10 Things We Learned: Road Rage Edition

Cold, Hard Football Facts for Oct 10, 2011

By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Numerologist

Ten things we learned from a Week 5 Sunday of NFL action of road rage (seven road wins, four upsets) and cream rising to the top (Green Bay, Pittsburgh, New England and New Orleans).

1. It was fitting that some of Al Davis’ most controversial draft picks came through for him Sunday.

OK, JaMarcus Russell wasn’t part of the Raiders’ emotional 25-20 win in Houston, except for helping them by being out of football. But three of Davis’ maligned No. 1 picks were absolutely huge in the win.
  • Darrius Heyward-Bey had six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown, and he’s on pace to threaten 1,000 yards in his third year.  
  • Davis was roundly criticized for picking Sebastian Janikowski in the first round back in 2000, but his heroic effort Sunday (three 50+ field goals in a five-point win) has been one of many. A kicker will never win MVP again (as Mark Moseley somehow managed in 1982), but Janikowski’s combo of kickoff greatness and clutch field-goal kicking this year has been legendary.
  • Safety Michael Huff was considered a stretch when he went No. 7 overall in 2006, but has developed into a solid starter and had an interception Sunday.
Every franchise falls on hard times from time to time, but the Raiders have gotten past theirs – and Davis’ pet picks are helping out nicely.

2. Ken Whisenhunt and Jim Caldwell have to be in trouble. And maybe Andy Reid should be.  

Remember when the Cardinals made back-to-back playoff apperances? Good times. Since, they’ve gone 6-15, with exactly one win where they’ve decisively beaten an opponent (a 43-13 win over the Broncos in garbage time 2010). Coach Ken Whisenhunt can’t be feeling too secure about his employment this morning. Neither can Jim Caldwell, who is also proving that a coach is only as good as his quarterback in Indianapolis. At 0-5, and looking every bit like Peyton Manning’s puppet, the chances of Caldwell returning in 2012 seem pretty slim.

So, what about Andy Reid? Will he be the NFL’s version of Red Sox manager Terry Francona this year, the great coach who stands as a scapegoat for a flawed and overrated team?

Maybe he should. Blaming Michael Vick for the loss Sunday is wrong – the game came down to bad breaks for Vick and bad decisions by the coaches. Down 14 late in the first half, Reid inexplicably punted facing 4th-and-manageable from the Bills’ 36, and needed a late turnover just to keep Buffalo from scoring again. Then he passed on a makeable field goal at the end of the half in favor of a shot at the end zone from3 0+ yards out. Weird.

And of course, the offsides penalty that handed the Bills the win with a minute left doesn’t exactly smack of leadership on the sidelines.

Reid has always been a poor game manager, but he’s also gotten the most out of his talent. This year, he’s doing neither. Most NFL teams would be happy to have Reid, but barring an NFC East title this year (still possible), the Eagles probably won’t be one of them.

3. Home teams won it with the run this week.

It wasn’t a great Sunday for the home fans, who went 5-7 as a group, but those that did leave with a smile did so in large part because of old-school football.
  • Buffalo over Philly: 35 carries, 143 yards
  • Minnesota over Arizona: 37 carries, 172 yards
  • Pittsburgh over Tennessee: 28 carries, 174 yards
  • San Francisco over Tampa: 36 carries, 213 yards
  • New England over the Jets: 35 carries, 152 yards
Meanwhile, the two biggest upset home losers threw it all over the place: Houston (51 attempts) and the Giants (39).

4. Drew Brees is relentless.

Brees is like ketchup – he’s always good, and you’d hate to go a Sunday without him, but overall he’s a tad overlooked when put next to steaks and lobster.

The Saints haven’t even pretended to run the ball since midway through 2010. Over his last 16 games, Brees has thrown at least 40 passes 12 times. This year, he’s got a 102.3 rating, and has topped 70 percent accuracy in his last four games.

He’s on pace for 38 touchdown passes this year, right in line with his last three season totals (33, 34 and 34). His “worst” season in New Orleans, 2007, ended with him throwing for 4,423 yards, the type of total that would have gotten you burned at the stake for sorcery 40 years ago. He’s never missed a game with injury as a Saint, and oh, in case you forgot, he appears to be the greatest guy ever invented.

Tip of the cap, Mr. Brees.

5. The Steelers and Patriots showed some championship resolve.

We’ve talked a lot over the years about the Steelers and Patriots (and Colts, usually), and how they represent the antidote to NFL parity. They’ve both fielded two-way teams for a decade straight that usually win double digit games and frequently titles.

