In Case You Missed It. NFL Week 9 Recap

Mike Shanahan and the Redskins need to spread RG3’s touches around to make life easier on the offense and tougher on opposing defenses. Elsewhere, Ryan Tannehill stumbles and the Panther defense is officially underrated. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Week One Headlines

For Redskins, a little less RG3 is more
Mike Shanahan and the Washington RobertGriffinSkins are beginning to lose their marbles. Obviously, Robert Griffin III is a lethal weapon. He’s the Redskins best player and their best chance to win on Sundays. Still, he can’t do it alone. Someone needs to remind Shanahan of this simple fact.

On Sunday against the Panthers, Griffin finished with 11 rushing attempts and 39 passing attempts. For you history majors, that’s 50 touches for Griffin compared to 21 touches out of the backfield by a committee of six Redskins, led by Alfred Morris with 13. Yes, getting your best player the ball is always a good idea. However, only giving your best player the ball makes the defense’s job a whole lot easier. If you watched the Panthers on Sunday, they swarmed Griffin on every play. Even while Alfred Morris was shredding the Panthers at nearly six yards per carry, Carolina’s linebackers stalked Griffin like he was their next meal. Instead of using the Panthers aggressiveness toward Griffin against them, Shanahan continued to play right into the Panthers hand.

Carolina made the very same mistake last year with Cam Newton. As great as Newton was, there was no reason for him to be dominating the offense as much as he did. Throwing the football more than 30 times didn’t make sense, especially given Carolina’s talented backfield. The same is true in Washington. Morris has proven to be a great running back. He punishes defenses, runs north/south, and if given the chance, will keep defenses honest when defending Griffin.

Shanahan abandoned Morris and the running game in the 3rd quarter even though the Redskins only trailed by one score. Once Shanahan committed completely to Griffin, the Carolina defense’s job got a whole lot easier. For the same reasons the Lakers were easy to beat when Kobe Bryant was a one-man show, the Redskins make life easy on defenses when Shanahan doesn’t spread the ball around.

Tannehill struggles in the clutch
Ryan Tannehill played a nice game Sunday against the Colts. While he didn’t match Andrew Luck’s elite level of play, Tannehill kept the Dolphins in the game and even led Miami on an early 4th quarter drive to tie the game at 20. Unfortunately, though, Tannehill flamed out on the final drive.

With 2:39 to go in the 4th and the Dolphins trailing by three with two timeouts remaining, Tannehill could get no closer than midfield. It wasn’t due to a lack of opportunities, though. With 1st and 10 at the 50 and plenty of time on the clock, it appeared like the Dolphins would at the very least tie the game and possibly even clinch it with a touchdown. Then the pressure got to Tannehill.

Part of developing a young quarterback in the NFL is trial by fire. Where Andrew Luck has excelled this season, Tannehill got burned. On 1st down, Tannehill badly missed Reggie Bush in the flat. On 2nd down, Tannehill sailed one five yards over the head of a wide open Daniel Thomas. On 3rd down, Davone Bess would have needed a stepladder to haul in the football. Three plays, three open receivers, three badly thrown balls. It wasn’t until 4th and 15 that Tannehill finally completed another pass. Unfortunately, it only went for 14 yards. Game over.

Like most rookies, Tannehill learned the hard way that completing passes in the 1st quarter and the 4th quarter with the game on the line are two different animals. Andrew Luck has the pedigree to excel in such moments. Tannehill is still on trial.

The Panthers and their defense; better than you think
How about the Carolina Panthers defense? After getting torched by the Giants and Falcons in consecutive weeks, the Panther defense has yet to surrender more than 19 points in a game. (The Bears scored a defensive touchdown.) I was down on the Panthers heading into the season, and although Carolina’s record indicates I may have been right, I’m not so sure. The Panthers lost three close games in a row as Cam Newton fought his way out of a sophomore slump, and I never expected the defense to play as well as it has. Furthermore, the Panthers gave away wins to the two best teams (based on record) in the NFC… on the road, no less.

