by Matt Bowen
November 02, 02009
Every Monday, the National Football Post’s Matt Bowen starts off the day breaking down Sunday’s action in the NFL.
Favre does it to the Pack — again
I don’t need to say much about Brett Favre after he threw four TDs in his return to Lambeau Field because we all saw it. He was efficient, he protected the ball and, like we’ve seen all season with him in a Vikings uniform, he took advantage of field position and delivered — allowing his guys to make plays for him when he put the ball in the air. Brett can make plays on his own, but he’s that much better when he gets the ball on the plus side of the 50-yard line because of Percy Harvin – who’s running away with the rookie of the year award -- in the kicking game and his defense.
But we have to wonder about Mike McCarthy and the Packers right now. Why the slow start? Why the terrible special teams play? And why was this offense dormant through the first half? From my perspective, this team wasn’t ready to play at the start of the game, and the Vikings are too good a team to come out of the tunnel and play timid, cautious football. QB Aaron Rodgers was slow with his reads, held the ball, and when he did have time to throw, the slow developing routes of the Packers were sucked up by the Vikings’ Tampa 2 scheme. Sure, the comeback was nice, and when Rodgers moves his feet in the pocket he’s special to watch, but Favre put the game away when he had to. Disappointing to play that flat in the first half of a game that was so big for the Packers. Can’t do that in this league.
Miami makes a stand
Give this Dolphins team some credit for making plays in the fourth quarter Sunday at the Meadowlands because we haven’t seen that so far this season. Yes, the Dolphins are an unconventional football team and used a defensive touchdown and two kickoff returns form Ted Ginn to put points on the board, but the fourth quarter stand in the red zone — on the road in a divisional game — was huge. You need that, especially after the fourth-quarter letdown to the Colts and the collapse against the Saints last week. I love this team’s physical play, but I needed to see them play defense in the fourth quarter like they did yesterday against the Jets before I could buy them as a real contender.
Big plays win again in Philly
I always question teams that have to rely on big plays to score points, but the Eagles seem to defy that logic because they do it so frequently. Sunday was another example of how Andy Reid’s offense can take advantage of poor secondary play — which is becoming a serious issue in New York. Donovan McNabb threw three TD passes and was able to throw the deep ball and challenge the Giants’ secondary down the middle of the field. With the way Philly can produce points quickly and a defense that has given it a plus-12 turnover ratio, it’s hard not to buy the Eagles. But can it last? Right now, I think it can, because they have enough playmakers to win the East — if the big plays continue.
More trouble for Eli
As good as the Eagles were on offense, defense and special teams, Giants QB Eli Manning was just the opposite, struggling again. I almost found myself questioning if Manning was healthy because after two straight weeks of poor play against the Saints and the Cardinals, he continued to force passes and look confused when reading coverages. I don’t think it’s time to panic yet, but the Giants have too much talent to lose three in a row and watch Eli play at below average in all three losses. It usually starts and ends with the quarterback in this league.
The Ravens’ game plan
What I took from the Ravens’ win over the previously unbeaten Broncos was their game plan. I’ve been waiting for this team to do what I think wins in Baltimore — defense and ball control — and that happened Sunday. At the end of the day, the Ravens are most impressive when they get off the field on defense and come out the huddle running the ball with Ray Rice, who is becoming one of the better backs in the league. Yes, Joe Flacco was good again, but he didn’t have to throw the ball over 40 times. As a team, the Ravens ran the ball 35 times to Flacco’s 25 pass attempts, and when Ray Lewis and this defense play a suffocating style against a good Broncos offense — plus get a play on special teams — how can you count them out? That was a big win for Baltimore, and a statement win — if they continue to follow the game plan. Reminded me of last year’s team.
With the problems down in Carolina, the long trip and questions about whether Jake Delhomme should even start this week, I didn’t give the Panthers much of a chance to steal one of the road. But we have to remember that Kurt Warner is good for one or two of these games a season. And when that happens, the Cardinals can be beaten by anyone. Just as we talked about with Eli in Philly, Warner was awful in ‘Zona. He threw five interceptions and lost a fumble. Add in the fact that Carolina ran the ball down the throats of the Cards (270 yards) and this was an ugly day for Arizona. It makes you wonder how this team could go in and play a physical style of football in a win over the Giants and then lay down up front the week after. Nice win for Panthers coach John Fox.
Ball control wins again for Texans
I like the Texans right now, and it isn’t because of my bet with Michael Lombardi. They’re winning because they’re playing balanced football, and Sunday was a perfect example. Steve Slaton goes to the bench and they plug in Ryan Moats, who goes for 126 yards and three TDs. As a team, the Texans ran the ball 40 times and held it for almost 40 minutes. That wins, no matter who’s running the ball. By doing this, they’re able to take some of the game plan out of the lap of QB Matt Schaub, who can then test opposing secondaries who are forced to play man-to-man coverage. This team has the ability to play meaningful football in December if they stick to this game plan.
Indy is still rolling
Peyton Manning did leave some plays on the field, and the Colts did struggle to run the football, but the good that comes from this game for Indy is that it was able to grind out a win and stay undefeated — complete with a halfback pass from Joseph Addai for the winning score. Sometimes, finding a way to win in this league on Sunday is just as important as playing your best game. And even with Manning having an “off” day by missing some key passes, he still threw for 347 yards without a turnover. Just win, watch the film and then move on to next week’s game plan.
Lovie’s D makes some plays
It’s hard to judge a team’s performance against Cleveland because the Browns are so bad on offense. Derek Anderson still can’t put points on the board, and he gives the ball away so easily that I would worry about this Bears defense if they didn’t make some plays — because they’re expected to against the Browns. Now, that doesn’t hide the fact that Jay Cutler played poorly again, Matt Forte averaged less than four yards a carry and the Bears had to settle for field goals in the red zone multiple times. The turnovers were the catalyst for the Bears to score points, and that isn’t why the trade was made for Cutler. But that’s where Chicago is right now. They’re still looking up at Minnesota and Green Bay because of the opening night loss, and until they can run the ball and set up some big plays for Cutler down the field, Bears fans had better get used to relying on defense and special teams to win. But can they force five turnovers every week on defense?
Don’t forget about the ‘Boys
After the road loss to Denver, the Cowboys had faded away when it comes to talking about the league’s top teams. But they’ve won three in a row, and Tony Romo is playing the best football of his career, in my opinion. It’s obvious what the emergence of Miles Austin has done for his game, but I liked how Romo was able to spread the ball around to multiple receivers. Sure, Seattle was a game the ‘Boys are supposed to win at home, but it’s the way they’re winning that’s impressive to me. We know they have the ability to run the ball, but quarterbacks in this league win big games — and Romo is playing well enough for Dallas to do that.
Chris Johnson overshadows V.Y.’s return
Before we all get on the Vince Young train after the Titans won for the first time this season, let’s be honest: He played a good game, but give credit to RB Chris Johnson. The game plan was well-suited for V.Y.’s first game back, and I do think he did a good job protecting the football and being efficient in the passing game -- but this day belong to Johnson. It’s amazing how fast this guy can get to the second level and how easy it is for him to split defenders and get down the field. He’s good for three or four of these types of games a year, and when you get home Sunday night after running for 228 yards and two TDs, life is good.
Rams get a win
Hats off to Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams, getting that first win of the season. Steven Jackson (22-149-1 TD) continues to run hard despite a lost season, and Spag’s defense came back and made some plays after they were blown out last week at home. But for Jim Schwartz and the Lions, this is a major step in the wrong direction. That’s a game they should win and a game they have to win if they want to continue improving.
* The Chargers beat Oakland again, but the next three weeks will tell us if they’re going to get back into the AFC West race with the Broncos: at the Giants, vs. Philly and at Denver. The road is going to get tougher than K.C. and Oakland.
* Maurice Jones-Drew had 177 yards — on eight carries. The first thing the Jags need to do this offseason is find some playmakers to put around this guy. You can build an entire offense around MJD.
* Michael Crabtree’s route running will continue to improve over time, but you have to be impressed with his hands. The kid is good.
* The injury to Owen Daniels in Houston is big. He’s a playmaker and one of the top tight ends in the league. The Texans will miss his production.
* I’m not sure that Lions QB Matthew Stafford, who had been out with an injury, was ready to play. His performance (14-33-168-1 INT) tell us that he wasn’t, and part of his learning curve will be producing when he’s not completely healthy. No one is at this point in the season.
* Alex Smith is the right choice for the 49ers because they’re tougher to prepare for when he’s under center. He gives San Fran more options than Shaun Hill.
* Do you think the Browns are regretting trading out of the No.5 spot in the draft — and passing on Mark Sanchez?
* The Jets should have players in for workouts on Tuesday — looking for guys who can cover kicks. If you give up two kick returns for touchdowns, someone on those coverage units is going to lose their job.
* Why is Ahman Green returning kicks in Green Bay? He isn't going to give the Packers a big play in that role.
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