Handicapping the NFL: AFC News and Notes
Submitted by Teddy Covers
Tags: NFL AFC Cincinnati Bengals Tennessee Titans Cleveland Browns Houston Texans New York Jets Miami Dolphins Indianapolis Colts Teddy Covers
Welcome to Teddy Covers’ unique look at the NFL. Teddy watches the games typing furiously on his laptop while giving you the key info that the box scores and game recaps simply don’t have. This week: AFC tidbits from Week 10.
Bengals – Carson Palmer clearly showed the effects of his inability to practice for most of the week, making an awful throw off his back foot, resulting in a pick six and an immediate momentum swing against them early. On their next drive, we saw another turnover, leading to another touchdown. The exact same thing happened last week on Monday Night – early turnovers taking Cinci out of their game plan, putting them in a deep hole before they've worked up a sweat. These things don't seem to happen to teams with positive momentum and chemistry, but the Bengals are lacking in both categories these days. Cinci tends to play their best football when they're trying to rally from behind, as they did here, turning a 17-0 first quarter deficit into a competitive game. At least this team is smart enough to take shots with their big play weapons down the field – no dink and dunk from this offense. Very impressive performance from the defensive line today, stepping up after getting pushed around repeatedly through the first two months of the season. Carlos Dunlap spent the whole afternoon in Peyton Manning's face, by far his best game of his rookie campaign – he entered the game with four tackles and no sacks for the season.
Browns – Peyton Hillis might be a rumbling, stumbling monster of a running back, but his fumble problems of late showed why the Broncos were willing to get rid of him. He lost his fourth fumble of the season here, those massive arms unable to hang onto the football when he's dragging tacklers who continue to chop away at the ball. But despite those fumble issues, there aren't many RB's in the NFL I'd rather have on my team right now than Hillis, particularly with equally physical and rarely noticed Lawrence Vickers opening holes as his fullback. Hillis has a TD in eight of the Browns nine games this season, by far their most reliable offensive weapon. The Browns are kind of a throwback team right now – lots of running, lots of blocking, lots of hard hitting, not many flashy trick plays or high octane throws downfield. And that physical mentality is working – Cleveland didn't punt for the first 40 minutes of this ballgame. With the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, Colt McCoy continued his impressive rookie campaign, driving the team down the field for the game tying touchdown. Right now, McCoy is better than veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace; the clear choice moving forward.
Colts – Indy had 28 scores in 29 red zone tries coming into the game including 19 touchdowns, but they were forced to settle for field goals repeatedly here; a clear difference in red zone execution without so many of their key skill position weapons. And make no mistake about it – this team is as banged up as it gets in the skill position department, missing numerous key contributors: Anthony Gonzalez, Austin Collie, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Mike Hart and Blair White. Basically, Reggie Wayne is the only opening day skill position starter still healthy, leaving Peyton Manning with an extremely depleted receiving corps around him. When you sign a rookie 5-7 receiver Brandon James from your practice squad this week and he's the team's second leading receiver at halftime, it's a clear indicator that this is not a healthy squad. We saw back-to-back three and outs from the Colts offense after halftime, two consecutive ugly possessions that were extremely atypical of Indy's usual offensive game. Good thing the Colts can score on defense, with Kelvin Hayden taking an early pick to the house, his second INT for TD this season. Tyjuan Hagler followed with a game clinching interception return in the fourth quarter. This red zone defense stands out as truly impressive – teams just don't score many TDs from inside the 20 against this stop unit.
Dolphins – Tony Sparano rolled the dice with an ill fated fake punt from inside his own 30 yard line, handing the Titans an easy score. Then they allowed a long punt return following their next drive. Clearly, those special teams’ woes which were on full display in that early Monday Night game against the Patriots have not been solved six weeks later. At least their flea flicker worked; a 54 yard completion to Brian Hartline. Clearly, Sparano was pretty close to desperate here, willing to resort to a bevy of trick plays in an effort to pump up this struggling offense. But what's happened to this running game? Miami has been a run-first team for the last few years, but they haven't had any back reach even 80 yards on the ground in any 2010 game. The Dolphins gave up on the run throughout much of the second half before the two Chad’s got hurt – their first 15 rush attempts produced a grand total of 18 yards.
Jets – The Jets were extremely lucky to sneak past the Lions last week in a game that they never sniffed a pointspread cover. Before that, they lost outright as big home favorites against the injury riddled Packers, despite having the benefit of extra rest and preparation time because of their bye week. Before the bye, the Jets were again, extremely lucky, needing a miracle pass interference call on fourth down to sneak past lowly Denver by four points. And prior to that, thinking back to that Monday Night game against the Vikings, let’s not forget that Minnesota was driving for the winning score before Brett Favre's late pick six allowed the Jets to get another fortuitous cover. The reality is that the last good 60 minutes of football played by this team was back in Week 4 against the winless Bills. I’ll give the Jets credit for finding ways to win close games, but no streaks – lucky or unlucky – continue indefinitely. This is not a dominant defense, despite the hype – a good D, but not a true shutdown stop unit. And Marc Sanchez circa 2010 looks a lot like Marc Sanchez circa 2009 – fewer interceptions, perhaps, but not many more accurate throws – until his game winner late in overtime on a simple slant pattern. Nick Folk is missing field goals again; a failure in Dallas and not a reliable kicker in his first year in New York.
Texans – Two months into the season, this defense doesn't look any better than they did in the first few weeks, whey they allowed more than 400 passing yards against them in their opener, and then allowed the Redskins to score a season high against them the following week. When a team can't get pressure with their front four, and doesn't have a secondary that can handle single coverage to enable a blitz happy approach, they aren't going to stop the pass. And when the linebacking corps is as slow as any in the league, the run defense is equally problematic. If you can't stop the run or the pass, you'll end up with a defense like this one that ranks at the bottom of the NFL. The issues here are personnel related, not schematically caused – I can't think of a coordinator in the league that can turn these lemons into lemonade. And to make matters even worse, Matt Turk's punts weren't good – this is one team that absolutely needs to pin their opponents deep. With head coach Gary Kubiak under fire and in danger of losing his job, this team has all the makings of a squad poised to stumble down the stretch. The loss on a Hail Mary pass has the potential to send this last place team into a real tailspin.
Titans – This defense has such an odd dichotomy. They came into the game leading the NFL in sacks per contest. They also lead the NFL in red zone defensive efficiency – it’s not easy to get touchdowns with a short field against this defense. And they completely shut down the run for most of this contest. Defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil’s safety blitzes were only modestly effective here because their secondary got shredded again today, just as they did in their last game before the bye at San Diego. We saw Dolphins receivers running wide open downfield repeatedly throughout the course of the afternoon, even after the Titans knocked Miami’s top two quarterbacks out of the game. Randy Moss is already having an impact, drawing a 33 yard pass interference penalty on the Titans first drive, even though he finished the game with only one catch. And with the defense worried about Moss, it opened things up for Chris Johnson, whose numbers have been down this year. If one of these quarterbacks can get healthy, this offense is poised to score points in bunches.
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