25 Things We Learned from NFL Week 6
Yet another week of football has passed in the NFL, and once again, there were plenty of surprises. Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get until the games start.
I found a few things from each game that stood out, so once again, I'm sharing them with you. Here are the 25 things I feel we learned from the games today.
And Then There Was One
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This Is Why It's Still so Hard To Trust Alex Smith
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He threw three interceptions, and at least two of them were just awful throws right into coverage. The 49ers simply aren't good enough to overcome when he plays like this, even with the dominant defense they play.
I'm not sure why he reverted to old form today, but it has to give anybody (myself included) pause who thought the 49ers would contend for a title this year.
Robert Griffin III Is Incredible
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For most of the week, there were concerns about Griffin coming back too early from a concussion. It doesn't appear that he was affected at all, however, after running for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries, including a 76-yard scramble for a touchdown that sealed the win for his team.
He wasn't quite as sharp throwing the football, completing 17 of his 22 passes for 182 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Still, it was his play throughout the game that helped the Redskins move the chains and score points on a very tough Vikings defense.
I still have reservations about him running so much, but if he can continue to protect himself, there's no telling what this kid can do.
The Steelers' Injuries Are Killing Their Playoff Hopes
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The Pittsburgh Steelers just can't seem to stay healthy this season.
Going into their win over the Philadelphia Eagles a week ago, they finally had Troy Polamalu, James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall all back on the field. Heading into their loss against the Tennessee Titans this week, Polamalu was out again, as was LaMarr Woodley.
With their top two running backs, center and right tackle all out of the game, their running game was pretty close to nonexistent. No matter how well Ben Roethlisberger plays, the Steelers simply aren't going to win many games if they can't run the ball.
Even when they play well on defense, they continue to miss the playmaking ability of Polamalu. You just can't replace a guy who can turn what would be a regular tackle for most guys into a forced fumble, or a pass defensed into an interception. When he isn't out there, they just don't play with the same confidence as a unit.
Maybe, if they can get healthy and stay healthy before the midway point of the year, the Steelers will still have a shot to get into the playoffs. If they continue with this buzzard's luck, however, 8-8 is probably the best they can hope for.
Joe Haden Has an Immediate Impact on the Browns Defense
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The Cleveland Browns have had a pretty tough go of it since Joe Haden was suspended for four games after the first game of the season. He returned to a win over the Cincinnati Bengals that helped spark a defense that forced four turnovers, including an interception from Haden himself.
It looked much like the effort the Browns defense put up in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1, which also happened to be the last time Haden played. When he is out there, he makes plays and makes that defense much more dangerous.
Now that the Browns have their first win of the season, they look more dangerous than ever. If they continue to play the rest of the season like they did today, then every remaining team on their schedule had better look out.
Jason Garrett Stopped Being a Guru, and It Almost Won the Cowboys the Game
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One of my biggest complaints about Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, even from back when he was just the offensive coordinator, is that he often tries to trick teams with his play-calling instead of just calling the stuff that consistently works. In particular, he never seemed committed to getting the running game going, and it often came back to bite the Cowboys at the end of games.
In a loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 6, Garrett appeared to finally throw all those trick plays out and instead rode the running game hard for most of the game. The Cowboys still lost, but it came down to the wire, and more importantly, it showed that they can play winning football on offense that way.
The Cowboys have to wonder if the game would have had a different result had their starting running back, DeMarco Murray, not missed most of the second half with a foot injury. Still, it's hard to argue with a formula that resulted in 227 yards on the ground and helped them put up 29 points.
When the Cowboys can get the running game going like they did today, their wide receivers and tight ends put a lot of pressure on a defense. If the opposing defense has to start putting a safety in the box to help stop the run, that's going to leave a lot of guys with one-on-one coverage.
In the past few years, the Cowboys—and specifically Garrett—never seemed to buy into this concept. It was particularly egregious that they hadn't tried this game plan this year because it's been obvious that their offensive line struggles with pass-blocking.
Now that film can show them that riding the running game is a much more effective strategy, it will be interesting to see if Garrett goes with that the rest of the year or reverts back to his old guru ways.
John Abraham Came to Play
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Coming into the game, Abraham had three total sacks on the season. He equaled that output against the Raiders, and on one sack, he also forced a fumble that eventually led to a touchdown.
On a day when the Falcons didn't look nearly as dominant as they have previously this season, they needed someone to elevate their game to help them get a win. Abraham answered that call and showed why, in his 13th season, he is still one of the elite pass-rushers in the NFL.
This Is What Balance Looks Like to Andy Reid
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Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick threw the ball 46 times in a loss to the Detroit Lions. Eagles running backs, on the other hand, ran the ball a total of 19 times—this despite the fact that the Eagles did not trail in regulation after scoring a touchdown with 1:21 left in the first half. Up until that point, they were only down by six points after the Lions kicked two field goals.
