NFL Week 7: Expert Takeaways from Sunday's Action
Week 7 of the 2013 NFL season had something for everyone.
There were shootouts in Detroit and Washington, a blowout in Nashville and a controversial ending in the Big Apple.
There was certainly no shortage of storylines during this week's games, and we asked each of Bleacher Report's National Lead Writers and Division Lead Writers to provide their biggest takeaways from Week 7.
Here's what they had to say.
Penalties Continue to Plague Tampa Bay
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a team with plenty of problems. Their 0-6 record is proof of that.
In the opinion of NFC South Lead Writer Knox Bardeen, one of their biggest is that the Buccaneers are their own worst enemy:
Entering Tampa Bay's Week 7 matchup with the Atlanta Falcons, the Buccaneers ranked 31st in the league with an 8.6 penalties-per-game average, according to TeamRankings.com.
On Sunday, Tampa Bay was penalized 11 times for 103 yards and repeatedly moved backward while in the red zone because of costly penalties. Officials even took a 13-yard touchdown pass off the board because of an "illegal use of hands" penalty by Davin Joseph.
That fourth-quarter blunder meant the Buccaneers kicked a field goal to make the score 31-20 Atlanta, instead of leaving the touchdown on the board and being down 31-24.
Forget about the drama in Tampa Bay involving head coach Greg Schiano and his battle with recently released quarterback Josh Freeman. Forget about any locker-room chasms or a possible rift between cornerback Darrelle Revis and Schiano.
If Schiano can't fix the seemingly simple issue of being penalized way too much, how much good can he do for this 0-6 team?
Schiano rules his players with an iron fist. Practice is run his way, road trips are planned to the second (his doing), and even meeting rooms are kept at a constant, cool temperature everywhere in whatever building the team is using (his doing).
Schiano is a control freak with zero control over the number of penalties his team is producing. How does that make sense?
The San Francisco 49ers Are Officially Back
After dropping two straight games to fall to 1-2, there were more than a few questions swirling around the San Francisco 49ers.
According to NFL National Lead Writer Matt Miller, those questions have officially been answered:
Four straight wins by the San Francisco 49ers have everyone forgetting the team's back-to-back losses to the Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts early in the season. And with a 5-2 record, the team is within one game of the Seahawks in the NFC West with the most difficult part of its schedule out of the way.
Are the 49ers back? Absolutely.
Four straight wins is impressive, but the manner in which the team has won is equally notable. After being held to just 10 combined points in two losses, the offense has found new life. And it's not just Colin Kaepernick carrying the team—in fact, the team carried him in the win over the St. Louis Rams in Week 4.
Each week, Jim Harbaugh's team has found a new way to win. It might be a stifling defense (Week 5), a career day for Vernon Davis (Week 6) or an all-around, balanced performance like the team showed in Week 7. What matters most is that the 49ers are winning, and winning well.
With the Jacksonville Jaguars left on the schedule before a bye week, the 49ers should head into November with a 6-2 record. If they can get back Michael Crabtree, Mario Manningham and potentially Aldon Smith at points in the second half of the season, we could be looking at an NFC favorite. Again.
The NFC East Is Even Worse Than Anyone Could Have Imagined
The Dallas Cowboys took over sole control of first place in the NFC East with a 17-3 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 7.
However, NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon isn't convinced that amounts to much:
Critics have been mockingly calling it the "NFC Least" since Week 1, but the NFL's most popular, famous and—when it comes to all-time Super Bowl victories—successful division has become so bad in 2013 that it's hard to envision any of its teams finishing above the .500 mark.
Yes, the division technically went 2-1 Sunday, with the only loss coming in an intradivisional game, but neither the Dallas Cowboys nor the Washington Redskins seemed like they wanted to win.
The Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles were at least supposed to put on an offensive exhibition against each other's weak defenses Sunday, but instead they combined for 18 punts and only 20 points in the lamest game of Week 7. You'd never have guessed that first place was on the line.
Three of the Cowboys' four victories have come within the division. Same deal with two of Philly's three wins. The NFC East was 1-0 outside of the division with Washington merely surviving at home in a 45-41 victory over the depleted Chicago Bears Sunday, but that only makes the division 4-12 against the rest of the league this year.
The New York Giants can push that to 4-13 with a loss to Minnesota Monday night. Forget about them, even though a victory would place them only three games back of the division-leading Cowboys.
