This league does weird things to you. I’ve come to expect the unexpected every Sunday, which is generally awesome but also a little bothersome. It’s bothersome because I have this strange, borderline-neurotic fear that, one day, I’ll become immune to the ubiquitous unpredictability that makes the NFL so unique and special.
Fortunately, that day has yet to arrive. And I’m left bewildered by the Bills and the Lions and the Raiders and the Browns. While I’m not necessarily convinced that any of those traditionally shoddy franchises are for real, their combined record of 10-2 makes things just a little bit more fun.
If that’s even possible.
Nineteen thoughts on the third Sunday of the 2011 season…
1. There’s something wrong with the Steelers. The pass rush isn’t there and the offensive line is truly in shambles (it’s worse than it was in 2010). I still can’t believe it took that defense 175 minutes to register its first takeaway of the season, and those injuries are going to keep killing a line that already sucked. It’s not going to be easy next week in Houston. (The Texans are an early 2-point favorite for that one.)
2. There’s something wrong with the Eagles. Tough day for Pennsylvania pro football teams, despite the Steeler victory. Philly is having the exact issues many predicted they would in August. But while we’ve already discussed the issues the offensive line is having and the tackling problems on defense, we should throw this out there: Nnamdi Asomugha has struggled quite mightily thus far. The world’s most famous free agent of 2011 has had trouble adjusting to a new system, which is a little troublesome. You have to wonder if the lockout is playing a role here — a lot of these players simply haven’t had a lot of time to adapt.
3. Michael Vick is clearly frustrated. When asked if he thinks he’s not getting the calls that other quarterbacks do during his post-game press conference, Vick said ”absolutely,” adding that he’s “on ground constantly. All the time. Every time I throw the ball.” But that, of course, is flawed logic. Vick is on the ground constantly because a) he’s a running quarterback who takes a lot of hits and refuses to slide, and b) his offensive line is hazardous to his health. Vick should sit next week’s game out, rest his hand and his head, and get ready for back-to-back road affairs with the currently undefeated Bills and the currently undefeated Redskins. He needs a breather.
4. Quarterback controversy in Indianapolis? Kerry Collins still doesn’t have his timing down and now he’s allegedly concussed. After a slow start, Curtis Painter (or “Sunshine”) settled in and performed quite well. Jim Caldwell should give some serious thought to the possibility of starting Painter, who is more experienced in the system and may have more chemistry with those receivers, next Monday in Tampa.
5. My favorite stat of the day: Every single team that won in the early slate of games trailed in the fourth quarter. Let’s face it, we had our fair share of blowouts in Weeks 1 and 2, but we were spoiled on Sunday with 11 of the 15 games decided by one score.
6. Chris Johnson: 98 yards in three games? Sure, why not. This is why personnel people don’t like giving long-term, eight-digit extensions to running backs. I’m not saying Johnson’s done, but it’s reasonable to wonder if he’s already passed his prime. It’s not like he hasn’t had support from the passing game. And with Kenny Britt likely done for the year, CJ2K might have trouble being CJ1K in 2011. The Titans are in real trouble. But then again, so is the rest of the AFC South.
7. Darren Sproles: 229 yards from scrimmage on only 29 touches. Slightly more productive than Johnson, for $3.5 million this year. Nicely done, Mickey Loomis. Sproles is the primary reason why the Saints have survived injuries to Marques Colston and Lance Moore.
8. Why does Mike Martz hate Matt Forte? Oh, and winning. Because you have to know that you can’t win consistently while completely ignoring your running game. Forte had nine carries for two yards against the Packers, giving him a grand total of 35 carries three weeks into the season. Of course Jay Cutler is getting killed…
9. Could the NFC West actually be worse this year than it was last year? St. Louis, which is supposedly the best team in the division, is now 0-3 and completely lost. The Seahawks can’t win on the road, like, at all. The Cardinals can’t even beat the Seahawks. The 49ers are somehow leading the division after barely beating the Bengals. All four teams are terrible, period. Seven wins might get the job done for the second consecutive year.
10. The most memorable game of the day might have been … Jacksonville-Carolina? Seriously, have you ever seen rain affect a football game like that? That was outrageous and fairly unique. Very fun to watch. Two rookie quarterbacks trying to adjust to the NFL — and then you throw in the complete bitch that was Mother Nature? Sick.
11. Don’t overlook the Buffalo defense. Some big stops in crucial situations. New England converted just three third downs all day. The offense is getting all the credit, but no one intercepts Tom Brady four times. There’s work to be done, but they’ve made a lot of progress under George Edwards.
12. And what’s with the Buffalo offensive line? It’s supposed to be a joke, right? Ryan Fitzpatrick has been sacked once all season and Fred Jackson is averaging 6.4 yards per rush. Demetrius Bell might be a legit left tackle of the future.
13. Was Devin McCourty’s rookie season a fluke? Or is this a sophomore slump? McCourty and Leigh Bodden have both been pylon-bad three games in. The same secondary started 2010 in similarly horrible fashion, so there’s still hope. But the sudden regression has been shocking. It doesn’t matter how good the offense is — you can’t win a Super Bowl if your pass defense performs like that.
And while I’m finding flaws in “elite” teams…
14. Atlanta’s offensive line is a disaster. Matt Ryan is taking beatings and Michael Turner has nowhere to go. Sam Baker is getting abused. (I defended Baker to my boss last week, stating that it wasn’t fair to trash the guy based on the pass rushers he’d been forced to face two weeks in, but I can’t make excuses for his turnstile imitation against Adrian Clayborn. Hopefully the boss doesn’t read this far.)
15. The Saints still aren’t forcing enough turnovers. One takeaway against the Texans, and it was a gimme pick served up by Matt Schaub on third down. This team has to force more fumbles and intercept more passes to win. They were outplayed by Houston at home.
16. The Jets are getting killed on the ground. Inexplicable. The vaunted New York defense has surrendered a ridiculous 4.8 yards per carry thus far. They’re ranked 31st against the run.
17. The Ravens lack consistency. Win 35-7, lose 26-13, win 37-7. Too early to get a strong read.
18. The Texans have work to do on defense. The transition to the 3-4 is never as easy as they made it look during the first two weeks. The revamped secondary was trounced by New Orleans Sunday, and the pressure just wasn’t there. Now, we’re talking about the Saints, but we were also talking about the Manning-less Colts and the Dolphins earlier. Pittsburgh, Oakland and Baltimore are waiting in line. In three weeks, we’ll know the identity of Wade Phillips’ unit.
19. Don’t say the lockout hasn’t affected this season. In addition to the fact that some teams are clearly taking longer to adjust to offseason changes because of the work stoppage, we’re seeing attendance numbers drop. Um, 43,363 at Paul Brown Stadium for the home opener Sunday in Cincinnati? The smallest crowd they’ve had for their first home game in 30 years. The Dolphins, Chargers, Panthers and Jaguars are narrowly avoiding blackouts, and the Bucs aren’t even coming close. Tampa’s blackout streak will likely hit 11 on Monday Night Football (!) next week. And I refuse to believe the economy is to blame, because the economy was in the toilet in 2009 and 2010, too. The lockout has to be playing a role here.