Every Monday morning, the National Football Post’s Matt Bowen breaks down Sunday’s action in the NFL.
Dallas takes control of the East
Sunday night’s Cowboys victory was a clear example of what can happen to the Eagles when they have the big play taken out of their game plan. The Dallas defense went into the matchup for first place in the NFC East with their pressure packages as their lead calls, and Eagles WR DeSean Jackson couldn’t get open down the field. Philly is not a team that can go up and down the field with the run game and the short-to-intermediate passing game. It needs big plays and chunks of yardage, and its playmakers didn’t deliver. But the Cowboys’ playmakers did. The double move Miles Austin ran on Sheldon Brown was enough for Tony Romo, who once again looked pretty cool in the pocket. Outside of the ball he forced to Jason Witten down the seam, Romo was consistent and made enough plays for the ‘Boys to take this one on the road. Romo has thrown nine TDs during their current four game-winning streak and continues to play high-level football. I was impressed.
Texans push Indy but can’t finish
There’s a reason the Colts are 8-0, and it’s the same reason the Texans can compete with Indy, can outhit Indy and can look like a playoff team but still come up short at the end of the game. Three turnovers — two of which were in the red zone — plus countless penalties and a missed field goal to send the game into OT. But you look at Indy — especially Peyton Manning — down 17-13 in the fourth quarter, and you don’t doubt that the Colts will find a way to come back, make a big play on defense and stay atop the AFC South. Was this a game the Texans could have had? Sure, they were much more physical up front in my view, but to beat Indy, and to be considered a serious playoff contender, you have to find ways to win on the road. And if you’re kicker Kris Brown, well, as a pro you have to put that one through the uprights. Too many mistakes to win a big game. Houston isn’t there yet.
The Saints continue to make big plays
New Orleans didn’t play well against the run, and it didn’t make enough plays in the first half — including two Drew Brees turnovers — but as I said above about the Colts, the best teams in this league play well in the second half and shut down opponents in the fourth quarter. Giving up 182-yards rushing to the Panthers will make for a long day in the Saints defensive meeting room today with Gregg Williams, but scoring on defense to seal the eighth win in a row to start the season — part of a 17-0 run to close out the game — is the reason the Saints are so dangerous. They continue to make plays at crucial times, and until someone can challenge them in this regard, who can beat them right now?
The Bengals sweep
The Bengals have to be growing on us because they know what works — and right now it’s the running game of Cedric Benson, who again rushed for 100 yards on the Ravens, and Mike Zimmer’s defense. Sure, Carson Palmer’s play will always make a difference, but as we sit here and look at the first place Bengals, it’s hard not to consider them serious contenders for a postseason spot because of their game plan. That’s now a sweep over the Ravens, and when you can consistently run the ball against a defensive front like Baltimore’s and play fundamentally sound defense against a special back like Ray Rice, you’re getting some work done. This team is a serious threat to the Steelers to win the division.
Fitzgerald gives it to Tillman, Lovie
Love Smith is in a tough spot right now in Chicago. This is his football team, but more important, this is also his defense – the same one that was just carved up at Soldier Field by Kurt Warner and the Cardinals. Cover 2, zone-blitz, man pressure — it didn’t matter, because even without WR Anquan Boldin, the Cards were able to win any one-on-one matchup they wanted against the Bears defense — especially when Larry Fitzgerald matched up with Charles Tillman because he owned the Bears corner throughout the first half. I wrote this weekend that I would pressure Warner if I were making the calls for the Bears defense, but in a game like this — which was over at halftime despite the Bears’ marginal comeback — I wouldn’t know what to call. That’s how much better the Cards were on offense here in Chicago. Fitzgerald finishes with 123 yards and two scores on nine catches, Warner throws five TDs -- and Lovie didn’t have an answer.
Giants go down — again
We all know the Giants are struggling, and Sunday was a clear example of where they are as a team. They should have been able to close out the Chargers at home — especially when Philip Rivers has to go 80 yards for the winning score. But beyond that, some credit is due the Bolts because they went all the way east and beat a very physical Giants team. I didn’t like this matchup for the Bolts because I seriously doubted their front seven’s ability to match up with the Giants running game, and although they weren’t perfect, they were able to contain the rushing attack and force field goals in the red zone. But this game came down to what we didn’t expect from the Giants — penalties in crucial situations and a soft defense on that final drive. Nothing special from the Chargers, including the game winner from Rivers to Vincent Jackson. A basic 7-route. Corey Webster has to find the ball in that situation and know where his safety help is. Another example of how basic fundamentals are killing the Giants — and now they’re at four losses in a row.
