Every Monday, the National Football Post’s Matt Bowen breaks down Sunday’s NFL action.
The decision by Patriots head coach Bill Belichick to attempt a fourth-and-2, up by six points in their own territory, almost at the two-minute warning, will be questioned for the rest of the season — because it went against everything in terms of situational football. In one regard, I give him credit for having the confidence in Tom Brady, who had owned the Colts secondary the entire night. But in that situation, you have to trust your defense and punt the ball. I can understand that Belichick thought giving the ball back to Peyton Manning was a risk, but those guys on defense get paid, too. You have to let them do their jobs and find a way to win the game for you, because no matter how great the Pats are with Brady and Randy Moss, there will be a time — maybe in January — when the New England defense will have to win a game for this team. So why not last night? Give them that opportunity.
To be honest, I’m still shocked. I saw New England as the better football team Sunday night until the final two minutes. The Pats run the ball better than Indy, they’re more productive on special teams, and there isn’t a defensive scheme in the NFL that can stop Moss when he gets vertical down the field. But even in saying that, Indy is now 9-0 because of Manning, and because of a decision that’s sure to heat up talk radio for the next week. What a way to lose a big football game in this league. To have the game in control and then get on that plane with this loss is tough to recover from. What a game and what a show put on by Brady and Manning. Fun to watch.
Capers’ game plan
I loved Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ game plan at Lambeau. Beyond the fact this defense showed us what was talked about all offseason with the multiple pressure packages, it was, from my perspective, the way you play defense when you go into a game knowing your offense is going to struggle. You have to find a way to generate field position, and you have to keep points off of the scoreboard when Aaron Rodgers is going to be under pressure all game long. By doing this, and by dictating the flow of the game to Tony Romo and the Dallas offense, the Packers were able to survive the first half and eventually put the game away by constant pressure and man-to man defense. Yes, they had to make some plays in the secondary — as we saw with Charles Woodson — but this is a game plan that Green Bay should go with the rest of the season. Rodgers is going to get sacked, the offensive will look stagnant at times, but if you can play defense like this, opportunities will be there to put points on the board.
Four straight for the Bolts
We can all agree that the Eagles lost this game by settling for three straight field goals on their first three red-zone possessions, but we need to talk about the Chargers in their 31-23 win and their ability to get back to their offensive game plan. The Bolts were able to run the ball with production, and when they rely on their top two running plays — the lead open and the Power-O strong — they’re tough to beat. Earlier in the season, the Chargers had the same struggles that Philly is having now in the red zone because they couldn’t run the ball, but it was obvious that they were much more physical up front Sunday and it translated into two LaDainian Tomlinson touchdowns. Those would have been field goals in September. If you need more evidence, just look at the box score. Philly ran the ball 13 times, while San Diego almost got to the 30-carry mark and wore down the Eagles defense. What a difference from the beginning of the season for San Diego.
The main reason the Broncos started off 6-0 was the play of their defense, but going back to the first of these three consecutive losses, it’s obvious that they’re now getting beat up front. Ray Rice was able to produce, as was Rashard Mendenhall on Monday night, and Sunday, the Redskins ran the ball 40 times on Mike Nolan’s front seven. Ladell Betts had 26 carries on the season coming into the game at Fed Ex, and he equaled his season total by running the ball 26 times for 114 yards a TD, the touchdown coming at the end of an 11-play drive that ate up more than six minutes on the clock in the fourth quarter. As a defense, you have to get off the field in that situation and give your offense a chance to go down the field and win the game. Denver couldn’t do that, and it’s becoming a habit for their front seven to fold against the run during this losing streak. Kyle Orton or not, they won’t win the AFC West this way.
Injuries were big Sunday around the league. Let’s run down some key names:
Kyle Orton, Broncos: Orton went down with an ankle injury, and the Broncos offense evaporated. Chris Simms came in and showed his inability to throw the deep ball. Without Orton, they’ll struggle to beat San Diego.
Michael Turner, Falcons: Turner produced 111 yards on nine carries before he went down, and if his ankle injury is more than just a sprain, Atlanta will have some issues consistently moving the ball.
Tracy Porter, Saints: The New Orleans cornerback looks to have torn the ACL in his left knee. An already banged up secondary just lost another starter.
Brian Westbrook, Eagles: Another concussion for Westbrook, and we have to believe that the recovery time for this one could be very long. Two concussions in one season are enough to put you on the shelf until next year.
Troy Polamalu, Steelers: Another knee injury will have this defense looking for playmakers again if he’s out long.
Marc Colombo, Cowboys: You never want to lose a starting tackle at this point in the season. This will hurt Dallas.
Julius Jones, Seahawks: A broken rib could sideline the only back who had a chance to produce for Seattle.
Another Bengals sweep
What about Mike Zimmer’s defense in Cincy? That defense was nasty for the Bengals, who have now swept both the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens — and at 7-2, the AFC North is theirs to lose. Not unlike the situation in Green Bay, with Cedric Benson out, the game plan shrunk for Carson Palmer and the Cincy offense, but the defense responded, and every time Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass, the Bengals were able to get pressure and cover in the back end. Add in a big play in the kicking game, and you have a game plan that’s designed to win in their division. We keep waiting for this team to cool off, but as long as it plays defense, Palmer and his offense will be able to move the ball enough to win — and that’s exactly what the Bengals are doing right now.
