This week, I focused my attention on the six NFL teams that entered Week 3 with undefeated records. Contenders? Pretenders? Read on to find out my take!
San Francisco 49ers
Randy Moss was targeted repeatedly, but didn’t make many plays. Niners are not taking big play shots down the field, only short, high percentage routes against the Vikings Cover-2. Normally, San Fran is consistently in third and short situations thanks to the strength of their running game. With Alex Smith very capable of making short, accurate throws, they’re going to be converting third downs at a high percentage all season long.
This OL is better run blocking than pass protecting. Smith was forced out of the pocket repeatedly by the Vikings pass rush. For whatever reason, the Niners came out passing instead of running – nine throws on their first 10 plays from scrimmage and finished with nearly a 2-to-1 pass-to-run ratio. When Smith finally threw deep, trailing by 11 with less than three minutes to play, it was an overthrown interception – his first since last Thanksgiving at Baltimore.
The best defense in the NFL came out flat, unable to get the third down stops that characterize their strategy. Aldon Smith is a beast of a pass rusher (any top D with all 11 starters returning is going to be very good) but the unit was a half step slow. Niners, like most teams, aren’t good enough to win when they bring their D game, not their A.
From a power rating perspective, there isn’t a more underrated team. The Cards are 10-2 SU in their last 12, including a 7-game home winning streak. Arizona has been an underdog in all three games this year and won them all. The game with Philadelphia wasn’t even close, a done deal by halftime.
Larry Fitzgerald remains the ultimate “throw it up and let your guy make a play on the ball” receiver in the NFL. Fitz had more catches in the first half than in the first two games and eclipsed 100 yards. He caught all nine passes thrown in his direction.
HC Ken Whisenhunt trusts his defense more than the offense, punting from fourth down and short inside Eagles territory. Can’t say I blame him! Safety Kerry Rhodes is a beast. His amazing TD saving tackle before halftime ended up turning into a defensive score a few plays later thanks to his vicious hit on Michael Vick. Daryl Washington was a monster with a pair of sacks and fellow LB Quentin Groves was outstanding as well. This is a very strong D-line with Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell at the ends plus Dan Williams eating up blockers in the middle so the linebackers can make plays. Don’t sell Arizona short!
San Diego Chargers
I read a bunch of quotes this week about their great team chemistry, but there was definitely some in-game finger pointing here. Philip Rivers is making a lot of chuck it up for grabs type throws, a strategy that worked well with Antonio Gates in his prime and Vincent Jackson on the outside. It didn’t work against Atlanta. Malcolm Floyd isn’t the same type of receiver and certainly doesn’t have great hands. Neither does Robert Meachem, who isn’t a physical WR either or Antonio Gates – essentially a non-factor these days.
When you go 0-fer third down in the first half and trail by 20 at home at the break, it speaks volumes about the struggles of the passing game. Ryan Matthews hasn’t exactly filled LT’s shoes either, losing another costly fumble. This defense really wore down as well. There was lots of quit on the Chargers.
Philly leads the NFL in holding penalties on offense, creating a steady diet of bad down and distance situations. The No. 1 ranked offense in the league coming into the game was completely listless with only 65 total yards and two turnovers through the two minute warning of the first half.
Vick is getting pounded, the third week in a row he’s taking nasty hits and an injury waiting to happen. He’s responsible for the vast majority of the Eagles 13 turnovers through their first 12 quarters, losing a pair of fumbles against Arizona. That being said, I’ll take Vick on third and long over just about any other QB in the NFL. This offense can be very tough to get off the field.
This was not a good defensive effort either. Philly’s Wide Nine defense has a great pass rush and cornerbacks, yet they continue to give up big plays. The defensive talent really is top notch, with DeMeco Ryans owing the middle of the field, Jason Babin and Trent Cole delivering hits on the opposing QB and a secondary loaded with playmakers. I’m still not convinced that former O-line coach Juan Castillo knows what he’s doing coordinating this stop unit.
This team is very real, although their +10 turnover margin through three games could be hiding some deficiencies. That being said, Matt Ryan looks every bit as good as the best QB’s in the NFL right now – worthy of mentioning in the same breath as Brady, Rodgers and both Mannings.
It’s not like Atlanta doesn’t have some weaknesses though. This secondary is really banged up and they’ve already lost starting corner Brent Grimes to a season ending injury. That’s bad news for a defense that isn’t generating sacks without blitzes, forcing their secondary into man coverage. Like the first two games, RB Michael Turner spent most of the time bottled up. The Falcons’ run blocking leaves a lot to be desired.
Arian Foster now has a TD in each of his last seven games. The Texans can make a strong case for having the best running game in the NFL. I had questions about the rebuilt right side of the O-line, but they have largely been answered. When the running game is working, you’ll see Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter (both with 50+ yard TD catches) running open downfield like they were against Denver.
Give HC Gary Kubiak some credit for great clock management. Over the Texans past five games, in the last two minutes of the first and second half (plus OT) they’ve outscored opponents 40-3! Kubiak really does have a great offensive mind with well designed plays. With Wade Phillips coaching up this defense, I’m not sure there’s a better staff in the NFL including New England.
What a monstrous pass rush – JJ Watt is a sack machine. They don’t need Ryans or Mario Williams, there’s talent galore on this stop unit. You cannot run on this defense - positively stifling in the red zone.
Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at [email protected]