Every Monday morning, the National Football Post’s Matt Bowen brings you a rundown of Sunday’s action in the NFL.
Second-half adjustments in Miami
What was so impressive about the Saints’ comeback win Sunday in Miami were the adjustments coach Sean Payton and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams made to their game plans in the second half. On defense, the Saints started to limit the production of the Dolphins’ wildcat offense and produced two scores themselves on interception returns — forcing Chad Henne, a young, inexperienced quarterback, to throw the ball where they wanted it to go.
And on offense, Payton started running the ball with Mike Bell, keeping the Dolphins’ defense on the field and forcing them to bring an eighth defender in the box. Throughout the first half, the Dolphins secondary challenged the Saints receivers down the field better than any defense I’ve seen this season, but that didn’t last in the second half — when Bell got going. Running the ball in this offense opens up passing lanes down the field. That’s why Brees was able to bounce back after that first half and the Saints were able to score 22 fourth-quarter points. Big coaching moves by the Saints.
The Cardinals defense
What was most impressive about Arizona’s win on the road in the Meadowlands was the play of its defense — and, more important, how it attacked Eli Manning and the Giants. Arizona used a wide variety of pressure looks and dropped into coverage enough at the snap that I felt as if Manning made some throws that were ill-advised because he was confused at what he saw from his pre-snap reads. The Cardinals forced four turnovers and picked off Manning, who never looked comfortable, three times. By far, the best defensive game plan I saw on Sunday. Yes, they gave up some plays, but their secondary attacked the football and made enough plays of their own to win.
Vikings go down
Beyond the fact that the Steelers defense is back making game-changing plays — something we’ve talked about in recent weeks — two separate situations struck me as reasons Minnesota couldn’t take control of this game when they had the chance. At the end of the half, the Vikings should have gone into the locker room up 7-3, but their defense played timid and soft in that final two-minute drill. They sat back in coverage, and Ben Roethlisberger was able to sit in the pocket and throw down the field — going 91 yards in eight plays to take a 10-7 lead at the half.
On offense, the Vikings — down 13-7 in the third — had a first-and-goal opportunity and decided to try two play-action passes. Am I wrong or do you go with Adrian Peterson on three consecutive running plays in that situation? We talked about good coaching in the Saints win, but this is an example of questionable coaching in the Vikings loss.
Sure, the two turnovers that were returned for scores were killers for Minnesota, but that doesn’t hide the fact that those were two situations that should have won. Different game if they go into the locker room with the lead or punch it in for a TD in the third quarter instead of settling for a field goal.
Raiders take a step back
I was shocked by the Raiders’ performance at home against the Jets. Here’s a New York team coming across the country after three straight losses and holding on to their offense with a struggling rookie QB, and Oakland — one week after a very impressive win over the Eagles — goes back to playing undisciplined and unsound football in a 38-0 beating, giving up over 300 yards on the ground.. How does this happen? How can a team that looks so good, almost as if they’re about to come together as a team, go back to a dysfunctional brand of football on both sides of the ball the week after? I completely agree with the benching of QB JaMarcus Russell, a move that could have been made two weeks ago, but he can’t shoulder the entire blame for this. Good teams in this league play with consistency, and the Raiders just can’t figure that out.
The Packers offensive line got better Sunday — and even though it was a cakewalk for Green Bay in Cleveland, that’s how their offense is supposed to look on Sundays. They have so many big-play weapons, and when Ryan Grant runs the ball with an average of over five yards a carry, the offensive game plan looks easy for QB Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers completed 15 passes for 246 yards, good for over 12 yards an attempt. What that means is that the Packers will be able to throw the ball down the field and are able to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers because they’ve established a running game. And when Rodgers does drop back to pass, he can sit and pick his targets in the pocket. I can see how frustrating the early part of this season has been for Packers fans because days like yesterday show us just how impressive this offense can be. Now they have to do it against the Vikings.
Romo to Austin — again
If the Cowboys are going to contend for the NFC East title, this sudden combination of Tony Romo and Miles Austin will have to continue to produce on Sundays. And we have to start believing they will after Austin had another big day against a much more talented defense this week in the Falcons — catching six passes for 171 yards and 2 TDs. By far, of all the action I watched Sunday, Dallas, especially Romo and Austin, impressed me the most. Romo has never looked so confident in the pocket, and his footwork was outstanding as he was able to keep plays alive and deliver the ball on target. I like the idea of this team moving forward because it now has a big-play threat on the outside to go along with TE Jason Witten and the running game. Roy Williams was never the answer, and it’s really starting to show with the emergence of Austin.
