Week 5 had some very interesting developments, the biggest of which could lead to a quarterback change in Denver.
1. Tebow time in Denver
When the Broncos were losing 42-17 to the Packers in Week 4, I thought it might have been a good time to let Tim Tebow get some experience. Denver passed on the opportunity, but opted to put him in a much more meaningful situation this week in a 29-24 loss to the Chargers. When I talked with Broncos coach John Fox last week, he had some nice things to say about Tebow and I got the feeling his time was coming.
As I have written previously, Tebow looked lost at times when I saw him in training camp this summer. Against the Chargers, it was clear that there might be some truth to the concept that he is a "gamer." After starting 1 for 5, Tebow connected on a screen pass to Knowshon Moreno for a 28-yard touchdown. His passes looked better in the game than in practice and his ability to hang in the pocket was much better. Now, with a bye on the schedule and two weeks to give him the majority of the practice reps, it might be time to let Tebow do his thing as a starter.
Update: Tebow was named the Broncos' starting quarterback on Tuesday.
2. It's official: Bills, 49ers are for real
No one thought the Bills or 49ers were playoff contenders back in August. Well, after their big wins this week both teams are 4-1. Last season, every team that got to 4-1 made the playoffs. At this point, I could make a case for either the Bills' Chan Gailey or the 49ers' Jim Harbaugh as Coach of the Year, and the biggest reason is how both men have developed their quarterbacks. The Bills' 31 points against the Eagles were only outdone by the 48 points San Francisco dropped on the Bucs.
Before the season, I asked Gailey how he dealt with all the negative press about his team and the speculation they would be lucky to win six games. In his very calm voice, Gailey just chuckled and said, "We'll see. That's why we play the games and I like my team." He went on to say, "I got a bunch of guys that are kind of angry about how people talk about us and I will keep them that way."
As for the Niners, they are one overtime loss to Dallas away from being undefeated. In the last two weeks, Alex Smith has completed 32 of 52 passes for 461 yards, with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. Get ready for more of the same the next few weeks.
3. Carroll's plan is working
I got a chance to talk with Pete Carroll before facomg the Giants, and I knew the Seahawks were going to employ their version of the no-huddle offense on the road against a team with an excellent pass rush. When they did, it had the desired effect: It created a more explosive dynamic for the offense and simplified what the Giants could do on defense.
Here's a breakdown of Seattle's no-huddle plays: 16 for 21 passing, 195 yards, one touchdown, one sack; 10 rushes for 59 yards and one touchdown. Seattle used two quarterbacks and only committed two penalties for 10 yards. I have a feeling there's a lot more no-huddle in their future.
4. The Wildcat lives
The Wildcat offense isn't a base package. No one is going to employ it for a whole game, but it still has a place on NFL fields. The Panthers jumped into it with DeAngelo Williams taking snaps and getting some good yardage on the ground. The Bills have an even more dangerous version with Brad Smith, who has quarterback skills from his college career. Both teams will look at the results and the defensive schemes they faced, and I expect some new wrinkles in the coming weeks.
5. Here come the interceptions
In the 12 Sunday games, there were 27 interceptions. That's two more than we saw in 16 games during Week 1. The Bills, for instance, already have 12 picks after their four on Sunday; last year, they had 11 for the entire season. I asked a coach about the rise in interceptions and he gave me three reasons: The increase in pass attempts throughout the league, teams are doing a better job of disguising coverages and defenses are starting to sit on particular routes and understand where certain receivers are going by personnel groups and formations.
6. Fake punts are a calculated risk
A special teams coach doesn't walk up to the head coach in the middle of a game and say, "This would be a good time for a fake punt." Days before a game, the special teams coach will do film study looking for a specific fake that might work against that week's opponent. He then practices it and virtually guarantees to the head coach that it will work if the opposing team continues to have the same issues. Once the head coach gives the special teams coach the green light, the fake punt is in play.
The Steelers and Raiders both turned on the green light this weekend, and both plays worked. The Steelers were up 7-3 when punter Dan Sepulveda threw a pass to Ryan Mundy because the middle defender turned and ran before the punt was executed. Mundy gained 33 yards on the fake and Ben Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward for a touchdown two plays later.
Up 22-17 in the fourth quarter, Raiders "up back" Rock Cartwright took the snap instead of the punter and ran around the right end for 35 yards. Four plays later, Sebastian Janikowski hit a 42-yard field goal.
There are big-play opportunities in special teams and every week the special team coaches are looking for flaws and weaknesses to exploit. All they have to do is convince the head coach to give them the green light.