Welcome to Teddy’s unique look at the NFL. Teddy watches games all day on Sunday, typing furiously on his laptop while giving you the key info that the box scores and game recaps don’t necessarily have. This week: AFC Tidbits from Week 4.
BENGALS: This offense should be very tough to get off the field on third downs. Andy Dalton has great chemistry with AJ Green, and the constant double teams that Green demands are supposed to open things up for Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert down the seams along with Mohammed Sanu on the other side.
All four guys are tall receivers, easy for Dalton to chuck the ball up to and let them make a play on it. But nobody was making plays here, a real lackluster effort in a divisional game. And Green was essentially shut down by Joe Haden, which, in turn, didn’t allow for the weapons around him to get opportunities in space.
Cincy has cluster injuries in the secondary without Leon Hall and Reggie Nelson; an attack of bad hamstrings. But defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer coached up his replacements – this loss cannot be blamed on the stop unit. James Harrison was a factor for the first time all year, and fellow linebackers Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga were all over the field. I can’t help thinking that this 2-2 start is an underachievement with the talent on this football team.
BILLS: No team in the NFL – not even Chip Kelly’s Eagles – has played at a faster offensive pace than Doug Marrone’s team. Buffalo ran another 79 plays in this game, dominating time of possession.
EJ Manuel is finding some ‘comfort’ receivers that he’s developing rhythm with and they’re not last year’s No. 1 Stevie Johnson. Rookie WR Robert Woods (USC) was their top receiver against Baltimore and TE Scott Chandler is a big target over the middle.
Manuel did a great job escaping pressure after taking eight sacks last week. But he’s taking a ton of hits when scrambling out of the pocket; not likely to last through the season without getting hurt if that doesn’t change. And the offensive line was ‘night and day’ better than they were last week; the only possible way a team can outrush the Ravens by an 8 to 1 margin.
The Bills have serious cluster injuries in the secondary, making this five interception effort that much more impressive. It’s not every day you get five picks against the reigning Super Bowl MVP on a day where your top two cornerbacks and best safety are all inactive.
It’s been 13 years since Buffalo’s last playoff appearance (the Music City Miracle game), the longest streak in the NFL. Nothing about this win made me think that the streak won’t extend to 14.
CHIEFS: Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are devastating pass rushers in this 3-4 defense. Dontari Poe is already an elite level defensive tackle, stuffing the run all day. Even with CB Brandon Flowers out today, this defense was a dominant unit. Flowers replacement, rookie Marcus Cooper was just fine in his absence.
KC had another three sacks and forced three more turnovers here; repeatedly blowing up the line of scrimmage. Admittedly, their opponent had cluster injuries on their offensive line, and admittedly, Andy Reid knows his NFC East opponents like the back of his hand, but anytime you hold Eli Manning to 1-for-14 on third down conversions, you’re clearly doing something right!
Where are the playmakers on this offense? No quick strike TD’s unless Dexter McCluster is returning punts. Dwayne Bowe and Jamal Charles are not getting opportunities to make plays in space. Third string TE Shawn McGrath was their best receiver against the Giants. The fourth string TE Kevin Brock was good too! Alex Smith took a couple of downfield shots to Donnie Avery, but they weren’t able to connect.
Smith gets the ball out of his hands very quickly. He reminds me a lot of Trent Dilfer – good, safe, serviceable, but never going to be favorably compared to the elite QB’s in the NFL, regardless of his QB rating. Dilfer won a Super Bowl on a Ravens team with a great defense. At 4-0, maybe it’s time to start talking about Kansas City with that level of upside.
RAVENS: Joe Flacco is really trying to force things downfield, throwing his first INT in his last 79 pass attempts in the first quarter because he was pressing, looking for the big plays that carried this offense down the stretch last year. Then he proceeded to throw four more picks, although not all of them were on him – this receiving corps isn’t doing Flacco any favors. But with Dennis Pitta and Jacoby Jones still hurt, there’s only one downfield threat on this roster right now – Torrey Smith. Smith had a huge game; his receiving colleagues did not.
TE Ed Dickson let a perfect pass bounce off his hands for one INT. WR Tandon Doss was cut in the preseason and re-signed after all of their WR injuries, but he was awful here. Doss let passes bounce off his hands. He made a bad decision fielding a punt at the five yard line. He ran a three yard route on 3rd and four. And he fumbled away a reception deep in Baltimore territory, lucky that it was overturned on replay.
Flacco’s going to take the heat for the five INT effort, but Doss and Dickson were every bit the goat that Flacco was. This defense didn’t allow a single TD in their previous two games, and they looked good in the red zone again here, allowing only one in four red zone chances. I can’t call it a good defensive afternoon when they allowed more than 200 rushing yards.
There are certainly some early signs of a significant road/home dichotomy for this team. Both home games were stellar efforts. Both road games have been mistake ridden debacles. Last week, the Ravens called 26 passing plays and 31 running plays. They won. The previous week, 35 passing plays to 36 runs. They won. The ratio here? 54 pass attempts, 9 rushes. You already know the result.
RAIDERS: Throughout the preseason, Oakland looked like Jacksonville; a complete non-factor of a team, destined for a bottom tier finish and a run at the No. 1 pick in the draft next spring. But in all four of their games to open the season, the Raiders have been a competitive team. Not a good team – don’t get me wrong – but a competitive team; not going to get blown out every week. That being said, this wasn’t a particularly good effort.
There’s a big drop-off from Terrelle Pryor to Matt Flynn, as evidenced by Flynn’s ugly pick six to get the Redskins back in the game. Make no mistake about it – Flynn was bad here, showing us why he’s been beaten out by rookies in each of the last two training camps. His protection wasn’t good, constantly under pressure.
Flynn held the ball far too long. And his receivers didn’t help him very much – Oakland’s receiving corps is most assuredly not a unit of strength. Darren McFadden left the game with a bad hamstring, fullback Marcel Reese hurt his knee. They were both missed!
The Raiders defense stepped up and played well here, even though the struggling offense kept putting them in holes. They forced six ‘three-and-outs’, getting solid play from their front seven and excellent play from their secondary. Super Bowl winner Charles Woodson still has something left in the tank and so does Super Bowl winner Tracy Porter.
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]