Saints survive the road
There isn’t much to say about the Saints except that they moved to 9-0, but the mistakes were obvious. Then again, this is where the Saints are right now as a team. They played without their two biggest playmakers in the secondary in Jabari Greer and Darren Sharper, and this is the point in the season when injuries and lackluster performances happen. It hasn’t been pretty for the Saints the past three weeks, and surviving against St. Louis isn’t anything that’s going to impress people, but we have to remember that this isn’t the BCS. Was it good? Not even close, but the best teams all go through low points when the box score looks ugly. Won’t be fun to watch that tape for Drew Brees and the Saints — whose run defense is poor right now — but you still have to win, and that’s what they’re still doing.
Sidney Rice’s development
Every player on the Vikings’ offense has benefited from Brett Favre so far this season, but no one has made a bigger jump than WR Sidney Rice — and it all has to do with Favre because he gives him a chance to make a play. When Favre sees man coverage, he has no problem throwing the ball to Rice, and the ball often isn’t perfect. But Rice is learning that you have to go up and get the football at this level, no matter where it is. Yesterday, he hauled in seven passes for 201 yards. That’s big production for a guy that was a non-factor last season without Favre.
No turnovers for Delhomme
Carolina’s win over Atlanta was a perfect example of how the Panthers can win games when QB Jake Delhomme protects the ball. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are the NFC’s version of the Dolphins when it comes to running the football, and if Delhomme can be productive without being careless, this team can compete with anyone because it can consistently run the football. And as we saw, Steve Smith (two TD catches) is going to benefit because of it.
More C.J. for the Titans
If you haven’t seen Chris Johnson of the Titans play this season, call DirecTV and get the Ticket because he’s that good. Besides being the fastest player in pads that I’ve seen in some time, he produces because he’s a one-cut runner who has great vision and doesn’t hesitate in the hole. He runs with explosion, and when he cuts downhill, he has another gear that gets him to he second level quicker than any other back in the league — Adrian Peterson included. A nice weapon for Vince Young to have during this three-game winning streak. Sunday, C.J. had 232 total yards and two TDs. Just awesome to watch.
Big day for running backs
As we just talked about with Johnson, Sunday saw a lot of production from the running back position. Of the seven players and two combos listed, there were seven wins and only two losses, with Turner playing in a limited role due to injury. Running the ball still wins at this level. Let’s check it out:
Adrian Peterson, Vikings: 18-133-2 TDs (win)
Chris Johnson, Titans: 26-132-2 TDs (win)
Steven Jackson: 26-131-1 TD (loss)
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jags: 24-123-1 TD (win)
Ladell Betts, Skins: 26-114-1 TD (win)
Michael Turner, Falcons: 9-111 (loss)
LaDanian Tomlinson: 24-96-2 TDs (win)
R. Brown/R. Williams, Dolphins: 32-184-2 TDs (win)
D. Williams/J. Stewart, Panthers: 30-174-2 TDs (win)
The Jets have lost five of their last six, and it’s getting to the point where we have to start believing that teams are either figuring out ways to beat the Jets’ defense from a scheme perspective or that all the talk and all the hype early in the season was really created by the Jets themselves. Because right now, this defense doesn’t scare anybody, and after MJD ran through them at the Meadowlands, we have to start wondering if this is who the Jets really are. And don’t forget the importance of that win for the Jags, who now hold the edge over the Jets when it comes to directing these teams for playoff time. New York looked slow on defense. I wasn’t impressed.
Cards keep running
Rookie Beanie Wells of the Cardinals is starting to understand the pro game more and more, and Arizona is going to benefit greatly from his production. Wells looks good getting to the edge of the defense, and like we’ve said since their playoff run last season, this club is tough to beat when it goes into a ballgame with a balanced game plan. Kurt Warner throws for 340 yards and two TDs, and ‘Zona runs the ball 30 times. With Anquan Boldin now back, I don’t see any way the Niners can stop the Cards from winning the NFC West — and they’ll be a tough matchup for anyone in the postseason.
* Aaron Rodgers impressed me. His numbers weren’t big, but he made some big throws in crucial situations for the Pack.
* Trent Edwards isn’t the future in Buffalo. That franchise needs to get a QB next offseason to build its offense around.
* Chris Chambers had another week of big plays for the Chiefs since being picked up. Three grabs for 60 yards — this was a nice acquisition by K.C.
* In their three straight wins, the Titans have forced eight turnovers and are plus-7 in turnover margin. Reminds me of the 2008 team.
* Tampa rookie QB Josh Freeman was productive again for the Bucs. You have to wonder why they waited this long to get him under center.
* It’s time to put a stop to the JaMarcus Russell project in Oakland. How many chances do you give a guy when he clearly shows he can’t be accountable at the NFL level?
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