Lots of storylines played out around the NFL in Week 5, and new ones developed. Upsets ruled, as at least six teams won games they were "supposed" to lose. A loss by the Kansas City Chiefs put an end to the undefeateds; there are no 4-0 teams in the NFL for the first time since 1970. There was a three-alarm fire that spells trouble for the future (I'll explain below), more special teams problems popped up, and the two Super Bowl teams from last year are really struggling.
Here are six observations I took away from Sunday:
1. No longer Super
On Sunday, Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel reminded the rest of the league how his old Patriots defenses used to play the Colts with a "rope-a-dope" approach -- rush three and drop eight into coverage. While the Colts won, it was effective and kept the game close. Expect more teams to study this tape in order to give themselves a chance late in games against Indianapolis.
As for New Orleans, the Saints are averaging 11 fewer points per game after five weeks from a year ago (32 in 2009 to 21 this season), and they got caught this week when 20 points wasn't enough to win. Wideout Marques Colston, who was on the receiving end of nine Drew Brees TD passes last year, still doesn't have a touchdown and the loss of Reggie Bush has changed how teams play pass coverage against the Saints.
Expect more pressure calls against Brees in the next few weeks (at Tampa Bay and vs. Cleveland) without the matchup problems Bush causes. However, when a team gets 21 points from the defense against the Saints, as Arizona did, there are issues that go deeper than the loss of a running back.
2. Ugly, but still successful
Through five weeks, there have already been 48 quarterbacks to throw at least one pass . For the most part, far too many backups have already taken the field.
Six teams on Sunday asked someone other than the starter to go out and win a game. Max Hall, an undrafted rookie, started in place of Derek Anderson in Arizona, and won. Jason Campbell got a second chance and won for the Raiders after Bruce Gradkowski was injured against the Chargers. Shaun Hill, starting for the injured Matt Stafford, got the Lions their first victory.
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On Sunday night, Kevin Kolb played well enough against the 49ers subbing for Michael Vick that he could remain the starter even when Vick returns. How did Vick get the job in the first place? He played well when Kolb was injured. Shouldn't the same rules apply in reverse? It wouldn't be the first time Andy Ried changed his mind on his starting quarterback.
All I now at this point is that backups won games on Sunday, and that tells us one of two things: Either the starters are overrated, which I doubt, or the level of play at the position really isn't very good.
3. Alarm No. 1: QB beatings
This was another week of quarterback beat-downs. More and more defenses are employing the attitude of rushing the passer first and stopping the run second. John Teerlinck, the accomplished defensive line coach of the Colts, has employed that logic for years and with very good success.
Teams are absolutely pounding quarterbacks at an alarming rate, and when so many teams are calling pass plays, bad things will happen. For example, there were 104 passes called in the Green Bay-Washington game. Of the 26 teams that played on Sunday, 20 called 30 or more pass plays.
Ponder these numbers if you want to figure out for yourself where we're headed with the most important position on the field: There were 64 sacks and 120 hits on the QB on Sunday, to say nothing of the 65 times quarterbacks crossed the line of scrimmage and ran with the ball. At the present rate, we are going to see a lot more backup quarterbacks playing in games in the coming weeks.
4. Alarm No. 2: Special teams
Did you notice the Chiefs and Rams both started their games with onside kicks? In both cases, the teams were unsuccessful in recovering the kick and both opponents went down and kicked field goals on the short field. I love the idea of the surprise onside kicks early in the game, but recent history suggests it doesn't work.
From 2007-'09, there were only three onside kicks attempted when the score was 0-0. None worked. In fact, there were only 15 onside kicks in the first quarter of games and five worked. I wonder if the decision to use onside kicks early in games on Sunday was at all driven by the nine kickoff returns for touchdowns we have already had this year? In 2008, there were 13 kickoff returns for touchdowns; in 2009, there were 18.
We have already witnessed one special teams coach being fired this season (Miami's John Bonamego) and I'm starting to think he won't be the last, not with six punts already blocked and 16 kickoffs returned past the 50-yard line.
5. Alarm No. 3: Points off turnovers
The NFL is so competitive that when a defense creates a turnover via an interception or a fumble recovery and gives the offense an extra possession, it really needs to score points. On Sunday, there were 40 turnovers created by the defense and only 85 points generated by offenses off the turnovers.
6. Unsung heroes
I have great respect for assistant coaches who put game plans together, teach all week long, make adjustments during games, deal with adversity and injuries and then get back to the office and do it all over again every week. Most people wouldn't even recognize an assistant coach or coordinator if he was sitting at a table next to them in a restaurant, but I will recognize three men that got the job done this week:
Hue Jackson, offensive coordinator, Raiders: In his ninth year in the NFL, Jackson had to use two quarterbacks to finally beat the Chargers after Oakland had suffered 13 straight defeats to San Diego, a streak that stretch to 2003. His team came from behind twice without its starting running back, working around an offensive line that really isn't very good.
Mike Heimerdinger, offensive coordinator, Titans: Heimerdinger has been in the NFL for 16 seasons and should have been a head coach by now. His Titans went into Dallas and put 34 points on the board to win. His run/pass ratio kept the Cowboys off guard and Vince Young looked like he stepped up his game with a game plan perfectly suited for him.
Jim Haslett, defensive coordinator, Redskins: In the NFL for 17 years, Haslett had the task of installing a 3-4 defense this season. Holding the high-powered Packers offense to 13 points is no easy task. Neither is limiting Green Bay to 15 percent third-down efficiency, as well as generating four sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.