Matt Hasselbeck had the ball enough to surprise the visiting Steelers
Another Thursday night, and when all was said and done, another win for the home team.
For the second consecutive week, we got an unexpected result in prime time. The struggling Tennessee Titans upended the Pittsburgh Steelers, 26-23, on the final play of the game.
So what other surprises are we in for in Week 6?
The Falcons and Texans, both 5-0, are the last of the unbeatens. Both were tested last week away from home.
Speaking of home, that’s where the Washington Redskins are for the second straight Sunday. They haven’t won there since Week 2 of 2011, making it a string of eight straight losses at FedEx Field.
A Cleveland home is also where the winless Browns are this week, as they host Cincinnati in the first rematch of 2012. Pat Shurmur’s club looks to end an 11-game overall losing streak that dates back to last November.
While we’re on the subject of rematches, there’s this little matter between the Giants and 49ers...
The Bills invested plenty into their defensive line this offseason with the free-agent additions of defensive ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson.
But Dave Wannstedt’s unit has been the ultimate hit-or-miss proposition, totaling nine sacks in wins over the Chiefs and Browns and just a single sack in the lopsided losses to the Jets, Patriots and 49ers in which Chan Gailey’s team gave up an astounding 145 total points.
Over the last few weeks, the Dolphins and Rams pass rushes have gotten healthy at the expense of the Arizona offensive front. Ken Whisenhunt’s club has given up 17 sacks in its last two outings.
Veteran defensive end Chris Kelsay, looking for his first sack of the season, takes over for an injured Anderson and hopes to not only turn Cardinals left tackle D’Anthony Batiste into a turnstile but to also force quarterback Kevin Kolb into some crucial mistakes.
You can thank the Bengals defense for making Trent Richardson feel welcomed around the league.
After a debut performance against the Eagles in which he touched the ball 20 times and gained 44 yards, the former Alabama standout ran for 109 yards and a score and caught four passes for 36 yards and a touchdown in a loss at Cincinnati four weeks ago.
Suddenly, you can find the Browns’ rookie running back at the top of Cleveland’s rushing (303 yards) and receiving (20 catches) lists. Richardson is also tops on the team for touchdowns scored. He has totaled five of the club’s nine offensive touchdowns this season, including at least one score in four straight games.
Enter a disappointing Cincinnati defense, which ranks just 19th in the league against the run, and linebacker Rey Maualuga, who leads the team in tackles and hopes to find the Browns’ standout runner early and often before he gets out of the backfield.
Safe to say it’s been a long two weeks for Jerry Jones and the Dallas hierarchy.
The Cowboys have had some extra time to mull over their not-ready-for-prime-time performance against the Bears, a 34-18 Monday night loss in which Tony Romo threw five interceptions and had two returned for scores.
It won’t make Jason Garrett feel much better to know that Joe Flacco and the 4-1 Ravens have committed only six turnovers in five games this season.
More importantly, if the Pokes are to post their first-ever win in this series (0-3), as well as snap Baltimore’s 14-game home winning streak (including playoffs), they may have to get a little extra help from their defensive unit.
As was the case last season, Sean Lee leads the Cowboys in tackles, and his coverage skills could come into play against Dennis Pitta, who ranks third on the Ravens with 21 receptions, two for scores.
We’ve seen the Cowboys linebacker with the ball in his hands on more than one occasion, so don’t be surprised if he victimizes Flacco once or twice.
What a difference a year makes.
Last season, after five weeks, the Lions were 5-0—the team’s best start since 1956.
Off a bye and riding a three-game losing streak, Jim Schwartz’s club has been disappointing to say the least.
In their last two contests (losses to the Titans and Vikings), Detroit has given up seven touchdown plays of 60-plus yards, which includes both a kickoff and punt return for scores in each of those contests.
Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that quarterback Matthew Stafford, he of 41 touchdown passes a year ago, has thrown for only three scores in four outings in 2012. While all-everything wideout Calvin Johnson has hauled in 29 passes for 423 yards, he’s caught just one touchdown pass, and that came from backup Shaun Hill.
Back to Stafford, who may be relying on tight end Brandon Pettigrew (second on the team with 23 receptions and a score) even more than usual since Johnson figures to be blanketed by either Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie or Nnamdi Asomugha. The sure-handed pass-catcher could do some damage against rookie Mychal Kendricks and the underbelly of the Philadelphia defense.
It wasn’t all bad news for Rex Ryan’s team vs. the Texans.
