injure someone.

    The kneel-down play isn't really a play at all. You're not going to get a defensive statistic for tackling the quarterback on that play. When is the last time you have ever seen someone botch the snap on a kneel-down in the NFL anyway?

    So what, exactly, is the point of having guys do goal-line charges on that play?

    If it is to show you're tough, I'd like Coach Schiano to tell everyone why none of the other hard-nosed defenses in the NFL have ever done it.

    Coach Schiano said after the game that it's what he did at Rutgers. How about if someone were to ask him, if even once, in the 11 years he was head coach at Rutgers, did having guys firing off into an opponent's knees have any effect on the final score?

    You have 53 men on an NFL team not over 100 like in college. And these are grown men trying to make a living; they don't need to be worried about getting injured on a procedural play at the end of the game. The season is too long for all that.

    Now, it's Schiano's team, and he can run it how he sees fit, but there is always a flip side to decisions like the one he made today. It's all fun and games until it's Josh Freeman whose knees are being hit when the game has already been decided. 

    Or maybe, the next team will try to high-low one of our defensive linemen on a kneel-down play just to teach them a lesson. Is that the kind of stuff you're looking for?

    You want to impress people with how tough your team is? Make sure it's them who are doing the kneel-down as the final seconds tick off the clock.

    Otherwise, lay off the macho crap before you get somebody hurt. Whether it's technically legal or not, that doesn't change the fact that it's a sucker move of the highest order.

You Don't Put the Game in the Kicker's Hands Unless You Have to

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    Today, I saw something I have rarely seen, Bill Belichick going conservative at the end of a game.

    With the New England Patriots down by two points with just over a minute left in the game, their defense forced a fumble by Arizona Cardinals running back Ryan Williams and recovered it on the Arizona 30-yard line.

    After having a touchdown run called back, making a first down and having a false-start penalty, the Patriots offense had a 1st-and-15 at the Cardinals' 23-yard line with 46 seconds left.

    Instead of trying to take at least a couple of shots at scoring a touchdown, which is what you would normally expect from Belichick and his quarterback Tom Brady, the Patriots opted to try to center the ball and let the clock run down so their kicker could win the game with a field goal.

    I don't know if Stephen Gostkowski missing that field goal was karma or something else. I do know that it was very uncharacteristic of the Patriots to settle like that. I know Aaron Hernandez was hurt earlier in the game, and the offense had been struggling a bit up to that point.

    With Brady still pulling the trigger, I still can't understand the decision to take the ball out of his hands, however. 

Alex Smith Is No Longer Just a Game Manager

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    I have become so accustomed to watching San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith play bad or average, at best, that it has taken me awhile to notice how much better he's playing, so far, this season. This evening, watching him against the Detroit Lions, it dawned on me that this is a different guy than I'm used to seeing.

    Whether it's being in the same offense for more than one year for the first time in his career or whether it's the influence Jim Harbaugh has had on him, or even a combination of the two, it is plainly obvious that Smith is playing with a lot more confidence these days.

    He isn't hesitant at all, even when the game is close.

    He's throwing the ball accurately and allowing his receivers to get yards after the catch. 

    Best of all, he isn't turning the ball over.

    Going into this season, I thought the 49ers had a great chance of going to the Super Bowl, as long as they stayed healthy and as long as Smith didn't lose any games for them.

    Now, it appears that Smith is playing well enough to actually win games for them. That should be a scary thought for the rest of the teams in the NFC.

Chris Johnson Is Done

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    I know Chris Johnson lost his grandmother this morning before his Tennessee Titans team faced off against the San Diego Chargers, and I want to be sensitive to that. I can't ignore the fact that he is no longer the same player anymore however. 

    Today, against the Chargers, Johnson gained 17 yards on eight carries. Even if I wanted to dismiss it, I couldn't overlook the fact that, last week, he only gained four yards on 11 carries against the New England Patriots

    The Chris Johnson of two years ago couldn't have gained less than 20 yards in a game if he wanted to. He was just that talented, and he trusted the blockers in front of him. 

    Now, for whatever reason, he is always hesitant with the ball, doesn't trust his offensive linemen and refuses to take the one or two yards that most runs offer. Instead, he opts to try to bounce outside on every opportunity, trying to find yards that simply aren't there.

    Sadly, I don't think there are any quick fixes to his problems either. I honestly don't think it's a physical problem. He is still very fast and stronger than you would think with the ball in his hands. He refuses to run the way he used to run, however, so he will continue to lose almost as many yards as he gains.

    I hope he proves me wrong about this. I hope he can refocus and find that fire and vision that he used to run with. 

    Unfortunately, I wouldn't bet on it though.

Megatron Isn't Quite as Indefensible as We Thought

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    Make no mistake about it, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is still one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the NFL. 

    At the same time, it's worth noting that he hasn't caught a touchdown, so far, this year. 

    I don't believe for one second that teams have suddenly found a way to shut Johnson down. He is, after all, still averaging over 100 yards receiving a game. Still, there was a time last season where it seemed like, no matter what teams did to try to cover him, Johnson would find a way to get in the end zone. He got there 16 times to be exact.

    Why the slow start this year?

    I think it has to do with the fact that defensive backs aren't panicking quite as much as they did last year when they saw the ball coming his way. There's also the fact that more defenses are finding ways to double-, and sometimes, even triple-cover him on passing plays. 

    Unfortunately for the Lions, they need Johnson to start making more big plays to help kick start their offense. They barely beat the St. Louis Rams in Week 1 and could only manage 19 points against the San Francisco 49ers this evening. With the Lions not having a strong running game, they have to rely heavily on their passing game. 

    When Johnson isn't making big plays, then it makes it much harder for them to put touchdowns, rather than field goals, on the board.

    If it doesn't start happening soon, the Lions may mess around and end up in a hole they can't dig out of.