NFL Week 5: Expert Takeaways from Sunday's Action
Week 5 of the 2013 NFL season had plenty of action and more than a few surprises.
The Kansas City Chiefs, who won all of two games a season ago, have yet to lose this season.
The New York Giants, who hoisted the Lombardi Trophy just two years ago, have yet to win.
The Indianapolis Colts appear to be the real deal after downing the Seattle Seahawks.
The New England Patriots, on the other hand, are facing more than a few questions after putting up only six points in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Speaking of questions, in a new weekly feature here at Bleacher Report, we've gathered together the B/R NFL brain trust to offer its observations on this week's action.
Observe away, folks!
Bengals Defense Is Their Biggest Asset
Coming off a loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Cincinnati Bengals badly needed a win in Week 5 to keep pace in the AFC North.
The Bengals got that win, thanks to a defense that AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst feels is the strength of the team:
On offense, the Cincinnati Bengals have an incredible wealth of weapons. From A.J. Green to Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones to Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert to Giovani Bernard, the firepower is there for this to be one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
However, their defense cannot be ignored. After notching 51 sacks last year, Cincinnati’s front seven is dangerous, and the secondary is rife with former first-round draft picks. And it was this side of the ball that made all the difference in the team’s Week 5, 13-6 win over the New England Patriots.
In 52 straight games, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had thrown at least one touchdown pass—until this game, in which he had none, and the Patriots settled for just two field goals. Brady was held to 166 net yards (lost 31 yards on sacks), and the Patriots picked up more first downs from penalties (three) than on third downs (1-for-12).
With Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton struggling in his third year and offensive coordinator Jay Gruden still trying to figure out how to best use his team’s many playmakers, Cincinnati's defense was forced to make this game its own. It did, in grand fashion, in a final New England drive played out in a pouring rainstorm capped off with cornerback Adam Jones' interception of Brady.
The Patriots lost their first game of the year while the Bengals maintain their share of the AFC North’s top spot, and Cincinnati has its defense to thank.
Alshon Jeffery's Breakout Game
NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller was driving the Alshon Jeffery bandwagon when the South Carolina wide receiver entered the NFL a season ago.
After watching Jeffery explode for 218 yards on 10 receptions in Sunday's loss to the New Orleans Saints, the proud father of a baby boy was beaming about the second-year pro:
Ranked as the No. 1 wide receiver—and No. 7 overall player—on my 2012 NFL draft big board, Alshon Jeffery entered the league with high expectations from this writer. Outside of my articles, he wasn’t expected to do much.
Jeffery’s drafting at No. 45 overall was mocked with fat jokes, slow jokes and other dismissive statements. And then the games started. After struggling through an injury-filled rookie season, Jeffery has quickly proven himself to be an elite young wide receiver.
Going over 200 yards in Week 5 puts an exclamation point on Jeffery’s season to date. With two straight 100-yard games, Jeffery has validated those who saw excellence in his South Carolina game film. With 28 catches and 429 yards through five games, Jeffery is officially a steal for the Chicago Bears.
Countdown for New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin Begins Today
After falling to the Philadelphia Eagles 36-21 in Week 5, the free-falling New York Giants sit at 0-5.
NFL National Lead Writer Michael Schottey didn't mince words while explaining what he feels New York's next move should be:
If I’m New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese, I fire Tom Coughlin Monday morning. Thankfully for Coughlin, Reese is a much classier gentleman than I am, and he can fully remember all that Coughlin has done for this franchise over the course of his tenure. This is how the Giants operate, and it’s served them well.
That said, is there any legitimate discussion to be had for Coughlin to keep his job? After missing the playoffs last season, the Giants are "O-fer" this season after losing their first five games. There doesn't seem to be any real light at the end of the tunnel, either.
This is the team that Coughlin helped build. These are his guys. They’ve simply tuned out his voice, and his tactics aren’t working any more. Quarterback Eli Manning desperately needs an offense built around him, rather than a nonexistent running game. The defense—even further away from being a legitimate unit—is the polar opposite of the hard-nosed squad that Coughlin prefers.
