You wonder if it's time to sound the alarms.
The NFL season is still fairly young, but there are some teams that should be concerned about what happened to them in Week 6. Make that very concerned.
It wasn't simply that these clubs lost. It was how they lost and the disturbing trends that came out of each defeat.
» The New York Jets once showed promise that they could rule the AFC East. Their blitz-happy, attack-style defense looked intimidating. Their rookie quarterback seemed poised beyond his years and his limited college experience. Their bold-talking, rookie coach appeared to have all the answers.
Now, the Jets look something less than extraordinary. Their defense has shown that it can be overpowered. Mark Sanchez, the kid under center, is increasingly overwhelmed by the challenges of playing in the NFL -- especially the part about protecting the ball. And Rex Ryan's words are ringing hollow. That was the hapless, hopeless Buffalo Bills they couldn't put away after taking a 13-3 lead. With nose tackle Kris Jenkins lost lost to a season-ending knee injury, it's hard to envision the Jets turning around their three-game losing streak any time soon. Yes, it is easy to envision them traveling across the country and losing to the Oakland Raiders in Week 7.
» Remember when the Baltimore Ravens looked unstoppable? Remember when there was so much buzz about how Joe Flacco had made such tremendous strides his second season at quarterback and how, finally, the Ravens had an offense to complement a defense that was playing as well as it did in the Super Bowl season of 2000? After three successive losses, that seems like a distant memory. Losing to the 6-0 Minnesota Vikings isn't too much of a disgrace, but if the Ravens truly were as good as they and many others around the league believed they were at the start of the season, then they shouldn't have lost to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 5. But for all of the praise their defense had received, the fact remains that they don't have enough talent in the secondary to prevent big plays.
» Speaking of the Bengals, although they sit atop the AFC North, they have some concerns of their own. The sudden death of the wife of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer provided a lot of emotional fuel that helped greatly in their win against the Ravens. But they weren't able to sustain that momentum against Houston in Week 6. Now, they've lost defensive end Antwan Odom, one of the best pass-rushers in the league, to a season-ending Achilles injury. That could present a problem with Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears coming to town in Week 7.
I'd say it's alarm time.
» There are many reasons why Drew Brees is playing out of his mind. Beyond his incredible talent and some highly talented pass-catchers and some excellent scheming by Saints coach Sean Payton, he has something else. "His preparation," veteran Saints backup quarterback Mark Brunell said. "The hours that he puts in -- watching tape and studying the defense -- are what separate him from most. Through his week of study, on game day he can take a glimpse of the defense, and say, 'Okay, I've seen this. I know where the pressure's coming from.' He knows if he needs to move to the right, he knows who he needs to keep in for protection."
» The San Diego Chargers are going nowhere with that poor excuse for a pass rush. If they don't make even marginal improvement over what they showed in that area against the Denver Broncos on Monday night, look for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel to light them up in Week 7.
» Let me see if I have this straight: The Washington Redskins originally hired Jim Zorn to be their offensive coordinator/play-caller, promoted him to be their head coach largely on the strength of his offensive/play-calling expertise, and now aren't going to allow him to call plays, turning those duties over to Sherman (I've-been-out-of-football-since-2004) Lewis. It seems it would be simpler just to say, "Please, resign, Jim."
» These are the nagging questions I have about the two presumptive kingpins from the NFC East: Is it possible to ignore the fact the New York Giants got the living daylights beat out of them by the New Orleans Saints and still believe they're one of the best teams in the NFL? Are the Philadelphia Eagles so pass-happy that, even when it's blatantly obvious they need to bring at least a hint of balance to their offense to help minimize pressure on Donovan McNabb, they stubbornly keep throwing until it results in an inexcusable loss to the lowly Raiders?