The Eagles are a game back, but they've lost nine straight home games, their quarterback situation is a mess and the offense completely stalled this week. The D was never good to begin with. No pressure, no stability, terrible tackling.
Speaking of terrible tackling, the Redskins can certainly score points, but the defense can't stop anybody, and they have the worst special teams unit in the league. They've surrendered three special teams touchdowns in as many weeks.
On paper, Dallas has an edge. But we've said that before and regretted it. Can we really trust the Cowboys? Tony Romo threw a silly second-half interception Sunday that might have cost Dallas dearly had it been facing a half-competent opponent. You know, one from another division.
It's just bad, man, and it doesn’t look like it'll get better anytime soon.
Bears Defense Takes Another Step Back in Loss to Redskins
For many years, the Chicago Bears have been a team defined by their defense.
Unfortunately, that defense is headed in the wrong direction this season in the opinion of NFL National Lead Writer Matt Bowen:
The Bears could be in some real trouble if quarterback Jay Cutler is out for an extended period of time after suffering a groin injury in the 45-41 loss to the Redskins.
Yes, Josh McCown came off the bench and made some throws against an average Redskins secondary. However, with the continued suspect play of this Bears defense, can Marc Trestman's team stay in the NFC North race without its No. 1 quarterback?
The Redskins didn’t do anything new or exotic in their offensive game plan Sunday. In fact, this was the same game plan that we saw all of 2012 with Robert Griffin III making plays off the read-option (and boot looks) along with Alfred Morris getting downhill in the zone-running scheme.
The Bears defense failed to make crucial stops or contain RG3. Plus, this unit struggled to fill gaps versus the run game. Griffin consistently got to the edge of the defense in the read-option scheme, and the boot package gave the Bears problems with their backside contain all afternoon.
Add in a rough day from the secondary, and there should be some real concern in Chicago right now.
In the past, the Bears could lean on their defense to make plays and create points even with key injuries on the offensive side of the ball.
But the tape doesn’t lie here. This defense took yet another step back Sunday as it was exposed by RG3 and the Redskins.
Aaron Rodgers Remains Packers' Rock
Despite a number of injuries on both sides of the ball, the Green Bay Packers improved to 4-2 on the season with a 31-13 win over the Cleveland Browns in Week 7.
NFC North Lead Writer Zach Kruse knows the reason why:
The names littering the Green Bay Packers' injury report in Week 7 could have provided all the reason necessary for a stagnant performance on offense.
Not with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
Despite missing Randall Cobb (broken fibula) and James Jones (knee) Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, and then losing Jermichael Finley in the second half to a scary neck injury, Rodgers did more than enough throwing the football to beat a defense that came into the contest ranked in the upper half of the NFL in several categories.
Rodgers went to Jordy Nelson—one of his lone remaining healthy options—five times for 42 yards and a score. But more impressively, Rodgers made a one-game star out of Jarrett Boykin, a former undrafted free agent who was making his first career NFL start Sunday.
Boykin led the Packers in receptions (eight), receiving yards (103), longest reception (39) and targets (10). His 20-yard touchdown catch with 3:52 left in the fourth quarter proved to be the dagger in Cleveland's dying comeback hopes.
In the process, Boykin became the fourth Packers receiver to record a 100-yard receiving game this season (Jones, Cobb, Nelson). And while credit belongs with the second-year receiver for grasping his opportunity, it is Rodgers who proved again how dangerous he is no matter who is receiving his passes.
Without three of his top four targets, Rodgers finished 25 of 36 passing for 260 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating was 117.8.
Sunday wasn't one of Rodgers' most dominant performances. But given the pieces he was missing, it certainly has to rank highly among his most impressive.
Is It Time for the Browns to Bench Brandon Weeden?
The flip side of Rodgers' performance at Lambeau was the showing by Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden.
AFC North Lead Writer Andrea Hangst writes that it's fitting the game was close to Halloween.
Weeden was terrifyingly bad:
Weeden, who had a passer rating of 1.7 for the first quarter of the Week 7 loss, completed 17 of his 42 passing attempts for 149 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He ended the day with a passer rating of 48.6.
Weeden has had even worse days in the past—three games with fewer yards, three games with a lower passer rating. They have contributed to his career completion percentage of 56.2 and his 19 touchdowns to 23 interceptions.
Since taking over for Brian Hoyer in Week 5—a game Cleveland mercifully won—the Browns are on a two-game skid. Though wins and losses are both a team effort, it's hard to not look at Weeden's struggles as a major contributor to the downturn. And it's possible the Browns may not get many more wins with Weeden under center.
