15 Biggest Takeaways From Week 6 In The NFL
What We Learned From Week 6
We are slightly over a third of the way through the NFL season, so it is reasonably safe to draw some conclusions as to what we know about specific players and/or teams. I’m not confident in saying that there are two teams that stand above the rest as locks to be playing in the Super Bowl (although if I had to choose, I’m sticking with my preseason pick of the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos), but we are beginning to get a feel as to the contenders and pretenders. It is often the team that gets hot at the right time that makes a playoff run, and while we are still two months from that time of year, you can judge which teams are one hot streak away from making a serious run at the Lombardi Trophy. In one specific division, through six weeks we have learned that we know essentially nothing, a rarity at this point in the NFL.
As far as players go, I saw enough this weekend to make a few strong claims about where a certain player or two is headed and how it’ll help their teams long term. This is a star driven league, but I’ve got three non-glamor players that I saw enough from this weekend to say that they are going to improve their team from this point forward.
Every week in the NFL is a learning experience. Some weeks reinforce thoughts we already had while others provide us with a possible look into the future, a sign of things to come. Week 6 had some of both, but I feel confident about these 15 takeaways from the past week in the National Football League.
15. CJ1K is Not a Top Flight Talent
Is it about time we do away with the “CJ2K” nickname? He’s either the worst good running back in the league or the best bad running back; either way, I’m not impressed. Even with an improved offensive line this season, Chris Johnson continues to dance around instead of hitting the hole at full speed. He’s tallied less than 3.9 yards per carry in three straight and five of six, continuing a disappointing trend from the past two seasons. In 2012, he was held at or below 3.9 yards per carry in the majority of games, something an elite back simply doesn’t have happen on a consistent basis. Will he break a few runs at some point? Probably, but in this age of pass first offenses, teams simply aren’t willing enough to pound the rock time and time again waiting for the big play. He feels like a nice piece to a team as opposed to the franchise builder we all thought he was only a few short seasons ago.
14. Who Rules the AFC North?
The Pittsburgh Steelers were the most impressive team in this division this week -- and they are the last place team. At different points this season, the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, and Baltimore Ravens have all looked like the front-runner as well. Through six weeks, we’ve learned that this is the lone division that lacks a bottom feeder. All four teams play above average defense, allowing them to stay in every single game and making whoever emerges from this division a threat in the playoffs. When it comes down to it, I trust Joe Flacco more than the other quarterbacks, but any team in the division can beat just about anybody in the NFL, something no other division can say.
13. Philadelphia Eagles Define "Average"
The Chip Kelly era was supposed to be revolutionary, and for about 30 minutes, it was. The Philadelphia Eagles have beaten the bad teams (Redskins, Giants, and Buccaneers) and lost to the good teams (Chargers, Chiefs, and Broncos), not looking overly impressive at any point. They have explosive talent on the offensive side of the ball, but their lack of consistency is going to hold them back if it continues. Nick Foles has played great and might be a better fit for the Eagles system, but will Kelly be bold enough to make the move at quarterback? For a team that leads the division, Philadelphia has more questions than answers and lacks an identity. Their good can be as good as most playoff teams, but until they determine who they are, they are the definition of an average football team.
12. Curious Case of Cam Newton Continues
Did he look like Superman in a 35-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings by completing 77 percent of his passes while totaling 272 total yards and four touchdowns? He sure did. But you simply have no idea what he is going to give you on a week to week basis, and by his third season you’d think that would have changed. He has scored 73 percent of his touchdowns in two games this season (against teams with a combined 1-10 record), and while elite quarterbacks do beat down the teams they are supposed, they also come to play against mediocre to elite teams, something Cam Newton simply hasn’t done this season. Most of the great quarterbacks in the league today, or in the recent past, have had a positive identity after 37 starts, but Newton is a coin toss from a week to week basis and will not take the next step as an individual talent until he can do so.
