By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer
Every Tuesday we’ll look back at the weekend that was in the NFL and give you a trio of trios. We’ll cover the three things that happened that everyone already knew would happen, the three things that happened that confirmed a guess or speculation in the positive direction, and then three surprises that we weren’t expecting. And since it’s three sets of three things, what better name for this column thanâ¦ yup, Double Take!
THREE THINGS WE KNEW
1. Turnovers are deadly. San Diego found this out as they coughed away a game they definitely could have won in New England. The biggest turnover came in the fourth quarter with the Patriots leading 20-14. The Chargers defense had just held the Patriots on a fourth down try from just across midfield, but Mike Tolbert decided to make an awkward-looking backwards sidestep, got caught in a couple of legs, and ultimately lost the ball â and the Chargers lost any chance of stunning New England. I get that the Pats have looked impressive in putting up 73 points in two games, but what they really did was take advantage of the mistakes and opportunities presented by both Miami and San Diego. They’re a good team, not a great one, that simply knows how to go for the jugular when it’s exposed.
2. The no-huddle offense is a defense’s worst nightmare. Not every team can run it well, but those that can immediately increase their chances of putting the ball in the endzone. Matt Ryan became the latest quarterback to orchestrate a beautiful no-huddle offense, scoring twice against a tired Eagles defense to win the game on Sunday night. Ryan joined QB’s like Brady, both Mannings, Roethlisberger, Rivers, Rodgers, Brees, and even lesser signal-callers like Flacco, Sanchez, and Fitzpatrick who have all had success running an up-tempo, at the line offense. In fact, any struggling offense should simply put their five best skill-position players on the field and let their QB go from there. Again, some can handle it and some can’t, but the offense always knows where they’re going, but the defense is just reacting. The offensive line gets to back up and let the defensive line wear down by rushing up the field every play. Blitzes are harder to orchestrate because the defense doesn’t have time to coordinate the coverage behind it. If you root for a team that runs a good no-huddle, root for them to do it more.
3. The NFC West isn’t very good. Again, we all knew this after last year, but it’s true again this year. In a week where no team played a division game, the NFC West managed to be the only division to post an 0-4 record. Two teams (Rams and Seahawks) got their doors blown off, and the other two teams (Cardinals and 49’ers) coughed up leads against mediocre NFC East teams. The 49’ers game was the backbreaker, as they owned Dallas early, even knocking Tony Romo out of the game, only to watch the Cowboys climb back, Romo re-enter the game with a broken rib, and ultimately give up a big play in overtime to lose the game. Arizona’s loss wasn’t much more forgivable, as the offense managed nothing after a 73-yard touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald that put them up 21-13. Even a couple of first downs would have iced the game late, but the Redskins managed two scores (touchdown and missed two-point conversion, followed by the game-winning field goal) to steal the win away from their former NFC foe. Chalk it up to a bad weekend by a bad division.
THREE THINGS WE THOUGHT WE KNEW THAT WERE PROVEN TRUE
1. Luke McCown isn’t a good quarterback. The problem was evaluating him against a team with a new head coach, a new quarterback, and a lot of other new pieces that simply hadn’t gelled. A trip to the Meadowlands proved a much different story, as the Jets picked off McCown four times and forced Jack Del Rio’s hand towards Blaine Gabbert in the fourth quarter. Thus is the difference between playing at home against an average team with no time to work together and playing on the road against a team that’s been in back-to-back AFC Championship games. “Paging David Garrard, paging David Garrardâ¦”
2. The Houston Texans are the class of the AFC South. Even without the injury to Peyton Manning, many thought â myself included â that Houston would finally make the leap into the playoffs this season. Well, the pathway got much wider with Manning’s injury, but the Texans are also taking advantage of the gift by hammering teams they’re supposed to beat. Sure, Tennessee looked impressive in their win over Baltimore, but they’re already 0-1 in the division, and that could prove costly in the final analysis. Meanwhile Houston went on the road against a Miami team that felt much more confident in their offense despite the opening week loss to the Pats and simply shut them down. Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson is a deadly combination, and winning games like this past Sunday’s should be proof that this team will finally play beyond week 17 this season.
3. Home is where the heart is. Sure, homefield advantage is called that for a reason â there’s always been an advantage to playing at home. But teams are 21-11 when playing in their own buildings this season, and only the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to lose their home game and win their road game through the first two weeks. On average, home teams typically post a 54% winning percentage, but right now they’re clicking at 66%. Yes, it’s a small sample, but remember this paragraph before you call up Vegas next week.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. Completely changing your impression of a team after week one is silly. After all, this is the NFL, where Baltimore can look so dominant against Pittsburgh one week and so sloppy against Tennessee the next week. And it’s not as if Tennessee was riding high â they were beaten by a quite honestly bad Jacksonville team in week one. And the Steelers turned around a throttled the Seahawksâ¦ which really tells us nothing but still, it’s proof that Pittsburgh didn’t suddenly fall into the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Tampa Bay and the New York Giants both responded to tough losses as well, as the Bucs rallied from 17 down to beat the Vikings in Minnesota and the Giants capitalized on a plethora of Rams mistakes to blast St. Louis in the Meadowlands on Monday night. Thus, I still believe what I wrote in the preseason â Baltimore will ultimately have a down year and miss the playoffs, Tennessee will finish second and contend in the AFC South, and both New York and Tampa Bay are wild card contenders in the NFC. No bandwagon jumping until after at least week two, which meansâ¦
2. There’s no one left on the Kansas City bandwagon. Ladies and gentlemen, the official “one-hit-wonder” from 2010 â the Kansas City Chiefs! Getting throttled by Buffalo at home was bad enough, but the Chiefs actually managed to top that by becoming the receiving end of the most lopsided win in Detroit Lions history on Sunday. Yes, that’s right, the Chiefs managed to open the season by losing to the teams with the two worst records in the entire NFL over the past decade. Look out, Matt Cassel â there’s a guy at Stanford that might be in your training camp next season.
3. Certain teams will have a big advantage depending upon what crew is officiating the game. This is one storyline you won’t read on any national sports website, but the officiating crew has a huge impact because of all of the new rules implemented to “protect the players.” But it’s all subjective. Dunta Robinson was called for a hit-to-the-head on Jeremy Maclin in the third quarter of the Falcons-Eagles game, a hit that looked a whole lot worse than it actually was. Maclin actually turned into the hit, and Robinson, while he did have his head down, did not attempt to hit Maclin with his helmet, but rather with his shoulder and right forearm. Still, Robinson â the same player who gave DeSean Jackson a concussion in their game last year â was flagged for a 15-yard penalty. What’s lost in all of this is that on the very next Falcons drive, the first play from scrimmage was a crossing pattern to Julio Jones, who couldn’t make the catch and then was hit in a full-blown spear by Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. No call. Clearly, the fact that Maclin caught the ball and Robinson was the one making the hit drew the penalty (and unnecessary ire from Cris Collinsworth, a former receiver who then didn’t even mention the Rodgers-Cromartie hit) while the lack of a catch and a hit by a player widely regarded as “good” and “clean” drew nothing. If you have a superstar defense, you’ll win in this league because referees have been instructed to penalize dirty plays, so the benefit of the doubt will always go to the offense. The only defenses that will get calls are ones that have “clean” superstars, meaning the Steelers, Jets, Eagles, Patriots, and Packers will all be in the postseason, no questions asked. This could be the single biggest effect on games, so remember to look at stars on defense before making a pick.