Every Monday morning, the National Football Post’s Matt Bowen breaks down Sunday’s NFL action.
Brees has a field day against the Giants
What was impressive to me about the Saints’ offensive attack was how they were able to handle the Giants’ defensive pressure. It’s one thing to say you’re a pressure team, but when you bring that pressure — and don’t get home — against a QB like Drew Brees, it’s a nightmare. Give some credit to the Saints’ offensive line and wide receivers because they went up and made plays for Brees, who is playing with so much confidence right now that he’ll challenge coverage down the field. And it seemed that whenever Brees wanted to challenge the Giants’ secondary, he won. I saw a big difference in talent between the Saints’ skill players and the Giants’ back seven.
As an overall game, I thought it was a letdown because the Saints won in almost every aspect, held the ball for almost 10 minutes more than the Giants, went 6 for 7 in the red zone and had this game won by halftime. Are the Saints that much better than the Giants? At home they are.
Vikes go 6-0
I liked the way the Vikings attacked the Ravens’ offensively Sunday. They used QB Brett Favre in the three-step game and they moved him out the pocket to create throwing lanes down the field. They also found a way to get a second straight 100-yard rusher on the league’s toughest run defense. But what happened to their own defense in the fourth quarter? They allowed the Ravens and Joe Flacco to get back in the game, and in reality, that field goal at the end of regulation shouldn’t be missed by a pro kicker. However, the Vikes are still sitting at 6-0 because they’re moving the ball on offense and playing enough defense to win. Plus, they are never out of a game in the fourth quartet with Favre. Am I buying into this team? Without a doubt, because this was their toughest test so far.
Philly out-coached in Oakland
Facing a fourth-and-four in the fourth quarter and down 13-9, the Eagles called a timeout and went with a three-wide-receiver, two-RB set with Donovan McNabb in the gun and kept in seven for protection — including Brian Westbrook. Result: another incomplete pass for McNabb. If that wasn’t telling about how this game went for the Eagles, then I don’t know what is. Tom Cable and the Raiders’ defense out-coached and outplayed Andy Reid and the Eagles. McNabb never looked comfortable to me, and the pressure the Raiders created — and produced with — showed that Oakland was more prepared to play. Philly managed just 67 yards on the ground, and on third downs they were atrocious (2 for 16), and McNabb was sacked six times.
Good win for Oakland and a telling win, because the Raiders were able to close out a ballgame with JaMarcus Russell making a play — something we hadn’t seen this month.
Brady finds the deep ball
How good was Tom Brady? In each of the first five weeks of the season, we’ve been waiting for Brady to return to the form where he can step on the field and take over a ballgame. Sunday, he did that. He was on point with his throws, and the flea-flicker — which resulted in a 40-yard TD pass to Randy Moss — was the perfect call to bring the deep ball back. For the first five weeks, Brady had not been able to generate the big play with any sense of regularity, but calling an exotic play like that can lead to an offense taking off. Brady finished with six TDs, Moss and Welker both went over 100 yards, the Pats rolled up over 600 total yards and the game was over midway through the second quarter — in terrible conditions to throw the football. Call it a statement game if you want, but that performance reminded me of 2007 in New England.
Tony Gonzalez can still do it. No matter what the Bears threw at Atlanta last night, when Matt Ryan needed a play, he looked for Gonzo. Cover 2, man-free, zone blitz — it didn’t matter because Gonzalez was able to win his matchup when Ryan looked for him. He’s such a weapon for the Falcons offense. The numbers weren’t eye opening (4-52-1 TD), but he makes plays at crucial points in the game and in crucial spots on the field. He has become Ryan’s bailout and go-to option we he needs to move the ball.
A quiet three in a row for Pittsburgh
Where is the love for the Steelers? After their third win in a row, they are back on the top line of the AFC North with Cincy. Take away a big kick return from Cleveland’s Josh Cribbs and this is just another blowout. But look at the numbers and you can see how big the gap is between the Steelers and Browns. Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 400 yards, the Steelers’ defense held the Browns to under 200 yards of total offense, and with Troy Polamalu back in the secondary, plays are starting to be made as a defensive unit. In a division that can’t seem to figure itself out, the Steelers look like the team primed to make a big run.
Watching the Jags, I can understand why RB Maurice Jones-Drew was hot last week when he didn’t get the number of touches he felt were needed to help this offense. Any time the offense in Jacksonville needed a play, it went to MJD, and from my perspective, he looked stronger as the game wore on — especially in overtime. He reminds me of Atlanta’s Michael Turner when he hits the hole because of his ability to push the pile and squeeze out extra yards. He had 178 total yards and three TDs on the day.