Coughlin has produced so much at the NFL level that it’s not even a question that he goes down as one of the best coaches of all time. This isn’t, in any way, a commentary on his past. As for the present and the future, Coughlin isn’t helping this team and needs to step aside. It may not be until the end of the season, but there isn’t any reason Coughlin should be coaching this team in 2014 or beyond.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers Receivers Need to Get on the Same Page
The Green Bay Packers came out of their Week 4 bye sitting at 1-2 and in dire need of a win.
The Packers got that win, 22-9 over the Detroit Lions. Despite the victory, NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter took issue with the Green Bay offense:
The Green Bay Packers safely extended their 22-game home winning streak against the Detroit Lions in Week 5, winning with an apropos 22-9 scoreline.
Even so, Rodgers and his receivers missed opportunity after opportunity to put the Lions away, with several key drops ending drives and taking points off the board. Time after time, the Packers had to settle for field goals when touchdowns were there for the taking—most notably when a wide-open Jordy Nelson let a would-be touchdown bounce off his hands in the first half.
Rodgers did find James Jones open behind busted coverage for an 83-yard touchdown in the third quarter, and Jones and Nelson had nice catches and big gains in the fourth quarter, after the game was out of hand.
Were the Packers playing the New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks or any of the other explosive offenses they’re likely to face in the playoffs—not a toothless, Calvin Johnson-less Detroit Lions team—scoring just six first-half points wouldn’t get it done.
The Packers survive and advance, and they keep their NFC North rivals on a short leash, but Rodgers and the Packers offense have some things to straighten out before their tundra freezes—and the games really get serious.
Lions Need Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson to Compete on Offense
We'll stick with Sunday's tilt at Lambeau Field for this one.
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson was a surprise scratch in Week 5 due to a knee injury.
As NFC North Lead Writer Zach Kruse points out, the impact of his absence on the offense was as obvious as it was glaring:
Sunday's 22-9 loss to the Green Bay Packers once again highlighted how important having both Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush healthy is to the Detroit Lions offense.
Without having to face Johnson, who sat out Sunday with knee soreness, the Packers smartly devoted most of their defensive resources to containing Bush. The plan worked without a hitch, as the Lions running back recorded just 69 total yards, and Detroit struggled to move the football throughout the afternoon.
When both players have been on the field this season, the Lions have been difficult to stop. They complement each other so well, with Bush taking advantage of defensive fronts designed to stop Johnson and Johnson exploiting coverages when defenses decide to load up to handle Bush. That harmony has forced defensive coordinators to pick their poison at times, and the results through four weeks were averages of 30.5 points and 404 yards a game on offense.
But the same problems that cropped up during Sunday's loss occurred when Bush went out with a knee injury in Arizona. His absence caused similar stagnation on offense, and the Lions were unable to do enough to beat the Cardinals.
Detroit remains one of the harder offenses to match up with when Johnson and Bush are healthy and on the field. And I have little doubt that the Lions could ride the two to a playoff appearance this season.
However, results like Sunday's can happen when one of the two is on the sidelines. The Lions rely too much on the complementary skill sets of Johnson and Bush to remain competitive on offense.
The Chiefs Are Part Old School, Part New School
As we mentioned in the title slide, the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs are one of the biggest stories of the 2013 season.
In the opinion of AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen, the Chiefs' success is due to a combination of something old and something new:
It’s a passing league, but the Kansas City Chiefs are winning games with a short-passing offense that would make Chad Pennington look like Brett Favre. It might not be in the spirit of the cliche, but the Chiefs are 5-0.
The Chiefs are very much a hybrid of old- and new-school offensive philosophies. Head coach Andy Reid has long been considered an old-school coach, but the Chiefs also hired Brad Childress as a “spread game analyst” and pistol formation guru Chris Ault as a consultant.
It only makes sense then that the Chiefs have an old-school, hard-hitting defense and a great running game, yet they still attempt enough passes per game to make a mockery of the game your grandfather loved.
The Chiefs have an old-school mentality, but they are running new-school concepts. It’s reminiscent of the way the 2011 and 2012 San Francisco 49ers dominated the NFC, so it’s not exactly a revolutionary concept, but it’s hard to argue with the results.
Sure, the Chiefs have certainly been aided by a soft schedule. Maybe things change when the Chiefs run into a great team with its Week 1 starting quarterback under center, but that might not happen until they face the Denver Broncos in Week 11.
By Week 11, the Chiefs could be 9-0 and only need another win or two to lock up a playoff berth for the first time since 2010. The stars have aligned in Kansas City, and you have to give the new regime credit for changing the culture of the team in one offseason.