Let’s pretend for a second Newton doesn’t fumble in Atlanta and Steve Smith doesn’t trip in Chicago. That puts the Panthers at 4-4 with four games remaining against the dreadful AFC West, road games in Philly and New Orleans against teams that are an absolute mess, and two tough division games at home against the Bucs and Falcons. The Panthers could realistically go 5-3 or 6-2 in those games and finish 9-7 or better. Does that get them into the playoffs as a Wildcard? Maybe, maybe not, but a winning record would more accurately reflect this team’s level of play, and more specifically, their overachieving defense.

Someone take them to Chick-fil-A (NFL’s top 5)

1. Packers – I’m not convinced the Packers are the best team in football, especially considering their inability to run the football. Regardless, Aaron Rodgers is the leading MVP candidate and keeps winning without his top two receivers.
2. Texans – If you’re down in the 4th quarter to Houston; forget it. No team in the NFL closes out games better than the physical Texan offense.
3. Giants – Here comes the midseason drama. The Giants haven’t played a solid game from start to finish since toppling the 49ers. Sunday’s loss was weeks in the making. There’s more to come.
4. Falcons – I’m softening a little on my opposition to the Falcons. The defense may be better than I give them credit for. Still, it’s unlikely I’m picking the Falcons in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, at least right now.
5. Bears – It’s time to recognize the Bears as NFC contenders. Say what you will about their schedule and offensive struggles, that defense can win football games on its own.
(Last Week: NYG, GB, HOU, ATL, SF.)

Hardly Ramen Noodle worthy (NFL’s bottom 5)

28. Cardinals – That 4-0 start is a very distant memory. It’s not all Arizona’s fault, though. The offense has been ravaged by injuries at key positions including running back, quarterback, and offensive line. It’s hard to win when that shorthanded.
Bills – The Bills committed themselves to another year of Chan Gailey. In other words, the Bills will suck again in 2013. 
30. Eagles
– I hope they abandon this spot Monday night. Just keep hope alive, Eagles. Please? 
Jaguars – Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars are better than they were in 2011. Unfortunately, the Jaguars were really really bad in 2011. Still, “bad” is a significant improvement over “really, really bad.” 
32. Chiefs
– The Chargers are a mess and still managed to make the Chiefs look like the more dysfunctional organization. To think this exact same team won the division two seasons ago is crazy.
(Last Week: CAR, NO, PHI, JAC, KC.)

Stock rising (but not in top 5, yet)

Colts – Andrew Luck has settled in as the franchise quarterback after only half a season, the team has rallied around Chuck Pagano’s fight against leukemia, and the Colts are one of only three teams fighting to claim an AFC Wildcard berth.
Steelers – Pittsburgh is surging and the Ravens are struggling mightily. I thought the AFC North clearly belonged to the Ravens. Not anymore. The AFC North is back up for grabs.
Buccaneers – Greg Schiano’s Bucs have won two in a row and appear to have a found a gem in rookie running back Doug Martin. As long as the defense can be competitive, Tampa Bay is a formidable opponent capable of scoring 30+ points on a weekly basis.

Stock falling (but not in bottom 5, yet)

Redskins – The RobertGriffinSkins loss to the Carolina Panthers Sunday was probably a death blow to Washington’s 2012 playoff dreams. Even worse, Griffin has only looked 40% superhuman the last two weeks.
Vikings – Christian Ponder is a mess, the defense can’t stop anyone, and the rest of the NFC North continues to win as the Vikings have lost three of four.
Bengals – Their playoff hopes went south Sunday. Way south. It was the Bengals 4th straight loss and their 3rd straight defeat at home. After a promising 3-1 start, the Bengals have officially fallen off the wagon.

