QUOTE: “I try not to think with my gut. If I'm serious about understanding the world, thinking with anything besides my brain, as tempting as that might be, is likely to get me into trouble.” -- Carl Edward Sagan, American astronomer and popular science writer (1934-1996)
The first half of the season is complete. All teams have played at least eight games, so there’s enough evidence, based on those games, to draw some firm conclusions using our brains rather than our gut instincts, as Mr. Sagan indicates above.
These things I know using my brain...
1. Ravens linebacker and emotional leader Ray Lewis can no longer back up his words with his play on the field. He was once a great player, but he isn’t one now. His interview with Marshall Faulk of NFL Network last week was excellent, but it seemed like he was trying to convince himself that he could still play at a high level — which he can’t, based on tape. The ‘09 Ravens can’t win this year unless their offense can carry them, and that wasn’t the case Sunday. The Ravens have lost three consecutive road games.
2. The Bears stink on defense -- really stink. And the very scary part for Bears fans is that head coach Lovie Smith is running the defense. They are often misaligned, are unsound and can’t slow down a passing game on the road and now at home. I often write about a breakdown of teams in three areas -- players, coaches and schemes -- and the Bears are bad in all three. The Cardinals outrushed the Bears 182-70 (182 rushing yards is the most for a Cardinals team since 2004 and was their second game this season with 100 or more rushing yards). What does that tell you about your run defense when the Cardinals can run the ball?
3. The Packers’ offensive line is a bad, but what’s more alarming is their lack of ability to play well on defense, especially against a rookie quarterback, Josh Freeman, who at times looked very good. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has not given the Packers the edge that Gregg Williams of the Saints has given his defense.
4. No matter who calls plays for the ‘Skins, they’re just not good enough in terms of talent to function well on offense. And now that injuries have crept in, they are going to keep regressing. They are stuck on 17 points, which is good for a blackjack player but bad for an NFL team.
5. Eagles coach Andy Reid needs someone to come in and help him with replay challenges and managing the clock. Had he made better decisions in the second half in two of his three losses, the outcomes might have been different.
6. The AFC South and NFC North election returns are in, and the Colts and Vikings are going to represent both divisions in the playoffs.
7. The Colts have allowed only 108 points in eight games, second to Denver in the NFL, with the Broncos having a game tonight. The Patriots and Colts are second and third in the NFL in point differential, as New Orleans leads the NFL with 129.
8. I know Dallas is playing very well right now, but I don’t know if this will continue. I have trust issues with the Cowboys. But when their defensive line plays at a level like it did last night, I feel like they’re earning my trust.
9. Too many mistakes are made by teams managing games at the end of the half and making sure the opponent doesn’t get the ball back with enough time to score. The Colts had full control of their game but threw an interception that allowed the Texans to go into half time with three points and a renewed sense of confidence. The Dolphins mismanaged the end of the half and had to punt the ball back to the Patriots, who had one timeout and a friendly clock operator, which resulted in three more points.
10. Miami, Buffalo, Seattle, San Francisco and Carolina all have 3-5 records after eight games, but there’s a huge difference between Miami and the others. The Dolphins are the only ones I can see getting hot and having a very good second half.
11. At the end of the game, the Giants put the burden of winning on their defensive line’s ability in the two-minute drill, and they failed. Look no further than the G-Men’s offensive and defensive lines as the main reason they’re on a four-game losing streak. They didn’t protect well, and even though they pressured Philip Rivers all day, they weren’t able to make plays at crunch time.
12. I was worried about Falcons back Michael Turner looking slow and sluggish, but the last two weeks, he’s been the Michael Turner of 2008. Turner: 38 rushes, 317 yards, three TDs in that span. He was impressive against a Redskins team that normally can play run defense.
13. Running back Chris Johnson of the Titans is remarkable. His ability to outrun everyone on the field, along with his ability to play the game with balance and power, is sensational. Sunday, the Titans played like it was 2008, forcing four turnovers and scoring 24 points off them.
14. Titans quarterback Vince Young has not been sensational in either of his two starts, but what’s been sensational is his ability to play within himself and not force the issue. He’s managing the game well and helping those around him to be effective. This has been a giant transformation for Young.
15. The 49ers are in a tough spot at quarterback. Shaun Hill can’t make the throws or run the passing game effectively, and Alex Smith can make throws, but he turns the ball over too often and costs the 49ers games. This is not a good place for any offense to be in, and the reality is that they need to get a better player for the team to be effective.
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