Tennessee on a mini-run
I won’t say that this is eerily similar to the 2006 Titans, who went on a big run in the second half of the season with Vince Young at quarterback, but it’s hard not to notice how different of a football team they’ve been the past two weeks with V.Y. under center — and having Chris Johnson produce big numbers again doesn’t hurt. Because when Johnson runs like he did Sunday (25-135-2 TDs), Young doesn’t have to make a ton of plays to win the game — and his defense has made plays on the football for the second week in a row. This couldn’t happen again like it did in ’06, could it?
Packers stunned in Tampa
I felt the Packers were unprepared to play football for the second week in a row, and this is a good lesson for any player in the league because no matter whom you play, if you turn the ball over, make mistakes in the kicking game and play poorly in the secondary, you’ll lose at this level. And that’s why we have to get past the shock factor of this game because Green Bay didn’t play well enough to beat anyone yesterday. QB Aaron Rodgers didn’t make enough plays, and when your defense allows a rookie QB — in his first-ever pro start — to throw three TD passes, including the game winner when you’re protecting a lead in the fourth quarter, there are some major issues to correct. A big, big loss for a Packers team that needed to win, and a great debut performance by Josh Freeman. Talk about a tough plane ride home for Green Bay.
Randy Moss is still dangerous
I figured this would be a game that Tom Brady and the Patriots would have to grind out because no one can roll through the Dolphins with the way they control the clock and run the ball on offense. And that’s what happened — Laurence Maroney ran hard and Brady made plays to move the chains. But Randy Moss still has to be the most dangerous weapon in this league when it comes to the passing game. On his 71-yard TD that ultimately gave New England the win, the Pats ran a version of Hi-Lo Crossers, where Moss was the underneath route coming from the other side of the field — matched up with rookie Vontae Davis. No chance, folks. That play was a classic example of how dangerous he is because a simple tackle by Davis forces the Pats to go back to the huddle and try to beat the Miami defense again. But a smooth stiff arm and this game is over. Six grabs for 147 yards and the TD — and New England is starting to pull away from the rest of the AFC East.
Tough day for the rookie
Matthew Stafford’s day was a classic example of what can happen when you play a rookie at the quarterback position. A 17-0 lead, two TD passes and then, an utter collapse. The Lions will learn how to win these games and how to protect a lead, but that will happen only when their QB can protect the ball. Rookie or not, five interceptions won’t cut it in the NFL, especially against a secondary like Seattle’s that Stafford is talented enough to take advantage of.
Turner on a roll
If you’re an Atlanta fan, you loved seeing Michael Turner start producing in last week’s Monday night loss to the Saints -- and yesterday was another example that his slow start is behind him. I questioned Turner during the first two months of the season because he didn’t look explosive running downhill, and I thought he had lost a step when it came to getting to the second level of the defense. But just like last week when he was able to press the edge of the Saints’ defense, Turner didn’t look like an overworked back while running through the ‘Skins defense for 166 yards and two scores on 18 carries. Atlanta needs this to continue to take some of the game plan away from Matt Ryan — because it has the talent to play postseason football.
MJD puts in some work
Sure, the Chiefs-Jags game probably wasn’t the most watched matchup, but how about the workload Jags RB Maurice Jones-Drew put in -- 29 carries and three receptions. Thirty-two touches in one game? This guy is a workhorse and the reason the Jags can compete on Sundays.
* Lovie Smith has already benched Tommie Harris this season, and yesterday’s stunt of slugging a defenseless player in the head is a good as reason as any to send him back to the bench again. I can’t see this guy returning to Chicago next year.
* How about the debut of WR Chris Chambers in K.C.? The Chargers castoff caught three passes for 70 yards and two TDs.
* What happened to the Niners? This team is a long way from that 3-1 start and has now dropped four in a row.
* Peyton Manning threw the ball 50 times Sunday — and completed 14 passes to TE Dallas Clark. Texans rookie LB Brain Cushing struggled in coverage all day when he was matched up with Clark.
* The Packers have now given up a league high 37 sacks. It’s a combination of poor O-line play and Aaron Rodgers eating the ball in the pocket.
* Chris Johnson of the Titans needs to be in the discussion when we talk about the best running backs in the league. I know Adrian Peterson should be the first name we say, but Johnson isn’t far behind.
* The Colts-Patriots matchup this weekend will be big when home field advantage is handed out in January.
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