NFL 4-Down Territory: What We Learned in Week 4

Sam McGawContributor IIOctober 5, 2011

NFL 4-Down Territory: What We Learned in Week 4

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    What can be said about Week 4 that hasn't already been said about this entire NFL season? This past week in the NFL can be described as thrilling, surprising and even upsetting.

    I mean, what do you expect when there were two huge come-from-behind victories by the Lions and 49ers. I can't forget to bring up the shocking victory by the Bengals over the Bills.

    So far, you have nine teams who didn't make the playoffs last year standing at 3-1 records or better. Pretty remarkable considering one of these teams is the 4-0 Lions.

    With all of this being said, here is my first edition of "Four Down Territory," where I give you four things we have learned after each week in the NFL.  

Never Count the Lions out

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    For the second week in a row, the Lions seemed as if they were done at halftime. In Week 3, the Lions were down 20-0 at the half before scoring 26 unanswered points to get the win in overtime. In Week 4, they did not stray away from tradition. After being down 20-3 at halftime, the Lions once again rallied back in the second half to beat the Cowboys 34-30.

    So how have they accomplished this? First of all, the Lions defense has been incredible this season, ranking 11th in total yards allowed per game and eighth in points allowed. Not to mention, they have registered 11 takeaways in just four games thus far. Nonetheless, three of these takeaways were interceptions thrown by Tony Romo. Two of which, were returned for touchdowns.

    A lot of people attribute the Cowboys meltdown to Tony Romo. Yes, it can be easily said that if Romo didn't throw these pick sixes, the Cowboys would have won the game. However, one word can describe the reason for the Cowboys loss: Megatron.

    The main factor for the Cowboys losing this game was Matthew Stafford throwing to Calvin Johnson, aka Megatron. Megatron has been an absolute beast on the field. In four games, he has caught two touchdowns in each. There are many times where he will be double covered, and sometimes triple covered, but will still come down with the ball.

    Johnson did just that, as he leaped over defenders to catch jump balls that no one should ever catch. There was nothing the Cowboys defense could do to stop him. As long as the Lions have Stafford and Johnson, they are in every game.

    If teams can't find a way to stop Johnson, there is very little chance they will be able to stop the Lions at all. The Lions face the Bears Monday night, which is sure to be an ultimate test for this team who never quits.

The Eagles Can't Finish

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    After reading the previous segment, you can tell there's a trend in the NFC East. The two teams that were supposed to be battling it out for first in the division can't even close out a game. For the supposed "Dream Team," this nightmare has become a reality.

    Before the season started, all the hype surrounded the Eagles and their plethora of talent. Honestly, how could anyone say the Eagles wouldn't be Super Bowl bound by just looking at their team on paper? The problem is, football isn't played on paper—especially defensive football.

    In their past three games, the Eagles have given up fourth quarter leads in each. In these losses, the Eagles have been outscored 36-0 in the fourth quarter—not very "Dream Team" like.

    However, this is a situation where you can't blame Michael Vick and the offense. This is especially true when it comes to Sunday's debacle against the 49ers.

    On Sunday, Vick threw for 416 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in the loss to the 49ers. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles defense allowed 49ers quarterback Alex Smith to throw for 291 yards and two touchdowns, while running back Frank Gore rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown.

    It is known the Achilles heel for the Eagles is their run defense. If that's the case, why is this all-pro secondary featuring Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel getting burned for 291 yards passing? The reason is over commitment to the run.

    The Eagles expended so much to shut down the pass, they forgot to get linebackers who can shut down the run. When a team can't stop the run game, they turn to loading the box just to have a chance to stop the ball carrier. By over compensating to stop the run, the secondary gets exposed against the pass. This is usually a lose-lose situation for the team.

    Before pointing fingers at Vick or the offense, point fingers at Eagles general manager Howie Roseman for not acquiring any run stoppers for this defense. All of the Eagles losses start with their inability to stop the run. Until they get that fixed, it's an uphill battle for these once promising Super Bowl contenders.        

The Steelers Defense Is Showing Their Age

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    Before the season started, many analysts were claiming the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is not the one we are all used to seeing. Many people brushed these claims off, expecting another great Dick LeBeau coached defense. Then again, if you do take the time to look at the Steelers current online depth chart, only three of the 11 starters were under the age of 30. Of course, the age of 30 is known as too old in NFL terms.

    So has age affected this defense? So far this season, the Steelers are ranked second in total yards allowed and fifth in points allowed. Not bad at all. When looking closer, however, there is a glaring stat you cannot ignore—just one takeaway.

    This is a team that has thrived on its defensive play. Last season, the Steelers registered 35 takeaways, 21 of these were interceptions. This season, the Steelers may be close to the top of the list on total yards allowed and points allowed, but their inability to recover a fumble or intercept a pass is hurting them beyond recognition.

    After Week 1's forgettable game against the Ravens, the Steelers have gone 2-1. Their two victories come against the Seattle Seahawks and the Indianapolis Colts. What's not being said is they only beat the Colts by three, a score the defending Super Bowl runner-ups should never allow to the Manning-less Colts.

    Last weekend, the Steelers earned their second loss this season to the Houston Texans. While their passing game has looked good, their run game has not been there. Without a run game, it is difficult to control time of possession and keep the opposing offense off the field.

    This week, the Steelers play the 3-1 Titans in what is sure to be a great test for both teams. Sunday's game will determine where both teams really are when it comes to talent and skill. Expect a great game against two good teams.

The Atlanta Falcons Struggle on the Road

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    So far this season, the Atlanta Falcons have played three road games. In these three games, they lost to Chicago and Tampa Bay, while narrowly edging out the Seahawks for their second win of the season.

    This is a team many picked to win the NFC South, but now it looks like a team that may not reach the playoffs. Yes, it's a little premature to say that, but when a team plays in the same division as the Saints, Buccaneers, and the ever dangerous Panthers, it's not easy to guarantee them a playoff berth.

    In their first three games against the Bears, Eagles and Buccaneers, there was no reason to panic as these teams are all quality opponents. However, after barely edging out the Seahawks on Sunday, the Falcons have the right to hit the panic button.

    The problem with the Falcons is their defense simply cannot get it done. This season, Atlanta's defense has allowed 372.8 yards per game, which is ranked 21st in the NFL. Also, they are ranked 27th in the NFL in points allowed per game with 26.2.