But the Steelers’ offense and Patriots’ defense looked parity-ridden through a quarter-season … until this week. Pittsburgh, needing a win as badly as they have in recent memory, came through with a big one, dominating what had been the league’s best all-around defense in Tennessee to the tune of 6.7 yards a play and 38 points.

While New England wasn’t exactly fighting for its playoff life, their defensive effort vs. the Jets (4.8 yards a play, 3-for-11 on defensive third downs) was a sight for sore eyes in Foxboro – where postseason visits are no longer enough. If New England’s defense can play as well as it did Sunday, it’ll take a fluke to beat them in January.

6. Tampa, welcome to reality.

The “Yungry” Bucs were just plain yucky in San Francisco, which didn’t come as a surprise when you looked at the reality of what they’d done in their first four weeks. They had played more like a 1-3 team than their 3-1 record suggested, and although coach Raheem Morris likes to say that stats are for losers, check these out:
  • 5.2 yards per play (20th)
  • 17.4 points per game (27th)
  • 6.1 yards per play allowed (26th)
  • 25.0 PPG allowed (t-20th)
The three teams they beat (Atlanta, Indy and Minnesota) are a collective 3-12. In the next five games, they have New Orleans twice, Chicago, Houston and Green Bay. In other words, they are soon likely to be “yungry” for memories of September.

7. There was excitement aplenty for the fans of last year’s losers.

Carolina, Denver, Buffalo and Cincinnati drafted 1-2-3-4 in the 2011 draft, and did so after seasons that were as dull as they were terrible. There were some signs of life in Buffalo, but it was just ugly everywhere else.

On Sunday, all four fan bases were happy, to differing levels. Fans in Denver finally got their wish to see Tim Tebow, and while he looked predictably terrible throwing the ball, his scrambing is worth the price of admission.
At 1-4, letting him play as long as he can stay healthy is clearly the play. Carolina fans would be pleased enough with a 4-12 record this year as long as they can keep Cam Newton healthy and happy. He just keeps doing remarkable things, and it’s scary to think of how much better he can get.

Buffalo got yet another win despite fielding one of the most nondescript rosters in recent memory – if you asked NFL GMs to stage a fantasy draft of league rosters, Buffalo’s would probably be last. And Cincinnati is only a half-game out in the AFC North, with their defensive excellence of 2009 back under Mike Zimmer this year. They haven’t faced great offenses (Jacksonville’s might be the worst in the NFL), but they’re leading the league at 4.5 yards per play against.  

8. The Houston Texans are allergic to success.

The Colts and Jaguars are out of it. The Titans finally came back to earth. And the Texans were a six-point favorite at home, poised to take a step forward into the prominence they …

Ah, let’s just stop the setup, we know what happens.

Since Gary Kubiak took over in 2006, Houston has always found a way to shake free of anything good that has them in the grasp.
  • In 2007, they were 3-2 and looking to come of age. They lost three in a row.
  • In 2008, they came out 0-4 and spent the rest of the year playing great ball that meant nothing
  • In 2009, they built on that momentum with a 5-3 first half and put together a three-game winning streak. What followed? A four-game losing  streak.
  • In 2010, they started 4-2. The Texans have arrived! Next? A four-game losing streak.
Let us know when the Texans clinch the AFC South here in 2011 … but until we see it, we won’t believe it.

9. Remember all that praise for Drew Brees? Let’s double it for Aaron Rodgers.

Has a quarterback ever played as well as Rodgers is playing right now? He’s now dropped back to pass 211 times this year, turned it over twice and gained a net 1,700 yards. That is just preposterous stuff.

In Rodgers’ last 16 complete games including playoffs: 39 touchdowns, six interceptions, one fumble lost and a 15-1 record. If that’s not the greatest 16-game run in NFL history, it’s got to be pretty close.

This isn’t exactly breaking news, but still – it’s worth marveling at.

10. Week 6 is full of intrigue in both East divisions.

It’s always fun when divisions draw their sister cities in interconference play, and this weekend it’s all East vs. East.

The Eagles are 1-4 and have to go to Washington – with Mike Shanahan having had an extra week to prepare and Philly in tatters.

The Jets have lost three in a row and have to host a Miami team fresh off a week of soul searching

The Patriots’ defense took a big step forward against the Jets but faces a big test from Dallas – which needs a
win in the worst way. And the Bills will be at the Giants, looking to stay in a tie for the AFC lead while the Giants try to rebound from a horrific loss at home to Seattle.

Note to self: watch football this Sunday.

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