The injuries are mounting for the Redskins, and this season might just take on the air of the 2010 campaign, as a 4-3 team unraveled in the second half of the season. The offense, not potent to begin with, is likely to be without its starting left tackle, right guard, top receiver, tight end and running back for a tough task against the Bills this week.
And the defense has been looking softer by the week. In the past two games, opponents have rushed 75 times for 367 yards (4.9 per carry) with three touchdowns. The fact those teams averaged 37.5 rushes a game indicates opponents could be trying to pound the Redskins now, and the Bills can certainly run the football with Fred Jackson, and are coming out of the bye.
There are a few under-the-radar things going on with the Redskins. Tight end Chris Cooley, though not being used as a pass catcher, was thriving as a lead blocker in the run game and as a hybrid fullback. He was grading out very well -- better than even during his best years -- and also delivered some pancake blocks. His loss, coupled with running back Tim Hightower being out for the season, hurts.
Adam Carriker's strong play on the defensive line has been overlooked as well, with stud outside linebackers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan getting much of the publicity. Carriker has blossomed in Jim Haslett's 3-4 scheme and he's turned out to be a steal in a trade with the Rams. He leads the Redskins with 4.5 sacks, which is tied for 15th in the NFL. Washington would be wise to get Carriker, and star safety LaRon Landry, extended sooner rather than later.
Both are in the final year of their deals.
Tebow shows good, bad in win
Tebow time will take time
I have a feeling that what we saw of Tim Tebow is going to be what we get this season. Perhaps beyond that, expect some brutal lows and some exhilarating highs and not a whole lot of consistency. He's going to be raw and he's going to be a playmaker and he'll probably make more plays with his feet than his arm a lot of games.
That will do as long as the Broncos pull off miracle finishes and can use 10 minutes of brilliance to offset the spells of offensive disarray. However, Tebow's release is so slow and the accuracy is so erratic that it's hard for me to imagine there not being a slow and steady learning curve for the young man.
The intangibles are world class. He's a winner and a gamer and a battler and a leader. He'll do whatever he can to make a play. He's tough as hell and it's clear, between his willingness to run with the football and how long it takes him to release the football, that he's going to get hit.
But that can't erase the flaws inherent in his game right now. And the tough spot for the Broncos is that they lack the talent to overcome much right now and Tebow has a pretty limited cast in Denver. There aren't a whole lot of natural-born playmakers on that offense. It's going to be a rough operation at times.
The reality is that Tebow looks in no way the part of a classic NFL quarterback the way that, say, Cam Newton does. Tebow's passing prowess, pocket presence and ability to get the ball downfield doesn't even compare at this stage. It's going to take gadget plays, reconfiguring from a pro-style offense and lots of misdirection to try to make it work. You're going to have to meet him more than halfway.
And there's nothing wrong with any of that. I'd just caution not to let the way the game finished obscure all that came before it, and to keep in mind that's an awful hard way to win in this league week after week. Not easily replicated. He's going to need plenty of time.
Instant Debate: Hue's mistake?
I didn't expect to see much production if Carson Palmer was thrust into action Sunday, and sure enough, it was ugly. But if he's still sailing balls and missing badly on throws coming out of the bye, then expect to hear whispers about his health continue in the second half of the season.
There are some in the league who believe Palmer's elbow will be a concern moving forward, and that eventually something like Tommy John surgery would be the long-term solution. Raiders coach Hue Jackson has been vehement about Palmer's health and the velocity on the football and he's long championed Palmer.
But Palmer had ample struggles the past two to three years and had his share of health issues, so there's no way to guarantee he returns to form. Palmer is set to make $12.5 million in 2012, $5 million of which is guaranteed. Should the worst-case scenario develop, and should his health be an issue, this could end up being the equivalent of a two-year, $15 million deal. The Raiders are obviously hoping he plays out this contract through 2014 and delivers playoff wins.
And if it doesn't work out, Jason Campbell's free-agent worth might just rise, given how he had the team positioned prior to needing surgery to repair his clavicle.
49ers win ... on a bye
Do you believe in that whole team of destiny thing? Yeah, I kind of do, too. Seems like things fall in place for a club with great regularity in this league, and they end up exceeding expectations, at least for one season.
The 49ers, a Cowboys bomb or so away from being undefeated, managed to have another great weekend without playing a game. Seattle, the team that I suppose one would have to say is chasing San Francisco in the NFC West, managed to lose 6-3 at Cleveland and fall to 2-4 (the Seahawks host a tough Bengals team next). The Cardinals (1-5) continue to get weak play from quarterback Kevin Kolb and were outclassed by Pittsburgh (a trip to Baltimore is ahead). The Rams (0-6) continue to search for their first win and their murder's row schedule continues with New Orleans.
So the 49ers (5-1), sitting pretty coming off the bye and hosting the fairly miserable Browns on Sunday, could enter Week 9 with four more wins than any other club in their division. That's a huge margin (Green Bay has a two-win lead on Detroit; in every other division the lead is one game, or half a game).
By the time these teams start to face off regularly in their in-division schedule, San Francisco is going to be able to go 3-3, maybe even 2-4 in those games, and easily wrap up an NFC West crown. Do the math.
Can you really see Seattle, Arizona or St. Louis reeling off six or more wins in the second half of the season? This thing could be wrapped up by Thanksgiving.
Odds and ends
» Not sure there are two more improved interior defensive linemen than Red Bryant of the Seahawks and Corey Peters of the Falcons. Both are turning into disruptive players, knocking balls down, getting hands up, making big tackles for a loss. And Bryant's special teams heroics Sunday -- blocking two field goals -- kept his team in an ugly game vs. Cleveland. They deserve kudos.
» Christian Ponder deserves a helluva lot of credit for his performance against the Packers. He made plenty of big plays, helped keep his team in the game, didn't flinch on third-and-long situations or with his back to his own goal line against the defending champs. Ponder made some pretty passes, finally got the vertical game going for the Vikings and, perhaps most importantly, that offense had a renewed energy, pace and verve with the kid under center. The team simply had more life, which isn't a bad place to start at all.
» Just one more reason Matt Forte should be paid like an elite running back: he is averaging 6.19 yards per carry in the fourth quarter (helping put teams away), second only to LeSean McCoy (a scary 9.94 yards per carry) among anyone with at least 10 attempts. Forte also leads the NFL with an average of 156 scrimmage yards per game. He is easily the best Bears player.