Jimmy Graham Is Absolutely Unstoppable
Much like the Kansas City Chiefs, the New Orleans Saints have rebounded from a disappointing 2012 season in a big way. A big part of that rebound has been the otherworldly play of tight Jimmy Graham.
NFC South Lead Writer Knox Bardeen explains:
New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham caught 10 passes for 135 yards in Sunday’s 26-18 win over the Chicago Bears. But there’s nothing unusual there, as in each of the previous three weeks, Graham churned out at least 100 yards.
Graham tied an NFL record Sunday that he already shared with Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez and Graham are the only two tight ends in history to post four consecutive games of 100 yards or better receiving. Graham did it in 2011; Gonzalez set the bar in 2000.
Graham uses his otherworldly speed (remember, the dude is 6’7” and shouldn’t be able to run that fast) to get behind defenses on deep patterns and his basketball-player height and jumping ability to go up and grab balls in traffic no one on the defense can get.
The New Orleans tight end ranked second in the league entering Week 5 with 458 receiving yards, and he could lead the NFL if Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones doesn’t notch at least 113 yards on Monday Night Football.
Saints Game Plan and Execution Are the Difference in Chicago
With the New Orleans Saints the NFC's lone remaining undefeated team, it's hardly surprising they would be a hot topic following Week 5.
NFL National Lead Writer Matt Bowen came away from the Saints' win over Chicago impressed with both Sean Payton's game plan and the efficiency with which it was implemented:
I was impressed with the Saints game plan (on both sides of the ball) and their ability to execute in crucial situations during their win over the Bears at Soldier Field.
Take the matchups Sean Payton created within the game plan for Jimmy Graham on the wheel route (beat Cover 1) and the deep inside seam versus Cover 2. The screen pass at the end of the half to Pierre Thomas? The Saints caught the Bears in a zone pressure. That’s a smart (and calculated) call to take advantage of a defense that has relied on blitz schemes this season to generate a rush.
But let’s not forget about Rob Ryan’s defense. This unit showed overload pressure and five-man blitz schemes to win on first and second down early in the ballgame that forced multiple third-down situations for Jay Cutler. Plus, in the red zone, Ryan’s defense used some combination coverage calls (bracket receivers) that allowed the Saints to take away prime targets for Cutler.
The Saints and Brees are going to score points, but Ryan’s defense is a big reason this team is off to a 5-0 start.
Dolphins Offense Needs Improvement Across the Board
After three games, the Miami Dolphins were a feel-good story, with a surprising 3-0 record.
Since then, the bloom has come off the rose a bit. The Dolphins have dropped two straight after Sunday's three-point loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz believes this skid is emblematic of bigger problems facing the team on offense:
Before we rush to place the blame on one player, or one unit, there is no sweeping generality that can be accurately uttered about the Dolphins' sputtering offense. Among bad blocks, dreadful drops, imperfect passes and stuffed runs, there’s enough blame to go around both for their struggles all season and for a narrow 26-23 loss to the Ravens.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked six times by the Ravens defense, lifting the total to 24 sacks on the season. They are on pace to give up around 77 sacks, which would be the third-most sacks in a season in NFL history.
Wide receiver Mike Wallace hasn’t been as involved in the offense as he would like, but he isn’t helping his case with untimely drops. He had at least two bad drops on Sunday, lifting his season total to five drops on the season. He’s not the only offender here—tight end Charles Clay had a crucial drop of his own—but the Dolphins need their biggest playmaker to, quite simply, make plays.
As much as the passing game has struggled at times, the running game has struggled to greater degrees. They started off on a bad note with just 20 yards on 23 carries against the Browns, and they’ve struggled to find their ground ever since. The Dolphins picked up 22 yards on 11 carries against the Ravens, and they now average just 3.7 yards per attempt and 69.6 yards per game.
No wonder opponents are teeing off on Tannehill; the running game hasn’t posed enough of a threat to keep defenses honest.
It would be easy if the Dolphins could blame one person for their struggles, but unfortunately, it’s going to take improvement from everyone if the Dolphins are going to find consistency on offense.
Broncos Defense Needs to Get Better If They Plan on Winning Championship
After outlasting the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth-highest-scoring game in NFL history on Sunday, the Denver Broncos are 5-0.