Things I thought and would’ve said on TV if someone paid me…
  • We all know Aaron Rodgers can sling the ball all over the field, but his most impressive play Sunday came when Rodgers raced 20 yards downfield to recover a James Starks fumble in the 2nd quarter. Instead of the Cardinals gaining possession at the Packers 30 trailing by 7, Rodgers led Green Bay to another touchdown to go up 21-7.
  • I still can’t get over how poor the Cincinnati defense is this season. In 2011, the Bengals allowed 20.2 points per game and only 316 total yards, good enough for 9th and 7th, respectively. One year later, without any significant personnel losses or changes, the Bengals defense gives up 27.3 points per game and over 357 yards of offense, dropping them to 25th and 20th, respectively. Mike Zimmer may not be a head coach in the near future after all.
  • The Ravens came out on fire, disappeared for 40 minutes, and then scored the final 11 points of the game to take out the Cleveland Browns. Which is it, Baltimore, are you good, bad, or simply average?
  • Also, the Ravens have eight games left in the regular season and at least one postseason game. If Joe Flacco doesn’t show any signs of improvement in that time what does Baltimore do? Is it worth franchising Flacco to give him yet another year to prove himself?
  • Bud Adams put the entire Titans organization on notice; get better or find a new job. This is another reason firing Andy Reid scares me. Jeff Fisher kept the Titans competitive and is now building a competitive team in St. Louis while the Titans flounder. The grass is not always greener.
  • The rookie quarterback class is putting on a show this season. Andrew Luck appears destined for greatness. Robert Griffin III is as electric a player as we’ve ever seen. Ryan Tannehill has proven himself to be a capable NFL starter with possible Pro Bowl potential, Russell Wilson is getting better each week, and even Brandon Weeden has proven he’s not a joke. Maybe Andy Reid should have given the starting nod to Nick Foles this week.
  • Sunday’s victory over the Dolphins was HUGE for the Colts and devastating for the Dolphins. In all likelihood, the final AFC Wildcard spot will come down to those two teams. Obviously, a head-to-head win ends any tiebreaker situation in favor of the Colts.
  • Cam Newton wasn’t exceptional on Sunday in D.C. He was, however, disciplined and positive. I think that’s all the Panthers want from Newton at this point.
  • The Lions have won three out of four to get back to .500. Now, they’ll face a grueling 2nd half schedule that features the Packers twice, the Texans, the Bears, the Falcons, and the Colts. If Detroit ends up in the playoffs, they’ll have certainly earned it.
  • Is there any chance the Bills offense is simply better when CJ Spiller is the featured back? Since Fred Jackson returned, the Bills offense hasn’t been the same. Feelings don’t matter as much as wins. Bench Jackson, hand the offense over to Spiller.
  • Doug Martin, welcome to the 2012 Rookie of the Year Race. You’re a little a late to the party, so you’ll need an outstanding 2nd half to have a chance, but performances like Sunday’s (251 rushing yards, 4 TDs) should get you up to speed quickly.
  • I can’t imagine Carson Palmer throwing the football 61 times is a recipe for success in any football game. In Palmer’s defense, though, Darren McFadden went down early with another ankle injury and the Raiders trailed by multiple scores for most of the 2nd half. On the other hand, the Raiders had a golden opportunity to tie or take the lead in the final minutes before Palmer threw an awful interception.
  • Minnesota started the season 4-1. They’ve lost three out of four since. Their only win came against the Arizona Cardinals, who started the season 4-0 and have since lost five in a row. Translation: Both teams stink. I told you not to buy stock in either one.
  • As hard as the Steelers and the game’s officiating crew tried, the Giants refused to win Sunday’s game. They wanted absolutely nothing to do with a victory Sunday. It’s as if the Giants enjoy the midseason swoon just so they can use the “nobody believed in us” rallying cry come playoff time.
  • Speaking of the Giants, Eli Manning has 4 interceptions to go along with 1 touchdown in his last three outings. His completion percentage in those three contests has steadily dropped from 65% against the Redskins to 51% against the Cowboys to only 41% against the Steelers.
  • I thought the Steelers didn’t have a running game? For the 3rd consecutive week, someone not named Rashard Mendenhall topped 100 yards.
  • If it’s true that Jerry Jones was locked out of the Cowboys locker room following Sunday night’s defeat in Atlanta, heads will likely start rolling in Big D. You don’t lock out the boss. You just don’t.
  • Tony Romo’s future earnings keep falling faster than his fantasy value.
Things I never thought and would not say this week, even if you paid me…
  • Christian Ponder has made the leap this season. He’s a budding NFL star.
  • Steve Smith’s first touchdown of the season came sooner than I expected.
  • Rob Ryan will only have nice things to say about Orlando Scandrick in team meetings this week.
  • Andrew Luck’s record-breaking performance Sunday was a fluke. The Colts whiffed on that pick.
Fantasy Nightmare Football update of the week…
  • Doug Martin had a decent afternoon. Of course I faced him this week.

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