Could it be time to turn to veteran backup Jason Campbell soon?
Head coach Rob Chudzinski said after the Green Bay loss that at no point in the game did he think about pulling Weeden for Campbell, but he was noncommittal about the future, via Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal, saying he'll "evaluate the situation moving forward." Though not a complete indictment of Weeden, it's certainly not a vote of confidence, either.
Weeden hasn’t had a ton of help, with his receivers dropping passes and the Browns' inability to run the ball putting more responsibility on his shoulders. However, Weeden has had many opportunities to make plays and has simply failed to do his job.
The expected progress from the 30-year-old in his second season—especially in a Norv Turner-crafted offense better suited to his talents—just hasn’t happened. Though Weeden was the Browns' best option when Hoyer fell injured, it now looks like Campbell should get a shot.
While it's common knowledge that Weeden's days in Cleveland are numbered—the Browns have two first-round draft picks in 2014 and a vast amount of confidence in Hoyer, who will be back in time for next season—the bell may toll for him well before Week 17. The Browns, at 3-4, have had their strongest start in many years, and Weeden hasn’t done much to preserve it.
For the sake of Cleveland's season, Weeden may need to hold the clipboard going forward.
Sam Shields Stepping Up in a Big Way for Green Bay
The headlines surrounding Green Bay's Week 7 win over the Cleveland Browns will no doubt be dominated by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and tailback Eddie Lacy.
However, NFL National Lead Writer Michael Schottey thinks a key defensive contributor has had a lot to do with the Packers' three-game winning streak:
Any analysis of the Green Bay Packers has to start, finish and focus almost entirely around quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offense. Right? That's the way it's been for years, as defensive coordinator Dom Capers has put together some stinkers in recent years—even when the team was winning.
Yet, in recent weeks, it's been cornerback Sam Shields who has been stirring the proverbial drink for the normally offensive-minded Packers.
In the close loss to the Cincinnati Bengals earlier in the season, Shields held star wideout A.J. Green to four catches on eight targets for only 46 yards and a touchdown. Against Detroit, Shields said he was "disappointed" that Calvin Johnson didn’t play, according to Paul Imig of Fox Sports Wisconsin.
This week, against Cleveland, Shields was instrumental in shutting down Josh Gordon. Shields kept Weeden from targeting Gordon very often and limited Gordon's ability to catch the ball, as the talented receiver finished with just two catches on six targets.
Cam Newton Is Doing Just Fine, Thanks
Earlier this year, with the Carolina Panthers struggling, there were calls from some for quarterback Cam Newton to get the hook.
As NFL National Lead Writer Ty Schalter points out, it's a good thing head coach Ron Rivera didn't listen:
The NFL is a quarterback's league, and never more so than this season. It's natural, when things don’t go to plan, to blame the man under center first.
It's even easier when the man under center is a 6’5”, 248-pound, multidimensional former No. 1 overall pick with the actual number one emblazoned on his chest.
I once wrote that Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton has the tools to be the best there's ever been. Though Newton was wildly inconsistent over his first two seasons, and the Panthers got off to a surprisingly poor 1-3 start this season, I stand by that lofty assessment of his talent.
Calls for Newton to be benched, a la Rodney Harrison on NBC Sports Radio, were way out of line.
Don't just look at Newton’s production over the past two games. Sure, Newton's gone 35-of-43 for 446 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in that time, averaging 10.4 yards per attempt—but he hasn't played well in only those games.
Despite the Panthers having one of the poorest receiver corps in the NFL, depending on Newton to bolster the run game and facing three of the league's most talented defenses, Newton has still led the Panthers to big wins and close losses.
The Simple Ranking System is one of the strongest predictive measures of NFL strength. It takes a team's record, margin of victory and strength of schedule into account. Before the Panthers' blowout win over the Rams, the Panthers already ranked sixth in the NFL in SRS, per Pro Football Reference.
What does this all mean? It means Cam Newton and the Panthers are just getting warmed up—and, at 3-3 and climbing, it means head coach Ron Rivera's seat will start cooling off.
Rex Ryan May Have Saved His Job as Jets Head Coach
The most controversial game of the day was in New York, an overtime affair that ended in a 30-27 Jets victory over the New England Patriots.
AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz believes the game was more than just the Jets' first win in six tries against their division rival:
Jets head coach Rex Ryan wasn’t going to get fired if he had lost his sixth consecutive game to the Patriots, but the temperature on that seat of his might have started to rise ever so slightly.
Being swept by the defending division champions would be a bad first impression to make on new general manager John Idzik, especially since the Patriots are far from a dominant team. In fact, they are at their weakest point in years with the plethora of injuries and lack of consistency on offense.
Ryan was, understandably, miffed that his defense didn't get enough credit for its stops of quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots offense in the first meeting, but they made sure that wasn’t the case this time.
For its part, the Jets defense dominated in key situations, allowing the Patriots to convert on just one of their 12 third downs and holding Brady to less than 50 percent completions for the second time this year (the first team in Brady’s career to do so).
Ryan got to watch as his defensive line, stocked with first-round picks, created game-changing pressure on Brady in the second half.
This even felt like an old Rex Ryan Jets win on offense, with 52 rush attempts against 37 pass attempts. Geno Smith, Idzik's boy wonder, was average on the whole, finishing 17-of-33 for 233 yards, a touchdown and a pick-six, adding six rushes for 32 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The Jets have already won as many games this year as some pundits picked them to win for the whole season. If Ryan is asked to re-file his resume at the end of the season, this game will likely be at the top of the page.
Sam Bradford Is Done for the Season, Which Means the Rams Are Too
The St. Louis Rams dropped to 3-4 on the season as a result of their 30-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland writes that the Rams may have lost much more than a football game.
They may have lost all hope:
Heading into Week 7, the St. Louis Rams were 3-3 and riding a two-game win streak. Things were on the up and up thanks in large part to a rejuvenated running game and a newfound aggression on defense. Unfortunately for the Rams, that newfound aggression went to the wayside against the Carolina Panthers, and quarterback Sam Bradford left in the second half with a devastating knee injury.
These two factors not only snapped St. Louis' two-game winning streak, but a whole lot more. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, Bradford’s knee injury is indeed a torn ACL, and it will cost him the remainder of the 2013 season.
This, in turn, begs the question: Is the Rams' season over now as well because of the injury? One would have to think so based on the fact their No. 2 quarterback is Kellen Clemens. Not to mention the last time Clemens made an impact as a starter was in 2007 as a member of the New York Jets. That was six years ago; his skill set has undoubtedly fallen off since then.
Even if St. Louis bypasses Clemens and opts to sign a free agent, the outlook on its season doesn’t get any better. Quality quarterback play in the NFL is hard to find, especially on the waiver wire. As it stands right now, the team's best options on the open market are David Carr, Vince Young, Tim Tebow or John Skelton.
Quite the list, huh? However, it appears as though Clemens or former Rams quarterback Austin Davis seem to be the most realistic options versus the Seahawks next week. No matter how you spin it, St. Louis' playoff hopes went out the window the minute Bradford went down.
The final nine games of the season for the Rams will be brutal to watch.
Jack Del Rio’s Defense Is Becoming a Problem for the Broncos
There is only one undefeated team remaining in the NFL, and it's not who you might think.
Sunday's action culminated in a 39-33 loss by the Denver Broncos that exposed a big problem with the team, according to AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen:
Peyton Manning has carried the Denver Broncos all season, but when he went through a rough stretch against the Indianapolis Colts, the defense failed to rise to the occasion. Denver's defense even had pass-rusher Von Miller, but it didn't make much of a difference.
The Colts scored 39 points on Sunday night, putting all the pressure on the offense to win the game. There were some tough situations for the defense, but not every situation made it impossible to make a stop.
The offense not only had to make a comeback, but it had to score a lot of points to do it. Realistically, Manning was going to have an off night eventually, and when that happened, the defense was going to have to be ready to carry the team.
Miller didn't make a noticeable impact against the pass, which is what the Broncos needed him to do. Even though Miller made a few impact plays against the run, the Broncos hadn't exactly been struggling against the run without him.
When Andrew Luck was pressured, he too often was able to find open receivers for chain-moving completions. When the coverage was good, Luck was able to use his legs to evade rushers and get chunks of yardage on the ground.
The Broncos had a top-five defense in 2012, but the 2013 version that was supposed to be even better looks nothing like that defensive unit. Denver's defense has looked so bad that the Broncos have to start being legitimately concerned about it.
With virtually the same or slightly better personnel, there is no excuse for such poor defensive performance. At this point, you can only point to coaching and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio.