Sunday rewind: Week 4
Every Monday, the National Football Post's Matt Bowen runs down all of the Sunday action in the NFL.
Brady’s best day — so far
Don’t be fooled by the box score when judging Tom Brady’s performance in the Patriots’ win over the Ravens because it was his best day of the season. Brady threw for 258 and a touchdown, but more impressive from my point of view was his ability to work a tough Ravens pressure package in the intermediate passing game. The deep ball just isn’t there for Brady and Randy Moss right now, but he was able to work the middle of the field and use Moss on the outside to move the sticks and to keep the offense on the field in crucial situations. With the Pats’ inability to run the ball, this team relied on Brady to convert third downs and methodically work the ball down the field.
Give Brady credit. He grinded that game out, bounced back from a tough turnover and was the reason the Pats went home with a win against one of the best teams in the NFL.
Pittsburgh finds a runner
The positive from Sunday night’s Steelers win over the Chargers was the performance of their offensive line and RB Rashard Mendenhall, who looked like a first round pick with 165 yards on the ground. I was impressed at how easily the Steelers handled the front seven of the Chargers and the burst Mendenhall showed in the hole. This was a guy who was basically benched last week in the loss to Cincy, but he ran with power and hit the hole hard — something I’ve been waiting to see from him. I didn’t like the fact that the Steelers allowed the Chargers to get back in the game after two straight fourth-quarter losses, but this offense is much more effective when it doesn’t have to rely on QB Ben Roethlisberger to bail it out of tough situations. I was impressed with the running game.
Denver is for real
You have to admit that the Broncos are tough right now. I loved the play that Brandon Marshall made for the winning score, and when QB Kyle Orton protects the ball, this team can play with anyone -- because of Mike Nolan’s defense. They came into the game as the No.1 unit in the league, held Dallas to 74 yards on the ground and again showed they can get to the quarterback. What they’re doing is taking away the big play, and when a defense does that, it shows on the scoreboard and in the win column. Say what you want about schedules and the like, but the Broncos have a two-game lead in the AFC West, and you can’t get better than 4-0 right now.
Sanchez takes a step back
Mark Sanchez just didn’t have it in New Orleans. He made some questionable decisions in the passing game, and none was more evident than when he forced a ball into Darren Sharper’s hands in the first quarter. The Saints were playing your basic man-free coverage, and the Jets tried to run a double post out of a stack look. With only a TE backside, Sanchez has to know that a veteran playmaker like Sharper is going to cheat to the slot side — and he was sitting right in the passing lane. But this was an example of how his day went against Gregg Williams’ defense in New Orleans — which just happens to be leading this team right now. He can game plan with the best of them, and Sunday was a clear example of using both man and zone pressure to force the rookie into some bad decisions. Sanchez has learned a lot from that game tape, but he reminded us that he’s still a rookie — despite the hype.
We should find out more about the right knee of Lions rookie QB Matthew Stafford early this week, and it would be devastating for his development to miss a significant amount of time. Through the first four weeks, it’s obvious to me that Stafford has improved immensely with each game, and although he still missed some opportunities down the field in Chicago, you can’t help but notice how much talent this guy has. Some of the throws he made versus the Bears’ Cover 2 looks were eye-opening, and I expect him to continue to develop throughout the season, The wins might not be there for the Lions this season, but this kid can flat-out play in this league.
Time to sit JaMarcus
First-round picks are going to get every opportunity to prove themselves, but if you’re Raiders coach Tom Cable, it’s time to make a move at the quarterback position and sit JaMarcus Russell. He doesn’t see the field well, forces passes, and despite going against a Houston defense that was ranked dead last in the league statistically, he again failed to produce touchdown drives. Russell finished 12 of 33 for 128 yards and on the season is 31-75 for 378 yards with 1 TD and 4 picks. We talk about winning all the time, and that type of quarterback play never comes into the discussion. You can live with a guy who makes mistakes when he’s making plays, but Russell has shown this franchise in the last three weeks that he belongs on the bench.
Easy day for the Giants
Sunday’s game in K.C. demonstrated clearly how far apart these two teams are. The Giants are the league’s most complete team in my mind, and the Chiefs, under Todd Haley, are just trying to keep their head above water. Steve Smith went for 134 yards on 11 catches with 2 TDs, Eli Manning threw for 292 and 3 TDs, and the Giants ran the ball for 156 yards — while holding the Chiefs to 193 total yards. And don’t be fooled by the final score. The Chiefs’ offense got going in mop-up time at the end. Two teams going in complete opposite directions. Could Haley have inherited that bad a football team, or is this relationship in K.C. just not what we thought it would be? Way too easy for New York.
When your QB leads two fourth-quarter comebacks in consecutive weeks, you tend to forget about the issues your club is still facing — and that’s the running game in Chicago. Matt Forte ended with impressive numbers, racking up 121 yards on the ground on just 12 carries, but two of those runs combined for 98 yards. I still think this team has to work on continuing to increase Forte’s production, because when the weather changes in the NFC North, they’re going to need it to win games. Ron Turner’s offense is predicated on running the ball to set up the vertical passing game, and the more production this team gets from Forte, the more production it will get from Jay Cutler.
What happened to the Titans?
Hard to believe that the Titans are 0-4 after their 13-3 season in 2008, but that happ ens when your quarterback struggles and your defense — the same one you relied on all of last season — begins to fall apart. Kerry Collins threw 13 consecutive incompletions last week to close out the loss to the Jets and went 29 of 48 with 2 INTs. Time to play Vince Young? Not really sure that would make a difference, because the way the defense is allowing points compared to last season, you have to wonder if any quarterback can be successful playing from behind the whole game. I love Jeff Fisher as a head coach, but he’ll be tested now — because it will take a magical run to get back in this thing.
And what about the Jags?
I’m still trying to figure out the Jags. They played tough in a Week 1 loss at Indy, were dissected by Kurt Warner and the Cards and then ripped off two straight wins where QB David Garrard and this offense couldn’t make a mistake. I’m not sold on them by any means, but their sudden ability to score points has me thinking.
Peyton impressive — again
Four games, four 300-yard days for Peyton Manning. Right now, he’s too hard to game plan for because he’s so well prepared to take advantage of the defense. And when you take something away, he’ll expose something else. No quarterback is playing better than Manning right now, and when he comes to the line of scrimmage, it’s almost as if he’s toying with the defense. So good, and so fun to watch. I said it over the weekend, and I will say it again: He is, without a doubt, my MVP so far — and I don’t see him or the Colts slowing down.
Niners go to 3-1
It’s hard to forget that the Niners are one play away from being 4-0. This team can play with anyone, and it will be prepared every Sunday. Three touchdowns by the defense and special teams? That’s winning football under Mike Singletary. San Fran pounded that Rams team. Is it too early to call them the favorites in the NFC West? I don’t think so.
*The Bengals didn’t execute well on offense Sunday, but they made plays in critical situations to win. I agree that it will be a game tape full of mistakes, but division wins on the road are huge — even in Cleveland.
*Is it safe to say the wheels are falling off in Buffalo? Trent Edwards looks like a first-year player in the pocket, and Terrell Owens is becoming an afterthought.
*Speaking of the Bills, how can you win on the road when you give up 250 yards rushing? Miami may struggle in the big-play department, but it can run the ball.
*Doesn’t it feel like the Redskins are teetering on disaster right now? A big play from Santana Moss and Jason Campbell saved them, but they never looked comfortable.
*The Ravens’ Ray Rice is too good to only get 11 carries in a big game. As good as Joe Flacco is, 47 passes are too many with the talent they have in the backfield.
*Derek Anderson gives the Browns more opportunities to score points, but he still needed to make a play in overtime.
*Why do teams still throw at Broncos CB Champ Bailey? He had four pass deflections and a pick against Tony Romo and the Cowboys.
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