Six from Sunday  

 

Shanahan’s decision to bench McNabb was a head-scratcher

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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Once again, the NFL seems to stand for the National Fake-You-Out League.

Many teams that weren't supposed to win did just that. Most people considered the Steelers and Jets to be the best teams in the best conference, yet both powerhouses lost to NFC foes.

The Cowboys looked like the first team to surrender for the season and Wade Phillips' press conference -- as well as Jerry Jones' apology to the fans -- sounded the bell that the fight might be over.

Still, it was the volatility surrounding quarterbacks that took center stage. Teams found themselves replacing starters due to injury or poor performance. That's where we will start the Week 8 observations.

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1. The McNabb benching

Bench a quarterback like rookie Max Hall out in Arizona and there are few consequences. He's going to struggle and there will be times he has to sit down as he learns how the NFL game is played. Bench Donovan McNabb -- with 23 career winning drives under his belt -- in a winnable game, even if he was playing poorly, when the replacement is Rex Grossman? That looks bad.

Grossman has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns in his career and had 20 fumbles with 58 sacks in 37 games leading up to Sunday. No one is buying the idea that he knew the two-minute drill better than McNabb, which is what Redskins coach Mike Shanahan implied after Grossman fumbled on his first play in the game. The Redskins came into this game as a top six team in the NFC. If the playoffs started now, they would be out. The long-range damage from this in-game move will be very interesting to track. As one former NFL quarterback said to me Sunday, "How could the backup QB even get enough reps in practice at the two-minute drill to be better at it than the starter who's never injured?"

2. Mr. Smith goes to London

I tip my hat to Troy Smith after his long wait to get another chance to start. He had two career starts and both were as a rookie in 2007. Since the day he led the Ravens to a win over the Steelers three years ago, he had thrown just 13 passes in the regular season. The win over the Denver Broncos in England's Wembley Stadium was highlighted by his fourth-quarter play, when he led three consecutive drives that resulted in three touchdowns. He played like he had been a starter for years. He completed 5 of 6 passes for 110 yards in those three drives, rushed for a TD and threw one as well. With Alex Smith injured, giving Troy Smith the start over David Carr was such a good idea, and he should continue to lead the Niners this season.

3. Sweet Suh

Defensive schemes always work well if the front four can get after the quarterback without the aid of blitz calls. Lions coach Jim Schwartz has built that kind of front and it's led by the top defensive tackle in the game today. Not the best rookie defensive tackle -- the best defensive tackle, period.

Ndamukong Suh came into Week 8 as the leading sacker among all defensive tackles and he added two more. He now has 6.5 sacks and is on pace for 15 as a rookie. He also scored a touchdown -- his second of the season -- and was part of a front four that had six sacks, 18 tackles, eight stops for a loss, nine hits on the QB, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in a win over the Redskins.

4. 10-play drives

It is hard to sustain an offensive drive for 10 or more plays. So many things can go wrong and, of course, the defense isn't giving any ground. Last year, teams averaged less than two 10-play drives per game, scoring a touchdown on 35 percent of those possessions and a field goal 36 percent of the time. In other words, teams scored points 71 percent of the time they were able to control the ball for at least 10 plays.

How did teams fare in this category in Week 8? Miami was the only squad with three 10-play drives, each resulted in field goals. I'm sure the coaches liked the points, but they know these drives must lead to touchdowns. Detroit was the only winning team Sunday without at least one 10-play drive, which says something about how well its defense played. The Jets had two 10-play drives and both ended in interceptions. In the 12 Sunday games, there were 34 drives of 10 or more plays and 71 percent of them resulted in points -- right on last year's average. There were only 10 touchdowns scored to 14 field goals -- that ratio is a little off, but it might reflect the number of backup quarterbacks playing right now.

5. Those fourth-down calls

Fourth down can be a controversial time to try to move the chains or attempt to score a touchdown. The Vikings passed on a field goal try and went for a touchdown from the 1-yard line in the second quarter. They didn't make it. The Jets faked a punt on fourth-and-18 in the first quarter and missed by a yard. Green Bay got a field goal on the ensuing drive and never surrendered the lead. That didn't stop the Jets from two more fourth-down pass plays when they were desperate; both fell incomplete. All in all, there were 25 attempts on fourth down around the NFL on Sunday and 14 of those plays were successful. That's a 56 percent success rate as compared to the season average of 48 percent.

Teams that won this week and went for it on fourth down were successful five of six times. Oakland went for it in the second quarter on a fourth-and-1 from Seattle's 30-yard line and it resulted in a touchdown pass. There are those in the football community that believe going for it on fourth down should be attempted more often. The benchmark for fourth-down conversions since 2009 has been set by the Atlanta Falcons, who have converted 22 of 31 attempts.

6. Best assistants this week

I'd like to single out coaches who won on the road against teams they weren't supposed to beat.


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Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator, Jacksonville Jaguars. The Dallas offense had to play with backup QB Jon Kitna, but there was nothing wrong with the defense that Koetter attacked all day. Koetter joined the Jaguars in 2007 and he put a plan together that produced 35 points with four passing touchdowns and one on the ground. Jacksonville converted 50 percent of its third downs and parlayed four interceptions by the defense into three offensive touchdowns.

Dom Capers, defensive coordinator, Green Bay Packers. The Packers were using offensive linemen last week on defense because of all the injuries they had. Conversely, the Jets, who had the longest winning streak in the NFL, were well rested after their bye. Capers' defense shut the Jets out!

Greg Olsen, offensive coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Olsen has been in the NFL for nine years and he has developed a nice offense with Tampa, built around second-year QB Josh Freeman. Olsen got the running game going this week at 5.1 yards per rush, and the passing game saw 10 different receivers catch the ball. The Buccaneers' defense surely helped out with two interception returns for touchdowns, but the fast development of Freeman, wide receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount -- while playing without starting center Jeff Faine -- was impressive.

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