11. Nick Foles is a NFL QB
The Philadelphia Eagles' “backup” has completed 38-of-56 passes for five touchdowns and no interceptions in slightly over six quarters of action after Mike Vick suffered a Week 5 hamstring pull. Sure, he isn’t stretching the field in a big way (his 8.0 average depth of target ranks in among the bottom ten QBs), but he is completing passes at high rate, thus allowing the Eagles' skill position players to get out in space. Nick Foles is as different as it gets from Vick, but different doesn’t mean bad, and right now, Foles gives the Eagles the best chance to win.
10. Danny Woodhead is a Weapon
It feels as if any player who has success for the New England Patriots is written off as a beneficiary of the Tom Brady reign, but it is becoming clear than the versatile Danny Woodhead was much more than a puppet in the Pats' success. As a member of the San Diego Chargers, the pride of Chardon State (a division two college in Massachusetts) has recorded 10-plus touches in five straight games, leading all running backs with 36 receptions on the season. Woodhead is playing a vital role in the short passing game and has proven to be an impossible matchup for opposing linebackers. He is an intelligent player who is great on third down (his ability to catch the ball is huge, but he is also a reliable blocker), a skill set that has value on any roster, not just in the great New England system.
9. Vernon Davis is Still Elite
Vernon Davis dominated the Arizona Cardinals to the tune of eight catches on 11 targets for 180 yards and two touchdowns. His San Francisco 49ers had struggled a bit sans Michael Crabtree, but with six scores in five games and 18.4 yards per catch (12.9 percent higher than his previous career high), Davis has reemerged as a matchup problem that needs to be game planned for. The athleticism that he provides at the tight end position allows Colin Kaepernick to thrive as a dual threat, once again making the 49ers a team to fear in the NFC.
8. Brandon Jacobs is Back
With David Wilson (neck) and Andre Brown (leg) out, the New York Giants were in desperation mode when it comes to their run game (I’m not even going to talk about their aerial struggles). They reached out to the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns for a little help and received a ferocious runner with something to prove. Brandon Jacobs looked as good as he has in years in steamrolling the Chicago Bears (22 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns), thus giving the Giants a reasonable semblance of an offense. If Eli Manning puts things together the hard-nosed running style of Jacobs will be more valuable, but regardless, I learned that the 31-year old RB can still produce as a featured back and is as tough as ever to tackle.
7. Tom Brady is Still Tom Brady
Injuries, fatigue, dropped passes, poor throws, a commercial pitching Male Uggs -- nothing can slow this man down. After what can only be described as a difficult game, Tom Brady led his banged up offense (they were short-handed to begin with and lost Danny Amendola during this game) 70 yards in 68 seconds (with no timeouts) against a Rob Ryan defense that had been getting plenty of praise. Brady floated the game winning pass to Kenbrell Thompkins in the corner of the end zone for yet another fourth quarter comeback and another chapter in his legacy. There was some doubt as to how effective the 36-year old Brady would be without Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and (up to this point) Rob Gronkowski, but he knows how to do one thing regardless of who lines up on his offense: win football games. He didn’t play a flawless game (18 incompletions and a poorly timed interception that was thrown into double coverage), but when all the chips were down, he engineered a game winning drive. In a fantasy football league, I’d take 8 to 10 quarterbacks over Brady, but with the game on the line, there isn’t a single quarterback I’d rather have.
6. Jacksonville Deserves a W
As a 27.5 point underdog the Jacksonville Jaguars battled the Denver Broncos about as good as they could. They have some talented players (Justin Blackmon is a legitimate No. 1 receiver in this league), but their roster as a whole lacks the depth it takes to truly compete. The heart they showed this week, however, is why I think they find a way to win a game this season. The winless Detroit Lions of 2008 went down without a fight, losing five of their last six games by double digits (average of 22 points), but this year’s Jacksonville team has a different feel. The Jags will fight and claw their way through this forgettable season and I think they can beat either the Buffalo Bills in Week 15 (with 10 days of preparation) or the Tennessee Titans the following week (Jacksonville’s third consecutive home game). It’s tough to lose 21 straight games (dating back to last season) and I think the Jags' pride will stop them from becoming the second team in five years to reverse run the table.
