Let’s take a look back at the Week 8 action. My “winners” and “losers” from the slate of Sunday games…
1. The Packers’ defense: Not easy to pitch a shutout in this league. Starts with Dom Capers’ game plan. By limiting the running game of Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson (both averaged under 4-yards per carry), the Packers had the opportunity to play coverage over pressure on third downs. Rush three, drop eight, which allows the secondary to play with depth and drive downhill on receivers. Mentioned it yesterday in my game notes, and I will say it again: when DBs are playing with confidence, they challenge opposing receivers and get their hands on the football. Great defensive football to watch.
ICONBrady and the Pats closed out the Vikings with a 13-play TD drive in the 4th quarter.
2. The Patriots' offense: Have to go back to the final scoring drive for New England. 13 plays, 80-yards in the fourth quarter—that put the game away. QB Tom Brady doesn’t have big numbers, but this team is 6-1 because they make plays in crucial situations and close out opponents. The Vikings cut the Pats’ lead down to three after New England knocked Brett Favre out of the game. Need to respond as an offense in that situation. New England uses a solid mix of run and pass, key conversions on 3rd downs and 2-back power running on the goal line. This is why they continue to win under Belichick.
3. The Raiders: Can we call the Raiders a contender after the last two weeks? Ran through the Broncos in Week 7, and did the same yesterday against a good Seattle team. Jason Campbell throws for 300-plus, the Oakland offense rushes for 239-yards and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey shows up in the box score (5-105-1TD). Have said it before here at the NFP: if you can play defense and run the ball you can compete every Sunday in this league. After that, it comes down to QB play if you want to be in the playoff discussion. Right now, the Raiders look like a physical football team that is getting that consistent QB play form Campbell. And, we now get to see Oakland play a big November football game next Sunday vs. the 5-2 Chiefs.
4. The Saints’ defense: Solid game plan. Multiple looks and a great use of the secondary in the blitz game. Gave up the one big run to Rashard Mendenhall on a missed tackle, but outside of that, this defense attacked, played a lot of combination man-coverage and used their zone blitz schemes to send extra pressure at Steelers’ QB Ben Roethlisberger. The biggest play of the game? Darren Sharper scoops up a fumble in the fourth quarter. And that’s why you want him back on the field—because he is always around the ball. Big win in the Dome.
5. LeGarrette Blount: From a player’s perspective, you like to see young talent in the NFL take advantage of an opportunity—because it doesn’t come along often. An undrafted player who is still carrying around the image from that post game punch back at Oregon. Yesterday, runs the ball 22 times for 120-yards and 2 TDs. Those are feature back numbers. Going into Week 8, Blount had 21 total carries on the season. Now, gives the 5-2 Bucs another option in the backfield. Can run with power, breaks tackles and does have that speed to get to the second level of the defense.
1. The Cowboys: You know there is going to be a drop-off in talent between Tony Romo and Jon Kitna. We saw it yesterday when Kitna threw 4 INTs. But, where is the rest of this Cowboys’ team? The Dallas’ defense played like they were in a throw away game in late December. The secondary looked vulnerable for the second week in a row and Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew ate up that front seven. On offense, where are the playmakers? Someone has to step up when there is an injury and carry this unit. Didn’t see it. The Cowboys played like they are ready to pack it in—and the 1-6 record reflects that.
ICONShanahan pulled starting QB Donovan McNabb in the loss at Detroit.
2. Mike Shanahan: Going to be a big topic of discussion this week out in D.C. after Shanahan gave the hook to starting QB Donovan McNabb—and brought Rex Grossman into the game. Forget numbers, or the score of the game, because when you yank your No.1 that sends a message to the locker room. I don’t agree with the move, and regardless of McNabb's contract situation for next season, taking the leader of the offense out of the game doesn’t add up from the perspective of the players on that team. I know McNabb has struggled at times in this offense, but he is still the player who is looked at as the overall leader of this football team. Don’t disrupt that when you are a 4-4 team that can still be a player in the NFC East.
3. The Bengals: Can put the blame all over this roster and on head coach Marvin Lewis. At 2-5, Cincy can forget about talking about the post season playing in the same division as Baltimore and Pittsburgh. The lack of big plays is evident for the Bengals. QB Carson Palmer again fails to make a key play in the fourth quarter and this defense under Mike Zimmer—the same defense that was so dominant in ’09—isn’t opportunistic. You need that to survive an NFL season.
4. The Bills: Two straight weeks this Buffalo team was in position to win a game. Lost the ball in OT against the Ravens in Week 7 and then had a great opportunity at the end of regulation against the Chiefs Sunday in K.C. Run the “RB flip” to Fred Jackson on a 3rd and 1 situation and then QB Ryan Fitzpatrick comes back the next play and throws an INT. Those are the type of situations that good football teams convert on and set up a chance to win the game. Forget about being competitive, because you are judged on wins and losses in the NFL. At 0-7, that is all we see right now with Buffalo.
5. Josh McDaniels: Since that 6-0 start in ’09, this Broncos’ team has gone backwards. They aren’t physical up front on either side of the ball and when you give up 21 points in the 4th quarter to the Niners that has to come back to the head coach. If Denver continues to lose games, there is no reason that we shouldn’t put his name on the hot seat. With the way Oakland and Kansas City are playing, the 2-6 Broncos need a major run to get back into the AFC West race.
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