Anyone who saw the Jets' recent Monday night game knows about the excellent job veteran corner Antonio Cromartie and the secondary did on star receiver Andre Johnson.
Now, given what veteran wideout Reggie Wayne did to the Packers last week (13 catches for 212 yards and the game-winning score), you can expect Ryan’s defense to focus its energy on shutting down the former Pro Bowler.
That could mean more throws from rookie Andrew Luck to Donnie Avery, the latter ranking second on the team with 17 catches for 198 yards and a touchdown this season.
Of course, given the state of the Jets’ rushing defense, third-year corner Kyle Wilson may be busier trying to stop the Colts ground attack. More realistically, look for him to shadow Indianapolis' other wideout as Ryan and company look to avoid a third straight loss at home.
There hasn’t been much to cheer about in Kansas City these days. Then again, things aren’t exactly coming up roses in Tampa either.
Romeo Crennel’s team is off to a dismal 1-4 start, while the Buccaneers have dropped three in a row after beating the Panthers on opening weekend.
The Chiefs defense has certainly taken its lumps this season, although this group played tough in last week’s 9-6 loss to the Ravens.
Still, Crennel’s defense has given up 10 touchdown passes this season. That has to make Tampa wideout Vincent Jackson smile, considering he and teammate Mike Williams have each scored twice this season. Both are averaging 19-plus yards per catch.
Meanwhile, Brandon Flowers has been somewhat of a bright spot for a defense that is certainly missing another Brandon—as in Carr, who signed with the Cowboys this offseason. Still, this Chiefs corner leads the team with two picks and five passes defensed.
It’s safe that Flowers and Jackson have had their share of close encounters, as the latter is not far removed from his days in the AFC West with the Chargers.
Last season, the Vikings’ miserable 3-13 showing marred a terrific season by the team’s top wideout.
Speedy Percy Harvin not only led the team in receptions, receiving yards and scoring receptions, but he was also third on the team with 345 yards rushing and added another 500-plus yards on kickoff returns. All told, the former Florida Gator scored nine touchdowns.
It’s been more of the same in 2012. Harvin entered Week 6 tied for second in the NFL with 38 receptions, and once again he’s scored a touchdown rushing, receiving and on a kickoff return. He’s a big reason Leslie Frazier’s team already finds itself with one more victory than all of last season.
This week, Harvin and the Vikings take aim at cornerback DeAngelo Hall and a Washington defensive unit that’s been generous, to say the least. While the good news is that six different Redskins have totaled an interception this season, the bad news is that Mike Shanahan’s team has already given up 13 scores through the air, with two or more touchdown passes coming in four of their five contests.
Harvin’s big-play ability will certainly test Jim Haslett’s unit. If he can stretch the field, don’t be surprised if tight end and teammate Kyle Rudolph (team-high four touchdown receptions) reaps the benefits.
It wasn’t long ago that we were discussing the issues facing the Patriots offensive line.
These days, you haven’t heard a sound. Bill Belichick’s team has upped its game on offense, especially when it comes to the run.
New England has run for 498 yards the last two weeks in wins over the Bills and Broncos. And while Tom Brady was sacked four times last week vs. Denver, it seemed more like an inconvenience rather than a concern.
However, it’s relatively safe to say that the Bills and Broncos aren’t the Seattle Seahawks when it comes to the defensive side of the football.
Pete Carroll’s team has given up the fewest total yards in the league per game in the first five weeks, and they have been equally as stingy against the run (third) as the pass (fifth). More importantly, the ‘Hawks have allowed just 70 total points across five contests—just 18 more than the Buffalo gave up to New England in Week 4 alone.
Carroll’s defense has totaled 16 sacks in five contests, a team-high 5.5 of those from defensive end Chris Clemons. As Aaron Rodgers can attest, you could be in for a long half against this Seattle defense.
It will be interesting to see if Nate Solder can not only handle Clemons’ charge but his ability to slow down the Patriots’ rejuvenated ground game.
For the third time in less than a calendar year, the Giants and Niners will meet in San Francisco as these teams get a chance to reminisce about last season’s NFC title game tilt.
Both offenses come into this contest off huge performances. Tom Coughlin’s team rolled up 502 yards in its 41-27 win over the Browns, while Jim Harbaugh’s club piled up a franchise-record 621 total yards in a 45-3 demolition of the Bills.