Given their undefeated start and the record-setting pace of quarterback Peyton Manning, Denver fans are riding high.
However, NFL National Lead Writer Mike Freeman offers this cautionary note:
They gave up over 500 yards of offense to Tony Romo alone. They were burned by Romo in every way. Sure, the Broncos got a last-minute stop, but that was Romo being Romo.
The remaining teams on the Broncos’ schedule aren’t likely to put up anywhere near the numbers that Romo and that Dallas offense did, but they also can’t rely on Peyton Manning every week. At some point, that defense will have to be great. It will have to be like Manning.
The good news is that the Broncos get some of their players back soon. Corner Champ Bailey should return soon, as should Von Miller from his six-game suspension.
The Broncos need them both. Badly.
Despite Identical Records, the Gap Between Dallas and Philadelphia Is Huge
After beating the New York Giants on Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles sit at 2-3, tied for first place in the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys.
The two teams may be deadlocked in the standings, but NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon believes that there's still a clear-cut front-runner in the division:
The Philadelphia Eagles earned a tangible, real-world victory Sunday, while the Dallas Cowboys merely gained a moral victory. The NFL standings now show that Philly and Dallas are tied atop the the NFC East, but Eagles fans shouldn’t get their hopes up.
A significant gap still exists between the Cowboys, who arguably outplayed the NFL’s best team Sunday, and the Eagles, whose two victories have come against the 1-3 Redskins and the 0-5 Giants. Two of the Cowboys’ three losses have come against teams that are currently unbeaten, and the other came on the road against a solid Chargers team.
On Sunday, Dallas scored 48 points and fell just three points short against a Denver team that is 5-0 and on pace to shatter the record for points scored in a season. Against that very same Broncos team in Week 4, the Eagles were crushed by 32 points.
Everyone’s hammering the Giants nowadays, but Chip Kelly’s team had its hands full for the majority of Sunday’s game. Philadelphia was void of momentum and leading by only a single point in the fourth quarter before Eli Manning went on an interception spree.
I know, a win’s a win, and a loss is a loss. But if we’re reading more deeply into their respective performances, Dallas has a clear edge.
The key could be the difference between the two quarterbacks. Michael Vick was forced to leave Sunday’s game in New Jersey with a hamstring injury. It was the third time this year we’ve seen him with a significant hobble. Does anyone really expect the guy to stay healthy for 16 games?
Meanwhile, Tony Romo posted a 140.0 passer rating while becoming the 15th quarterback in NFL history to throw for 500 yards in a single game. He’s the third-highest-rated pivot in the league, behind only Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, both of whom have beaten the Cowboys this season.
They may be tied after what went down Sunday, but don’t be fooled into believing the Eagles have a strong chance to pull this off.
49ers Defense Is Starting to Regain 2012 Form
After dropping two straight games to fall to 1-2, many folks began wondering aloud what was "wrong" with the San Francisco 49ers.
Well, after a second straight emphatic victory, the reigning NFC champs appear to be just fine. NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland cites San Francisco's defense as the impetus for its rebound:
After a slow start to the season, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio’s defense looks to have gotten back on track against the Houston Texans. Despite missing All-Pro inside linebacker Patrick Willis and cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, San Francisco managed to hold quarterback Matt Schaub and the Texans offense to three measly points.
Aside from their near-shutout performance, the 49ers defense forced four turnovers. This was a huge development based on the fact this team has lived and died by the turnover since head coach Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011.
Fourth-year cornerback Tramaine Brock single-handedly helped the 49ers get headed in the right direction on Sunday Night Football. On the Texans' opening drive, he secured a pick-six that put them in front, 7-0. Three drives later, he intercepted Schaub again. From that point on, the rout was on, and San Francisco never looked back.
The 49ers scored 21 points unanswered and closed the game out with a 34-3 win. It’s safe to say Asomugha might have a hard time finding his way back onto the field when he is healthy, as Brock showed he has the ability to make big plays when given the opportunity.
In addition to Brock’s fine showing, safety Donte Whitner and defensive tackle Tony Jerod-Eddie forced takeaways as well. The Niners defense is at its best when it is forcing turnovers.
If this team can continue to win the turnover battle on a weekly basis, there’s no reason it can’t make another deep playoff run in 2013.