» Here's a recommendation for your football bookshelf: "More Than a Game," by Brian Billick with Michael MacCambridge. This is a tremendous behind-the-scenes look at all aspects of how the game is managed, from the front office to the field and all points in between. It offers some eye-opening perspective on the NFL's current labor climate, making sense of the key issues and giving a balanced picture of how the NFL and NFL Players Association are approaching negotiations. What impressed me the most is the fact Billick put plenty of work into the project, relying on his conversations with highly respected movers and shakers in the league rather than just his own experiences and insights, which are considerable.
They've got answers â¦
» The Houston Texans, because with defensive tackle Shaun Cody knocked out of the lineup with the flu, they came up with a very solid replacement in Jeff Zgonina, who at 39 is the oldest defensive player in the NFL. Consider this endorsement of Zgonina that Texans coach Gary Kubiak gave reporters after his team's victory over Cincinnati: "This guy has played the most consistent football out of anyone we have. I don't care if he's 50. He belongs out there."
» The Green Bay Packers, because in allowing rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews to play every snap for the first time in his NFL career, he responded with an impressive performance. Sure, it was against the Lions, but it was still worth noting: two sacks, three tackles for a loss, and a pass breakup.
» The Jacksonville Jaguars, because they're getting some of that veteran leadership they were hoping to get from wide receiver Torry Holt (remember him?). Holt had five receptions for 101 yards to help the Jags beat his former team, the Rams, in overtime. But his largest contribution might very well have come when, after Leonard Little returned an interception for a touchdown to give St. Louis a four-point lead in the fourth quarter, he gathered his offensive teammates on the sidelines and told them, "If we want to be an elite team, a championship team, we have to execute in critical times."
They've got questions â¦
» The Tennessee Titans, because in suffering a 59-0 loss in the snow to New England to fall to 0-6, they appear to have quit on the last coach one would expect a team to quit on -- Jeff Fisher. Fisher has never quite felt the heat he is feeling now, although the Titans would be silly to part ways with him. Fisher would instantly become one of the hotter names on a long list of hot candidates for coaching openings after the season.
» The Detroit Lions, because (surprise, surprise) whatever offense they had with a healthy Matthew Stafford at quarterback and a healthy Calvin Johnson at wide receiver disappeared with both of them out with knee injuries. Although he hardly was given sufficient protection, Daunte Culpepper showed that he is far from even an adequate replacement for the rookie starter. Is Drew Stanton any better? Probably not.
» The Chicago Bears, because their dynamic rookie running back of a year ago, Matt Forte, doesn't look so hot this season. He rushed for a mere 23 yards on 15 carries and fumbled twice (recovering one) vs. the Falcons. He only fumbled once as a rookie. He's averaging 3.4 yards per carry; he averaged 3.9 in 2008.
Four intriguing games for Week 7
» Atlanta at Dallas: The Falcons have firmly established themselves as one of the better teams in the league. They might not overtake the Saints for the NFC South crown, but they look as if they'll have plenty to say about the NFC wild-card playoff race. The Cowboys have had a bye week to ponder their uneven start to the season. This is a prove-it game for both teams, although it probably is a little bigger for the Cowboys.
» San Francisco at Houston: This is an inter-conference game pitting teams in similar situations. The 49ers are trying to prove they legitimately have what it takes to be a contender, but questions linger about the shoddy performance of their offensive line and whether Shaun Hill has what it takes to be a consistently effective quarterback. The Texans have an explosive passing game, led by Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. Now, they're trying to become more consistent on defense.
» Minnesota at Pittsburgh: The Vikings have already demonstrated that they're an elite team in every respect. They made a fairly strong statement by hanging on to beat the Ravens in Week 6. Now they can go 3-0 vs. the AFC North. Brett Favre has hardly looked like an over-the-hill passer, but Troy Polamalu and the rest of Pittsburgh's defense has a way of making young quarterbacks look old. The Steelers' pass-happy offense could be vulnerable against Jared Allen and the rest of the Vikings' pass rush.