I respect Eagles head coach Andy Reid, and I believe he has done a lot in the NFL, but there is no way that the front office can continue to back him if he is going to keep using game plans like this one.
The simple truth is that the Lions were able to come back and win because the Eagles left too much time on the clock by not running the ball with a lead. There's nothing wrong with being aggressive, but running the ball isn't mutually exclusive from that.
The Eagles have one of the best running backs in the NFL in LeSean McCoy, yet they refuse to consistently lean on him and use him to help them salt games away. People keep saying the Eagles should do a better job of protecting Vick, but you know what would help him the most?
A coach calling more running plays.
This doesn't absolve the players on the field, because they are paid to get the job done regardless. It does, however, point out that Reid isn't helping them much at all, and it might be time for some change.
Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson Are BFFs Again
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On the night, Rodgers threw for six touchdowns overall to tie a Packers record, and he looked just like he did last year. If he and Jordy have rediscovered their chemistry, I would expect the Packers offense to go back to being the juggernaut we are used to seeing the last couple of years.
Kicking Field Goals Will Get You Beat
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The primary reason for the Rams' shortcomings is that they kept ending drives with field-goal tries rather than touchdowns. It didn't help that their kicker missed three out of his five attempts, including a 66-yard attempt at the end of regulation to tie the game.
Simply put, you have to score touchdowns whenever you get a chance. If you can't finish off drives with touchdowns in the NFL, you will give your opponent the chance to beat you in the end.
The Bucs Wide Receivers Feasted on the Chiefs Secondary
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Mike Williams and Tiquan Underwood both caught 62-yard passes, with Williams converting his for a touchdown. Vincent Jackson didn't hit them for a catch longer than 19 yards, but he did manage to convert two of his four catches on the day into touchdowns.
All told, those three combined for 247 yards on the day. Maybe next game the Chiefs should look into playing some zone.
I'm just saying.
Ground and Pound Makes an Appearance for the Jets
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All season, the New York Jets have been preaching that they have a ground-and-pound offense. Those words had meant little in the first five games, however, because the running game just was not producing.
Against the Indianapolis Colts, we finally saw the running game they had been promising, and boy did it come at a great time for them.
Running back Shonn Greene had a monster game with 161 yards on 32 carries and three touchdowns all by himself. Joe McKnight chipped in 71 yards of his own, including a 61-yarder he ripped through the Colts' porous run defense.
When the Jets run the ball that effectively, it's easy to overlook the fact that their quarterback, Mark Sanchez, only threw for 82 yards the whole game. Frankly, you probably don't care either.
Of course, the question will be if they can duplicate that effort, as that will be key to them winning games the rest of the way.
Kendall Wright Is Starting To Come On
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He had some drops to start the regular season, but he put together his best outing to date in a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday. He had 71 yards receiving, which was a career high for him so far. He also had one catch for 35 yards (also his best to date) that flashed the big-play ability that made him so attractive in the draft.
There is still a lot of room for improvement with Wright, and he only has two touchdown catches on the season so far. If he keeps improving at this rate over the course of this year, I think the Titans are going to be very happy with their selection.
Asante Samuel Giveth, and Sometimes He Giveth to the Other Team, Too
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His propensity to sit on routes these days, however, can end up with wildly differing results.
Late in the game in a win over the Oakland Raiders, we saw both the good and the bad from Samuel. With 2:55 left on the clock, the game tied up at 13 and the Raiders driving all the way down to the Falcons' 28-yard line, Samuel jumped a route for an interception and took it all the way to the house for a touchdown.
That could well have been the winning points for the Falcons, but Samuel was still greedy. He sat on another route, and this time, Derek Hagan ran right by him, picking up 38 yards to the Falcons' 5-yard line. The Raiders would eventually score a touchdown to again tie the game.
The Falcons offense then drove down to the Raiders' 37-yard line in only 35 seconds to set up the winning field goal, so in the end, Samuel didn't cost them the game. That doesn't change the fact that this is what you get from him nowadays.
He can win the game for you just as easily as he can lose it, because he just won't stop guessing on routes.
The Jets Defense Finally Showed Up
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The New York Jets defense racked up four sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in a win today over the Indianapolis Colts. After being panned for their play against the run, they also held the Colts to 41 net yards on the ground.
This is what we are used to seeing from a Rex Ryan-coached defense. In order for them to be successful as a team, the defense will have to continue to lead the way. It doesn't matter who is hurt and who is playing; whoever is in the game has to make plays, and they did today.
Jeremy Maclin Is Back
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Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin has had a very slow start this season. In a Week 6 loss to the Detroit Lions, he exploded for 130 receiving yards on six catches, including one that went for 70 yards and a touchdown.
The Eagles will need Maclin to continue to produce like this if they expect to stay in the playoff hunt. Even though they didn't get the win this time, if Maclin can consistently perform this way, it will definitely improve their prospects of winning games in the future.