Sanchez struggles — again
The Jets played well enough to win yesterday. They held the Bills to 296 total yards, ran for 318 yards on the ground, knocked Buffalo QB Trent Edwards out of the game and forced two turnovers. But QB Mark Sanchez absolutely killed them with his poor decision-making. Not much different when the Jets went down to New Orleans a couple of weeks back. They were in this game because of their ability to limit big plays and control the clock on the ground, but something is going to have to change in their play calling for Sanchez. He isn’t good enough right now for the Jets to take chances, and until he learns how important it is to protect the football at this level, they’ll continue to lose games like this — because no defense can overcome five interceptions from their quarterback. The honeymoon that Sanchez enjoyed in the first three weeks is long over, folks.
Chicago continues to struggle on the ground
Chicago still can’t run the football, and when that happens, the entire game plan falls on the shoulders of Jay Cutler — and that’s when the turnovers come into action because he’s always trying to make something happen. This club is playing good enough football on defense to win, and it has enough talent in the return game to challenge Minnesota and Green Bay, but I don’t like the way it has to lean on the passing game to produce points and score in the red zone. We’ve been talking about this for a month now in Chicago, and it has to change if the Bears want to make any sort of run. You can’t win on the road when Matt Forte runs for 23 yards on 15 carries.
The Panthers game plan
I liked the Carolina game plan in Tampa because it’s reflective of who the Panthers are and what they have to offer right now. Jake Delhomme, despite two straight wins, isn’t playing good football, but Carolina has played good enough defense and runs the ball with enough production to win. In Tampa, Carolina ran the ball 48 times — for 267 yards and three TDs. Add in a defense that limited Tampa to 245 yards, and that’s why they’re sitting at 2-3 after an 0-3 start. It isn’t going to drive ticket sales or keep WR Steve Smith happy, but this is the only way I see the Panthers winning games moving forward. It isn’t often the Panthers win when Smith catches one ball for four yards, but I don’t see how that is going to change.
Big quarterback play
We saw some huge numbers from the quarterback position. Let’s check out some of the top production: …
*Tom Brady (59-0 win) 29 of 34, 380 yards, 6 TDs
*Ben Roethlisberger (27-14 win) 25-35-417-2 TDs-1 INT
*Drew Brees (48-27 win) 23-30-369-4 TDs
*Matt Schaub (28-17 win) 28-40-392-4 TDs-1 INT
*Brett Favre (33-31 win) 21-29-278-3TDs
*Aaron Rodgers (26-0 win) 29-37-358-2 TDs-1 INT
*Joe Flacco (31-33 loss) 28-43-385-2 TDs
The Texans’ big three
When Houston gets production from its big three stars — Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Steve Slaton — it’s going to score points and control the football enough to take some pressure off of the defense. And that’s exactly what the Texans did. Schaub threw for 392, Johnson had over 100 yards receiving and Slaton has his best day of the ’09 season from my perspective with 145 total yards. His rushing numbers (19-43) didn’t reflect their importance, but the way Houston uses him in the running game enabled it to control the ball for over 36 minutes to go along with its standard big plays on offense. Loved the game plan from the Texans — they can win like that.
Packers’ win still shows some issues up front
On paper, this was another huge day for QB Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, but the offensive line issues are still very obvious even after the bye week. The Lions don’t have a pass rush that should keep offensive coordinators up at night, but they still got to Rodgers for five sacks at Lamebeau. Rodgers is capable of being an elite QB in this league, but when do we stop talking about this offensive line up north? As a Packer, you will take the win — a good win — but I can’t see Rodgers lasting all season at this pace. It’s too much talent to put at risk.
Seattle shows its colors
Maybe I was fooled last week by the Seahawks’ 41-0 win at home against the Jags in the return of Matt Hasselbeck, but their performance against a divisional opponent — at home — was dreadful. Hasselbeck struggled (10-29-112-1 INT), and the running game was non-existent (11 carries, 14 yards). Add in the fact that Cardinals QB Kurt Warner came out throwing, and in my mind, that was a huge letdown by the Seahawks. I have to wonder where they can go after a home loss like that.
* How about a toast to Todd Haley and the Chiefs?
* Bears rookie WR Johnny Knox has to be the steal of the draft. A fifth round pick?
* Jason Campbell had to be pulled yesterday, but sitting him next week isn’t the right move for Jim Zorn. He still gives the ‘Skins a better chance to win than Todd Collins.
* In his last three games, Jets QB Mark Sanchez has thrown one TD and eight interceptions — and the Jets have lost all three.
* The Lions looked lost on offense without Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. That was too easy for the Green Bay defense.
* The Titans packed it in yesterday in Foxborugh. That’s embarrassing for a team that won 13 games last season.
* Cincinnati can’t win without production from Cedric Benson. He finished with only 44 yards against Houston.
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