Week 3! Let's get to it.
NFL schedule makers FTW. For a third week in a row, we were treated to some really exciting matchups. More importantly, they were significant matchups. Some of that is of course dumb luck - who would have guessed this preseason that in one particular week 3 game the Chiefs would be the one looking to take a huge lead in their division and stay undefeated while the San Francisco 49ers would be the ones desperate for their first win? Nevertheless, props to the schedule makers for games like Atlanta/New Orleans and Miami/New York, both of which were nail biters (with one going into OT) and both of which could have major divisional implications further down the line. Tonight's Green Bay/Chicago matchup will hopefully be a thriller as well.
Nice win, but.... So the Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots may be 2-1 to start the season, but boy have they looked ugly doing it. New England's defense looks atrocious (who gives up 30 points to the Buffalo Bills?!). Cincinnati's struggles on offense are very troubling - something is clearly not right with Carson Palmer this season. Both teams look like they're doing just enough to beat teams they're supposed to walk over, and neither has shown any indication that they have what it takes to pull out the tough wins against more worthy opponents. Similarly, you can give the Vikings props for succeeding in a "must win" game for them, but honestly... it's still the Detroit Lions we're talking about, and the passing game continues to look incredibly suspect for the third week in a row. When you talk about a Vikings team that needs great defense and an awesome day from Peterson to overcome deficiencies in the passing game, it's like we're back in 2008 all over again (except now they're paying their QB 13.5 million a year to be merely adequate).
Personnel decisions. Let's talk about the Denver Broncos for a minute. After drafting college phenom Tim Tebow in the first round (despite indications that he would be a work in progress at best for several years), many people said that it would be the make-or-break decision that defined Josh McDaniels's tenure in Denver. However, I think that there are several other personnel decisions that warrant closer examination.
First let's look at their RB situation this week: starting RB Knowshon Moreno was out with a hamstring injury, and replacements Correll Buckhalter and the newly-acquired Lawrence Maroney combined for 16 rushing attempts, gaining only 32 paltry yards. Maroney failed to convert a 4th-and-goal from the one yard line. Meanwhile this week, Peyton Hillis, who they had unceremoniously shipped off to Cleveland despite the fact that he showed flashes of real ability in previous years, happily racked up 144 yards on 22 attempts, with 1 TD, against the fearsome Baltimore Ravens defense no less.
The one personnel decision I won't question was the decision to bring in Kyle Orton in the trade that shipped Jay Cutler off to Chicago. Orton is playing out of his mind right now, posting a career best 474 yards passing this week. However, the Broncos failed to score on five trips inside the 20 yard line. Perhaps having a few more talented weapons for Orton to use might have made the difference - say, perhaps... star WR Brandon Marshall, TE Tony Scheffler or, again, human bowling ball Peyton Hillis (again, watch the video of him literally running over Ravens defenders, and then tell me that 4th-and-goal from the one doesn't end differently for Denver with Hillis in the back field). Unfortunately, Denver got rid of all those guys. Meanwhile, Tim Tebow has been bumped to the 3rd string QB position, which speaks volumes about where his development is at this point. For every good personnel decision Denver makes (Orton, drafting Demaryius Thomas), they seem to make 2-3 questionable ones, such as trading away their first round pick in 2010 to move up in the 20o9 draft to select CB Alphonso Smith (who they got rid of just one year later).
On the flip side, let's examine the personnel choices of Denver's AFC West companions, the surprisingly 3-0 Kansas City Chiefs. While I'm not sold yet on the Matt Cassel experiment, he did have a nice rebound week (250 yds, 3 TDs, 1 INT). More importantly, part of the Chiefs' success can be directly linked to the excellent decisions they've made in constructing a team via the draft. 2010 draft picks S Eric Berry, versatile RB Dexter McCluster, CB Javier Arenas and TE Tony Moeaki have been major contributors in the first 3 weeks. There are other players from recent drafts also powering the Chiefs along: WR Dwayne Bowe, RB Jamaal Charles and CB Brandon Flowers. While the Chiefs could still fall back to earth as the season progresses, you have to like the young talent that Chiefs GM Scott Pioli has installed in Kansas City.
Studs of the week. Each game the Saints draw lots to see who is going to be the team stud that week. This week, little spark plug Lance Moore drew the winning chit, with 149 receiving yards, a 72 yard punt return, and 2 TDs. Another week, another 125 yds and 2 TDs for Chris Johnson. Michael Vick rewarded Andy Reid's confidence in him with a dominating performance against the Jags (17/31, 291 yds and 3 TDs passing, plus a rushing TD). Numbers aside, Vick showed good patience in the pocket and even more impressive, he hasn't had a single turnover this year. Pierre Garcon and Anthony Gonzales might have been injured this week, but the Colts offensive machine marched on, with Austin Collie stepping up big time (12 catches, 172 yds, 2 TDs). Brett Favre might have been subpar for a third week in a row, but Adrian Peterson looked like his old self, ripping off a huge 80 yd run, on his way to a 160 yd, 2 TD day. Anquan Boldin finally had his break out week against the Browns, posting 142 yds and 3 TDs.
Duds of the week. Welcome to Duds of the Week, the all-kicker edition. This week Sebastian Janikowski single-handedly overcame his team's excellent effort by missing 3 of 6 FGs, including what would have been the game winner. Instead, the Raiders are now 1-2. Meanwhile, Garrett Hartley botched an easy 29 yard FG in overtime and helped bring about the Saints first loss of the season (against a division rival, no less). Hartley also has misses from 46 and 32 yards this year, which is simply unacceptable. Per Peter King and other media types on Twitter, the Saints are already making arrangements to bring in a new kicker.
Teams I like this week. Okay, okay, I'm sold... the Kansas City Chiefs are legit. The Pittsburgh Steelers can apparently put anyone behind center and win. Their defense is simply amazing this year. Imagine how terrifying they're going to be when Big Ben comes back. Along those same lines, the New York Jets look like they might be clicking on offense finally, and I believe they will definitely be a better team when Santonio Holmes returns from suspension in week 5. Most importantly, Mark Sanchez is showing that he can be more than a game manager, that they can count on the passing game for a few wins this year, versus last season which was about running the ball and defense. Lastly, I must give credit to the Dallas Cowboys this week for stepping it up and winning in decisive fashion in their "must win" game this week.
Teams I don't like this week. The New York Giants are a team in turmoil. 5 personal foul penalties and 3 turnovers suggests that this is a team that has no discpline. Eli Manning looks like he's regressed as a QB, and several players look like they've already given up just 3 games into the season. I also don't like the Jacksonville Jaguars, who commit the double sin of being terrible and being boring to watch. This is why no one goes to their home games. David Gerrard looks awful this year. Meanwhile, looks like the Mike Singletary honeymoon is over in San Francisco, because the 49ers look like a team without direction or motivation. Finally, as I predicted last week, the Houston Texans were exposed on defense. Every team is going to have weeks where their offense is going to struggle, and the sign of quality teams are those who can make something happen in the other areas of the game to pull out the win.
Let Me Fix…
4 years ago