All of a Sudden the Ravens Can't Defend the Run
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I don't think there's any one reason why the Ravens are having problems stopping the run right now. I do know that if they don't get it fixed soon, they won't be contending for a title this year.
J.J. Watt Won the Battle of the Sack Masters
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Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews and Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt were Nos. 1 and 2 in sacks in the NFL, with eight and 7.5, respectively, heading into their matchup on Sunday Night Football.
After 60 minutes, Watt emerged as the new NFL leader, with two more sacks on the night and now 9.5 for the season. At this point, it's more than appropriate to think he may well end up breaking the single-season sack record this year.
Unfortunately, for all the damage he did individually, Watt's Texans couldn't overcome their own stupid penalties and lost to Matthews' Packers. Although he was shut out in the sack department for the night, I'm pretty sure Matthews is happy with that consolation prize.
New Quarterback, Same Old Turnover-Prone Chiefs
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I won't say the Kansas City Chiefs are snakebit on offense, but I will say you will have a hard time finding as unlucky a play as the interception Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Ronde Barber took back for six points. Brady Quinn's pass to Dexter McCluster was broken up and seemed to hit everything but the ground before it ended up in Barber's hands.
The ball hit McCluster's hip, defender E.J. Biggers' wrist and McCluster's shoulder before Barber snatched it out of the air just before it hit the ground.
It was that kind of day for the Chiefs in another loss, and it has been that kind of season for their offense.
With starting quarterback Matt Cassel out with an injury, the Chiefs had to hope that Quinn would at least take better care of the ball, but by the end of the game, Quinn had less than 200 yards passing with two interceptions to boot.
At this point, there don't appear to be any fixes left for the Chiefs offense; somebody is going to simply have to play better at quarterback. Otherwise, the front office had better start looking for someone new to bring in for next year.
A.J. Green Continues To Impress
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Green has killed any worries of a sophomore slump, and right now, he is already one of the best wide receivers in the NFL.
Jairus Byrd Was Ballin'
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Prior to the game, Byrd hadn't had an interception since the second week of the year in a win over the Kansas City Chiefs, which happened to be his lone interception of the season. He picked a great day to have a good game, as the Bills desperately needed a win to keep their playoff hopes alive after a 2-3 start.
Many players on that defense made plays to help the Bills get a win, but if I had to pick one guy, Byrd gets my game ball for stepping up in overtime when his team needed him most.
Jason Pierre-Paul Has Awoken
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He hadn't necessarily been playing poorly, but he just hadn't been coming home with the sacks. Now that he has had a game like this, watch out, because the old adage that sacks come in bunches rings true.
So Much for That Vaunted Patriots Running Game
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Coming into their Week 6 contest against the Seattle Seahawks, the New England Patriots were third in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Considering the pass-rushers and secondary on that Seahawks defense, you might have thought they would continue to lean on the running game to try to have some balance.
And you would have been wrong.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ended up throwing 58 times on the day. Patriots running backs, by contrast, ran 26 times for a combined 87 yards on the ground, averaging a meager 3.3 yards per carry.
Why teams continue to get pass-happy against the Seahawks I will never really understand. Those guys will get after you, as Brady found out—he threw two interceptions on the day. An unbalanced game plan wasn't the only reason the Patriots lost, but it didn't help.
I have to give praise to the Seahawks for making the plays that they had to, but the Patriots shouldn't have ever given them that many chances.
The Arizona Cardinals Don't Care About Their Quarterbacks
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The Arizona Cardinals continue to install game plans that allow their quarterbacks to take a beating.
In a loss to the Buffalo Bills, their offensive line gave up five sacks and eventually got starting quarterback Kevin Kolb knocked out of the game. Mind you, the Bills haven't been great at getting to the quarterback all year, but everybody seems to have a good day against the Cardinals.
It shouldn't be that hard to give help to your offensive tackles with running backs and tight ends staying in or chipping as they go out into their routes, but the Cardinals hardly ever do either. If they continue at this rate, they will run out of quarterbacks long before the season's end.
There's Been a Braylon Edwards Sighting
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After a very quiet start to the season, Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Braylon Edwards came on strong with a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to help his team beat the New England Patriots in Week 6.
After training camp started, Edwards was one of the veteran receivers—like Terrell Owens and Plaxico Burress—who I wasn't sure would catch on with a team. He eventually signed with the Seahawks and actually beat out Owens for a roster spot. He hadn't done much noteworthy since that time, having only caught six passes and not scored a touchdown in the first five games.
His Sunday performance wasn't much different—before the touchdown, he had only caught one other pass for 11 yards earlier in the game—but that touchdown was huge. It put the Seahawks within six points with two minutes left in the game.
Edwards' role may never expand much this season, but if he can become a consistent red-zone threat, at least he will help the Seahawks win a few more games this year.