The story goes that every person on Earth is just six steps away from meeting somebody else, as told by the old six degrees of separation paradox. Every week, Six Yards of Separation compiles the NFL action on Sunday and connects one player to another unsuspected player through four other players by way of statistics, facts and idiosyncrasies.
Week 7 in the NFL drove home three main points, besides the fact that it is unbelievable that it is already Week 7 in the NFL.
1. The Saints handed that game to Tom Brady on a platter
The depleted cast surrounding Tom Brady has actually helped as much as it has hurt him this season because other teams are not giving him the benefit of the doubt, even though he’s still Tom freakin’ Brady. Sean Payton is the latest and most blatant example with his conservative play-calling down the stretch on Sunday.
2. I am officially dumbfounded by Cam Newton
Cam Newton threw for 20-of-26 for over 250 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions on Sunday against the Vikings. Now, just wait, he’ll give us a stinker next weekend to make it a wash. I’m to the point where I’m questioning whether or not Newton will ever have a stable career. Some of it is on him, but some of it is also on his situation and what the Panthers are (or aren’t) giving him.
3. Beating teams you are supposed to beat is the most underrated aspect in the NFL
So, the Broncos still beat the Jaguars handily. But it wasn’t a cakewalk. It wasn’t a sitcom like we all expected it to be. Denver had to work for it, like the Broncos would have had to work for a win against any other opponent in the NFL. I understand that the winning percentage of Broncos’ opponents this season is distortedly low, so is the Chiefs’ (.303)—the only other undefeated team in the league. An NFL opponent is an NFL opponent.
Now: Onto some Six Yards of Separation.
Ray Rice, running back, Baltimore Ravens
One of these games, the Ravens will realize that their best chance to win is to give Ray Rice the football more often than not. Sunday’s loss against the Packers was not that game.
Rice carried the ball 14 times for 34 yards in Baltimore’s 19-17 loss to Green Bay, in addition to three catches for 15 yards total.
The Ravens offense is in dire straights, under-utilizing Rice is chief among examples. Joe Flacco is off to a slow start, attributed partially to the understaffed receiving corps around him, outside of Torrey Smith. It’s almost as if Baltimore never fired Cam Cameron.
Fourteen touches weren’t enough for another skill player in the AFC.
Justin Blackmon, wide receiver, Jacksonville Jaguars
Justin Blackmon reeled in 14 catches for 190 yards against Denver on Sunday. This was Blackmon’s second consecutive week with 100 or more receiving yards.
Per Pro Football Focus, “10 of Blackmon’s 14 catches went for first downs. He was particularly proficient on slant routes as he caught all six of his targets for 92 yards including 44 yards after the catch.”
Unfortunately for the Jaguars, Blackmon can’t play quarterback. Or running back. Or tight end. Or defense. Blackmon can hardly stay on the field to play wide receiver.
From one winless team to another featuring a star wide receiver that went for over 100 yards.
Vincent Jackson, wide receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers sloppily transitioned from Josh Freeman to Mike Glennon at quarterback, and Tampa Bay is still struggling. The Eagles were the latest team to pile on with a 31-20 win on Sunday.
Vincent Jackson, though, had his most productive game since Week 1, catching nine balls for 114 yards—for an average of 12.7 yards per catch—and two touchdowns. Jackson has been the one bright spot in the cataclysmic abyss that the Buccaneers find themselves in.
Glennon is still looking for his first NFL win as a starter, but another backup quarterback played well in a loss.
Thad Lewis, quarterback, Buffalo Bills
Thad Lewis was the quarterback of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. His first touchdown as a Bill was a 3-yard run, which was followed by a leap into the stands in celebration.
The Bengals would ultimately be the ones celebrating, winning 27-24 in overtime. Not to mention that Lewis suffered what is being reported as a mild foot sprain, which solidifies the Bills quarterback position as the most cursed in the NFL.
However, in that 3-yard run and throughout the entire game prior to the injury, Lewis showed sparks of potential—or at least competency—to tide Buffalo over until E.J. Manuel can return.
Another AFC player did not have as pleasant of a connotation with the number three, though.
Chris Johnson, running back, Tennessee Titans
If Chris Johnson is going to surmount 2,000 rushing yards this season, he will need 31 games to do so at his current pace of 65.4 yards per game.
On Sunday against Seattle, Johnson averaged nearly three yards per rush and totaled 33 yards on the ground. The Titans lost to the Seahawks 20-13.
Tennessee is suffering mightily without the injured Jake Locker. In his two starts since Locker’s hip injury, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has underwhelmed: four interceptions and one touchdown.
Look nowhere else but to Tennessee to see the team most affected by injury this far this season. With a healthy Locker, the Titans two-game losing streak against the likes of Kansas City and Seattle could easily be reversed.
Another team was hit hard on Sunday with an injury to a key player, but this team won’t be as affected as the Titans.
Randall Cobb, wide receiver, Green Bay Packers
Randall Cobb fractured his fibula on Sunday against the Ravens and will reportedly be out for 6-8 weeks.
Cobb’s injury came on the heels of fellow Packers wide receiver James Jones leaving the game earlier due to a knee injury. Aaron Rodgers rallied the Packers to a 19-17 win over the Ravens, despite losing his top two targets, because he’s Aaron Rodgers—the one advantage that the 31 other teams in the NFL can’t recreate.
Green Bay, though, like all teams in the league—this season in particular—has its holes. In a crowded NFC North, it will be intriguing to watch how the Packers adjust moving forward momentarily without key players Clay Matthews, Casey Hayward, Cobb and Jones.
Megan Armstrong is on Twitter at @meganKarmstrong.