5. New York Doesn't Have a Good Football Team
We know the New York Giants have been as disappointing as any team in the past decade up to this point, and the Buffalo Bills' hope pretty much evaporated when E.J. Manuel suffered a knee injury. So the hope of the state was resting on the New York Jets, but after a stinker against the Steelers, I’m ready to say that the state of New York doesn’t get more than 16 wins total. The Jets have beaten the Buccaneers (thanks to a late flag that put them in FG range), the Bills (thanks to defensive injuries that allowed Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill to run free), and the Falcons (thanks to an offense that was playing without their star running back and had both All-Pro receivers limping for the majority of the game). For the record, the win over the Falcons was impressive, but as with any rookie led team, there are going to be a few of those along the way. They lost to New England (no shame there), a bad Titans team (see Johnson, Chris) and a winless Steelers team. Geno Smith has had his moments, but he’s completing fewer than 60 percent of his passes and has multiple INTs in four of last five games. Holmes is hurt and not likely to return in time to make a huge difference. The defense is a top ten unit, but they aren’t good enough to carry this team to more than six victories. Talk about a tough year for New York from a sports perspective.
4. The Elite Are Human
Peyton Manning struggled, by his lofty standards, against the Jacksonville Jaguars (28-of-42, 295 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception) while Drew Brees was out-dueled by Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers was very ordinary without his full complement of weapons. In Week 6 we were reminded that the elite quarterbacks can be contained, and that a great team must do much more than count on a Hall of Fame QB to lead them to the promised land.
3. The Houston Texans are Done
I thought the Houston Texans could turn things around a week ago, but with the injury to Matt Schaub and the general lack of competitiveness against a very average St. Louis Rams team, the Texans' season is over. Entering Week 6, the Rams had given up at least 20 points in every game and 30-plus in three of their last four. In their other two road games this season, St. Louis had failed to put its leading rusher over 35 yards. In Week 5 they were pushed to the limit by the Jacksonville Jaguars. All of that being said, they dominated these Texans from the opening snap and essentially had the game won with 20 minutes remaining. Houston’s fans resorted to cheering an injury to their starting quarterback (who, by the way, was the same quarterback under center during the team's back to back double digit win seasons that both included a playoff victory), telling me that they too have given up on the 2013 season.
2. Robert Griffin III is Getting Healthy
Don’t look now, but Robert Griffin III showed glimpses of the mobile version of himself (nine carries for 77 yards) against the Dallas Cowboys last week. The Washington Redskins have only one win, but in a division that may only require eight wins to earn a playoff spot, a healthy RG3 makes them a team nobody wants to face. Say what you will about the defense, but the Redskins have a chance to win any game they enter if their second year QB is healthy, and his 26-yard scramble on Sunday night looked very much like 2012 Robert Griffin.
1. Seahawks Top Power Rankings
Good teams play to their strengths. Great teams punch you in the mouth with strengths and make you beat them at their own game. The Seattle Seahawks are clicking on all cylinders these days, something that is in large part due to their commitment to Marshawn Lynch. Beast Mode hauled in four catches (his most in the last 12 months) for 78 yards against the Titans, pushing him over the 100 total yard plateau for the fourth time in five weeks. He is Seattle’s most consistent offensive threat, and with 22 touches a game, the Seahawks are allowing him to carry their offense. He is never going to be Darren Sproles out of the backfield, but he is on pace for his most catches (35) since 2008, as the Seahawks have made it a point to get the ball in his hands as often as possible. Russell Wilson is spreading the ball around (six different players with receiving TD) and is leading a pass game that has been cautiously dynamic (22.7 percent of his completions have gone for 20-plus yards). We knew the defense would be elite and they haven’t disappointed (nine interceptions and only five touchdown passes allowed). Their ability to win in a multitude of ways is why I like them so much come postseason time. They’ve won with Wilson throwing for 320 yards and won with him tossing for 123. They’ve won by scoring 12 points and with 45. Seattle’s 12th Man remains the most dominant home-field advantage (3-0 with an average victory of more than 20 points), making them nearly impossible to beat should they finish with the No. 1 seed in the NFC.