Almost lost in New York’s comeback win over Cleveland was the big-time performance of running back Ahmad Bradshaw, whose 200 yards rushing and a score weren’t nearly as surprising as the 30 carries he totaled on the afternoon. Coughlin’s club rolled up 243 yards on the ground by game’s end.
If Giants center David Baas, the one-time 49ers blocker, and his friends up front have their way, they would love to put up a similar numbers against linebacker NaVorro Bowman and company. Of course, the Niners defense has given up only 407 yards rushing this season and has held four of its first five opponents to under the century mark on the ground.
Still, Coughlin will need to get some production from his running game if he’s to keep quarterback Eli Manning (sacked six times in last season’s playoff meeting) out of harm’s way.
When last we saw the Silver and Black, they were being pummeled in the Mile High City by Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
The week before that, we saw how explosive Darren McFadden can be when healthy. The former first-round pick torched the Steelers for a 64-yard touchdown run and a total of 113 yards rushing in a surprising win over Pittsburgh.
While the 5-0 Falcons are off to the best start in the team’s 47-year history, they have a flaw or two. One of those shortcomings is the inability to stop teams on the ground. Only five clubs in the league have given up more rushing yards per game than Mike Smith’s club, which has allowed at least 100 yards in each of its five contests.
Although the Oakland defense certainly leaves a lot to be desired, the fact is, McFadden can do Dennis Allen’s team a big favor by keeping those Atlanta defenders on the field. And in order for the Falcons to succeed against the run, they'd sure like to have leading tackler Stephen Nicholas on the field despite a recent ankle injury.
As far as the Raiders pulling off the upset at the Georgia Dome, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
There’s been a revival in the NFC West, and it starts with defense.
Just over a week ago, we found out that the division's comeback also includes Jeff Fisher’s Rams, winners of two straight and three in five games following a 2-14 finish in 2011.
When last we saw Fisher and Co., they were holding the then-unbeaten Cardinals to three points while totaling nine sacks in a 17-3 home victory.
The winner of the who-can-get-to-the-quarterback-the-most contest that night was second-year defensive end Robert Quinn, who dropped Kevin Kolb three times, giving him a team-high six sacks this season and one more than he totaled in 15 games as a rookie.
This week, the task appears a little more daunting for the former Tar Heel, as he must try and get past perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long, who has helped keep quarterback Ryan Tannehill relatively safe. The rookie signal-caller has been sacked only nine times in five contests, and eight of those came in the team’s three road games.
An intriguing battle in what now shapes up as an interesting encounter.
Give credit where credit is due.
On Monday night, the Jets secondary was able to keep Texans wideout Andre Johnson in check.
Of course, New York’s defense watched Houston tight end Owen Daniels have his way, totaling four receptions for 79 yards, including a 34-yard score that got the Texans off and running on the way to their fifth win of the season.
It’s been a dicey few weeks for the Packers defense after being exploited by veteran Drew Brees and rookie Andrew Luck. Green Bay gave up a combined 57 points in their split with the Saints and Colts.
While wideout Reggie Wayne had a monster game against the Mike McCarthy’s club last Sunday, it should be noted that rookie tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen also did their share of damage to Dom Capers’ defense, totaling a combined nine catches for 79 yards and a score in the memorable 30-27 come-from-behind victory. Of course, it was hardly memorable if you’re a Packers backer.
With Aaron Rodgers and Matt Schaub at the controls, don’t be surprised if we see a barn burner in Texas, and don’t be stunned if Daniels has another huge evening despite likely receiving attention from veteran ball hawk Charles Woodson, who ranks fourth on the team in tackles and second on the club in passes defensed.
Yes, we’re all familiar with the issues that Peyton Manning has had with the Chargers.
Bear with us for a bit.
While he’s only played three games this season, Chargers running back Ryan Mathews has seen his rushing yardage total go up each week. The former first-round pick has totaled 297 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown since his return in Week 3, and he looked especially spry at the Superdome in last week’s loss to the Saints.
Meanwhile, Denver’s defense has been exploited on the ground twice in the last three weeks by the Texans and Patriots. With Mathews just getting warmed up this season, don’t be surprised if the versatile performer comes up big in prime time this week.
Of course, it will be up to outside linebacker Wesley Woodyard, tied for the team lead in tackles with safety Rahim Moore, to put the clamps on the San Diego running back. The task will be tough, especially with veteran D.J. Williams still out of the lineup.
We have seen the Broncos fall behind by at least 20 points in all three of their losses this season. If they can’t consistently corral Mathews or the San Diego ground game in general, it could be a very long night for the entire Denver defense.