The Bills’ Tampa 2 defense
Quietly, the Bills have won two ugly games in a row and most likely have saved head coach Dick Jauron’s job by doing it. But how is this team winning with the numbers it gives up on defense? In the last two games, Buffalo has yielded 839 yards of offense but only 23 points. However, the stat that matters in any Tampa 2 defense is turnovers, and in the last two weeks, the Bills have forced 10 — including nine interceptions. Those are huge defensive numbers, and we should add in the fact that the Bills are playing with backups at plenty of key positions. Every Tampa 2 struggles at times to stop the run because of their seven–man fronts, but when you rush four and drop seven into coverage, there are plenty of opportunities to make plays on the football — and that’s exactly what Buffalo has done.
Alex Smith returns
How different was this Niners offense with Alex Smith under center? San Fran opened up the playbook, ran multiple empty sets and used its weapons — such as TE Vernon Davis — to create mismatches down the field in the vertical passing game. I thought Smith looked poised in the pocket and threw the ball with confidence. But it was still a loss because Houston was able to limit the Niners in the running game (59 total yards) and set up its play-action passing game and because Steve Slaton (18 carries) was involved in the game plan again. Different football team when they run the ball to set up their passing attack down the field — using ball control instead of the quick-strike scheme we’re used to seeing — and it helps my bet with Michael Lombardi.
Carson carves up the Bears
I can’t recall a time when a Lovie Smith defense in Chicago or St. Louis was victimized as much as it was in Cincinnati. Outside of one-on-one matchups, it almost looked as if Carson Palmer and the Bengals offense knew what to expect from Smith on his call sheet every time they broke the huddle. The Bears secondary looked vulnerable from the start, and for Palmer, that was too easy. He had time to throw, and when he looked down the field, he always had open options on his way to five TD passes. Add in Cedric Benson’s day (37-189-1 TD) and this was an absolute embarrassment for Chicago as a defense. If I’m Lovie Smith, I take tomorrow’s meeting and practice to re-teach the responsibilities of his Tampa 2 defense. They have too much talent to play that poorly as a unit.
Virtual bye weeks…
Indy, New England and San Diego had it too easy in blowout wins.
The Colts rolled up 42 points on the Rams, and although Peyton Manning’s streak of 300-yard passing days ended at five, he still threw three TD passes, and the Indy offense didn’t have a single turnover in St. Louis. Is it too early to call the Colts the AFC favorite?
In London, Tom Brady let his receivers do the work for him, getting the ball out of his hands quickly and letting the talent take over. The Tampa secondary isn’t good enough yet to match up with a team like New England, which has now outscored its opponents 94-7 the last two weeks. That’s an amazing number and something we don’t see in the NFL.
In K.C., the Bolts got a much-needed win, and we saw how impressive they can be on offense when Philip Rivers connects with Vincent Jackson down the field. Where was this last Monday against Denver? And can we start to wonder about Matt Cassel in Kansas City? How long do we have to wait for him to show his worth on the field?
* Is it time to start including Texans TE Owen Daniels in discussions about the best at the position in the league? He caught seven passes for 123 yards against a good Niners defense.
* The Jets rushed for over 300 yards for the second consecutive week, and rookie Shonn Greene is a talent. He went for 144 and two scores and should see a ton of action with Leon Washington now out with an injury.
* Vikings WR Sidney Rice is developing at a fast rate because of Brett Favre, who puts the ball up for him to make plays. Not every quarterback has that type of confidence in an unproven wide receiver.
* Is it me, or does Atlanta running back Michael Turner look slower getting to the hole? Last season, he hit the hole with force and speed, and I don’t see that right now.
* Niners rookie WR Michael Crabtree had as impressive a performance as you’ll see from a guy who practiced for about a week in the NFL. His five catches already put him ahead of Raiders rookie WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, who has four on the season.
* Something to look at from the Buffalo win: Lee Evans had his best day of the season (5-75-1 TD), but more important, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick threw at the combo of Evans and Terrell Owens (3-27) a combined 16 times. That’s a good sign for this offense.
* Is the NFC East now up for grabs? Don’t count out Philly and Dallas to win the division.
* How ‘bout them Hawkeyes?
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