» Arizona at N.Y. Giants: Don't you think Kurt Warner is just salivating for a crack at the Giants' injury-depleted secondary? He saw how easily Brees carved it up, and should expect to have a big day connecting with Larry Fitzgerald and the rest of his receivers. But after their humiliating loss at New Orleans, it would be fair to assume the Giants are a focused and angry bunch. It's hard to believe their defensive line could have two horrendous games like the one it had vs. the Saints.
Top Five Teams
1. New Orleans: The Saints have everything you'd expect from a Super Bowl contender. And their running game and defense should allow them to handle the elements, although there's a reasonable chance the NFC path to Super Bowl XLIV will run through the Louisiana Superdome.
2. Indianapolis: These guys are the AFC's version of the Saints. Or is it the other way around? Either way, they're one of the most dominant teams in the league and are poised to go 6-0.
3. Minnesota: The frequent references to Favre's strong start with the Jets last year (followed by a monumental collapse) are understandable, but there's no denying that he is a big part of why the Vikings are an elite team.
4. N.Y. Giants: It's still incomprehensible that the best pass-rushing line in the NFL wasn't able to apply even the slightest pressure on the best quarterback in the league. Wouldn't that be the one game the unit would be ready to perform its best? Isn't that what happened vs. Tom Brady in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago?
5. Denver: The Broncos show the necessary killer instinct that allows them to finish off opponents. So far, they've answered every question about their legitimacy as a serious contender -- especially the one about whether baby-faced coach Josh McDaniels knows what he's doing.
Top Five Offensive Players
1. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans: He isn't just putting up impressive statistics; he's managing the offense superbly by making proper protection calls and seeing to it that everyone is where he's supposed to be.
2. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis: You can bet his R&R during the Colts' bye included a great deal of S&P (study and preparation).
3. Tom Brady, QB, New England: Maybe it was less competitive than a scrimmage between the starting offense and the defensive backups, but five touchdown passes in a quarter in the NFL is impressive regardless of the circumstances.
4. Randy Moss, WR, New England: See comment above, and substitute five touchdown passes in a quarter with three touchdown catches in two quarters.
5. Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans: To be as prolific as Brees is, you need some dynamic targets, and Colston ranks among the best.
Top Five Defensive Players
1. Richard Seymour, DE, Oakland: His two sacks and three quarterback hits were a major part of the Raiders' six-sack attack that made the difference in their upset of the Eagles.
2. Brian Cushing, LB, Houston: The rookie forced three turnovers to help the Texans to a huge victory at Cincinnati.
3. Julius Peppers, DE, Carolina: He's really taking this wake-up call thing seriously, registering five sacks in his last two games.
4. Elvis Dumervil, LB, Denver: He is a relentless rusher, which is why, with two sacks vs. the Chargers, he has an NFL-leading 10.
5. Troy Polamalu, S, Pittsburgh: Playing for the first time since suffering a knee injury in the season-opener, he made a tone-setting interception of Josh Cribbs' "Wildcat" pass in the first quarter of the Steelers' win over Cleveland.
Top Five Coaches
1. Sean Payton, New Orleans: He put together a superb game plan, with a wide mixture of formations and protections, that went a long way toward keeping the Giants' pass rush from getting to Drew Brees.
2. Josh McDaniels, Denver: He put together an outstanding game plan that called for pounding the ball on the ground and exploiting the soft underbelly of the Chargers' defense with Kyle Orton connecting repeatedly with tight end Tony Scheffler, who was often lined up outside.
3. Mike Smith, Atlanta: In a who's-going-to-blink-first sort of game vs. the Bears, Smith's team kept its eyes wide open.
4. Ken Whisenhunt, Arizona: During a Week 4 bye, he got his team back on track after a blowout loss to Indianapolis, as evidenced by back-to-back victories vs. Houston and Seattle.
5. Gary Kubiak, Houston: In a season of inconsistency, he got his team refocused after a disappointing loss at Arizona, and the Texans came up big in Cincinnati.