Some key takeaways from an action-packed Week 7 in the NFL:
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1. Weekend of the INT
It's only logical that NFL teams passing more than ever leads to a rise in sacks and interceptions by defenses … but this was an exceptional weekend for picking off passes. In 13 games played, there were 29 interceptions and nine returned for touchdowns. David Bowens of the Browns wasn't even a starter in the game against the Saints, but he found the end zone twice. Washington's DeAngelo Hall had four picks and the final one was the game-winning touchdown. It is clear that Cover 2 zones and zone-dog blitzes where defensive linemen drop into coverage have put players in good situations to intercept passes.
Offensive coaches are going to be spending some time this week making sure their players do a better job of tackling the interceptors before they score. Seven of those touchdowns scored on interceptions went for 30 yards or more and that means there were opportunities to bring the interceptor to the ground.
2. Did defenses let up?
The Raiders went into Week 7 ranked 18th in the league in scoring offense, averaging 20 points per game, so when Oakland dropped 59 points on the Broncos, it was the talk of the day. But the Raiders weren't the only previously point-challenged team to improve Sunday. Carolina ranked 32nd, averaging 10.4 points per game, and put 23 on the board against the 49ers. Cleveland, ranked 31st, averaging 14.7 points per game before delivering 30 points in New Orleans. San Francisco, the 30th ranked team, scored 20 - 4.5 points above its average. The 27th-ranked Bills doubled their average from 17 to 34. I wonder if their opponents simply lost their edge because they watched these teams on tape and didn't see teams that threatened them.
3. Down, but not for long
We are down to one team without a win, as Buffalo fell to 0-6 after an overtime loss at Baltimore. Last year there were three teams without a win at this point in the season (Tennessee, St. Louis, Tampa Bay). A quick reminder that Tennessee finished the 2009 season 8-8, and I wonder if the Bills have that kind of turnaround in them after the way they played Sunday against the Ravens on the road.
Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 29 of 43 passes for 374 yards and four touchdowns, hitting eight different receivers. The Bills defense, now in a 4-3 scheme rather than the 3-4 they started the season in, will get better in the next few weeks. I feel like the Bills have four or five wins in their future.
4. Cutler, Bears have work to do
Jay Cutler has quarterback talent. But unless things change radically, he and the Bears are headed south quickly. In the last 10 quarters, Cutler has been sacked 19 times, thrown five interceptions and fumbled five times. In those same 10 quarters, he has converted just four of 29 third downs; a 13.7 percent success rate isn't going to get the job done. And 109 pass plays called in those last 10 quarters with just one touchdown pass to show for it also suggests it is time to change the plan and get the running game going.
5. The real McCoy
I talk with Cleveland fans every day on my Sirius radio show and they always strike me as extremely loyal and passionate football fans looking for that ray of hope. Well, the ray of hope has arrived and right now it is time to hold serve and build on what they have without tearing down the franchise once again. It's clear the players are well prepared by Eric Mangini and certainly play hard for him. There's not a lot of talent on this team, yet the Browns have had a fourth-quarter lead in five of their seven games this season. In the last two weeks, rookie QB Colt McCoyhad to play because of injuries to Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace. Now it's time to not look back and let this 24-year-old rookie lead the team. McCoy is a ray of hope. He will struggle in the next few weeks but he has what it takes and needs experience. In two road games against the Steelers and the world-champion Saints, he has completed 32 of 49 passes for 355 yards (65.3 percent completion rate).
It wouldn't surprise me if McCoy threw for 2,000 yards this season and 10 touchdowns. Check out his production in a few situations. When playing from behind, he has completed 20 of 28 passes (71.4 percent) and 8.8 yards per pass attempt. Here's what he has done based on the number of passes he throws in a game. Look at the steady increase in production:
» Throws 1-10 passes in a game: 55 percent completion rate, 5.1 yards per pass.
» Throws 11-20 passes in a game: 69 percent completion rate, 7.1 yards per pass.
» Throws 21-30 passes in a game: 80 percent completion rate, 12.6 yards per pass.
6. Back from the bye
The in-season bye week makes sense, or at least it's supposed to. It's a chance to get players healthy, self-scout your team, and come back to the field of play refreshed and super prepared for your next opponent. So far, results are mixed, to say the least. Three of the four teams lining up this week off their bye lost. Cincinnati lost to Atlanta, Buffalo lost to Baltimore and Arizona lost to Seattle. The only winner was Carolina over the 49ers. Then again, Carolina was the only one of those four teams with a home game off the bye. Now that 12 teams have resumed play off their bye weeks, they stand with a 6-6 record -- which indicates that an early-season bye may do more to disrupt the cycle of preparation than recharge the club.
As for home and away issues off the bye, home teams coming off the bye are 5-1 but teams that hit the road are 1-5. Next week, the Lions, Colts, Jets and Texans return to the playing field. The Texans travel to Indianapolis while the Jets and Lions are at home, so maybe this is the week we see three winners off the bye.