1. Offenses hide the other side
Three teams that have a concentration of injuries on the defense are lucky to have the right Band-Aid for the problem. The Colts' secondary is decimated, the Patriots' defensive line is beat up and the Eagles are starting to collect injuries all over the defense.
Fortunately for these teams, their offenses are led by elite quarterbacks and have the firepower (so far) to overshadow the injury issues. It will be interesting to see if Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Donovan McNabb can lead their offenses to enough points this weekend to protect the vulnerable defenses.
Manning has the Ravens to beat. Brady has to overcome the Jets, who already beat him this year. McNabb has to outscore the Bears.
|Paul Sakuma / Associated Press|
|The Bears might be better off if Jay Cutler sat on the turf more often instead of forcing the ball into tight coverage.|
2. Time to self-correct
We're in the second half of the NFL season and as one head coach said to me this week, "There are no more excuses." As teams and players do some self-correcting, here are some things I'd expect to see:
I'm looking for Bears QB Jay Cutler to stop throwing interceptions and start taking a sack or throwing the ball out of bounds. The 49ers scored 10 points off Chicago interceptions last week and won a 10-6 game over the Bears.
On the other side of the spectrum, I'm looking for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to take fewer sacks and just get rid of the ball. Rodgers has been sacked 41 times and he still insists on holding the ball in what appears to be a fear of making mistakes. Rodgers needs to hit the check-down, run, or just let it go. Just find that middle ground between what you do and what Cutler does.
As for running the ball, two teams need to get serious about it if they want to make the postseason. The Giants average 17 carries per game between Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw; that number needs to get up over 25. The Cowboys ran the ball 14 times last week in a game that was 3-0 going into the fourth quarter. The backs were averaging more than four yards a carry and they need to get back to the 25 carries a game pronto.
3. Running backs are hurting
Ced Benson (Bengals) looks like a no-show this week. Atlanta's Michael Turner is in the same boat. Clinton Portis is out again for Washington and, of course, Fred Taylor will miss another game for the Patriots. Philadelphia's Brian Westbrook may not be back this year.
It's getting tougher and tougher for runners to recover in seven days, in time to help their teams on the field. It was smart for the Bengals to sign Larry Johnson, a former 1,700-yard rusher, to a cheap contract. Roster depth is going to be a bigger issue between now and the end of the season.
4. Down to the crossroads
The Houston Texans believe they are a playoff team and the door is wide open for them to get into the race. The problem they have to deal with is the Tennessee Titans, who actually believe they will win the rest of their games. Houston needs to beat the 3-6 Titans or go back to the drawing board.
The New York Jets brought so much pressure on Tom Brady the first time they played that the Jets were able to beat New England even with a rookie QB under center. Well, since that loss, the Patriots have been on fire and the Jets have cooled off. A Jets loss in this one and the playoff hopes have to be put away until next year.
5. Where's Garcia when they need him?
Finally, the Raiders have figured out they can't beat anyone with JaMarcus Russell under center. It's a real shame that it has come to this, but it's a bigger shame that Jeff Garcia is not on this team. I was at Oakland's camp this summer and Garcia gave them the best chance to be a good team. As one Raiders player said, "Jeff makes us all know what to do, pay attention in the huddle and get after it."
That's all the Raiders need to start winning games. I know Garcia asked for his release when he found out he wouldn't be the starter, but that was then and this is now. Bruce Gradkowski couldn't beat out Garcia in Tampa and he wouldn't be starting this week if Garcia were on the roster.
|Denis Poroy / Associated Press|
|Chargers linebacker Shaun Philips could put a lot of pressure on Denver backup QB Chris Simms.|
6. My favorite matchups
Jared Allen is at home in the loud Metrodome against a backup left tackle, Seattle's Damien McIntosh. Looks like another spectacular game for Allen against Matt Hasselbeck, who should throw close to 40 passes.
Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips faces a backup right tackle, with Denver's Ryan Harris still out.
Washington's Brian Orakpo is a rookie with seven sacks, and he faces backup Dallas offensive tackle Doug Free. Tony Romo has already been sacked 22 times, and that number could increase.
I talked with 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, and he expects coverage calls that put Packers corner Charles Woodson on him in critical down-and-distance situations. I will be looking for this matchup when the 49ers enter the red zone, for sure.
7. Concussions remain serious issue
The Westbrook concussion issue has drawn a lot of attention to the subject. His second concussion in three weeks reminds all of us about the severity of the injury. The Seahawks have two corners trying to return from concussions, Marcus Trufant and Josh Wilson. Without them, the Seahawks will struggle against the Vikings.
While Portis will miss another game for the Redskins, backup Glen Coffee is scheduled to go for the 49ers. Keep in mind that Westbrook was cleared to play last week and had a second concussion.
I was part of the Jets staff when we lost receiver Al Toon. He barely bumped his head against the Broncos and his career ended on the spot.
8. Did you know ...
... The Colts have given up more points in each of their last four games: 6, 14, 17, 34. The secondary injuries may be starting to mount to the point where the Colts just can't stop passing attacks.
... Eagles receiver De Sean Jackson has six touchdowns and they all came from outside the red zone. If the Eagles want to improve their struggling red-zone offense, Donovan McNabb needs to run a few QB draws.
... Since the Broncos beat the Chargers four weeks ago, Denver has not won a game and San Diego has not lost. Broncos QB Kyle Orton is likely out, while Chargers QB Philip Rivers enters Sunday's rematch with nine touchdown passes in the last four games.
9. Schedule quirk hurts Falcons
Sunday's game against the Giants marks the fourth time this season that the Falcons are facing a team coming off its bye. That doesn't seem fair, but they are 2-1 in the first three of these matchups (beat Chicago and Washington, lost to Dallas). Now they face a rested Giants squad. I know the NFL is interested in a level playing field. The league must do a better job in scheduling.
10. Trap games
By definition, a trap game is a win on paper that breeds overconfidence in the locker room and causes players to think about the next game. Before you know it, the team loses a game it should have won. Remember when the Eagles went out to Oakland in Week 6 and lost to the Raiders?
Well, this week's trap games appear to be the Colts at Baltimore, Cowboys home for Washington, Vikings home for Seattle, Saints at Tampa Bay, and the Bengals at Oakland. I would be surprised if all the teams that are supposed to win those games actually get the job done.