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 thoughts and opinions from Week 6.
Broncos: This offense does NOT take downfield shots; arguably the best ‘dink and dunk’ attack I’ve ever seen. The passing game is just lots of well executed short passes thrown by a remarkably accurate quarterback. Even on a day where the Broncos were clearly a little bit flat in a legitimate sandwich spot against the worst team in the league, they still had five offensive TDs compared to only three punts and zero field goal attempts.
The secondary is officially a problem area, even with Champ Bailey active. We all saw what Tony Romo did to them last week. Jacksonville QB Chad Henne was converting on third and 25 and Justin Blackmon was catching 14 balls for 190 yards. Rahim Moore was dropping sure interceptions, they were getting gashed on the ground, and the pass rush wasn’t there. To make matters worse, Denver has a cluster injury problem on their defensive line. Getting Von Miller back next week should provide a sorely needed boost.
Jaguars: Blackmon is clearly making a difference for this offense. He’s a legitimate deep threat plus his potential opens things up for Cecil Shorts and the other pass catchers. But Shorts got hurt early and didn’t return, leaving Henne with only one legitimate receiver to work with. Henne wasn’t shy about finding his big play wideout, targeting Blackmon a whopping 20 times on his 42 attempts.
Henne is no NFL starting QB, making a bevy of mistakes. After trading away one starting tackle and losing the other one to injury last week, the protection was surprisingly good – Henne had time to throw. But he had problems with underthrows and overthrows, not one of the league’s more accurate passers.
Two inexperienced safeties are a clear weak link on this defense that’s been forced to play lots of Cover-2 to avoid big gainers. Rookie Josh Evans got schooled on Wes Welker’s TD grab while rookie John Cyprien struggled in coverage as well. They were able to generate modest pressure on Peyton Manning despite not sacking him, but this defense still has a long way to go to reach mediocrity.
Jets: The defense was stellar against Pittsburgh, despite being put in numerous tough situations due to offensive miscues. The No. 2 ranked rush defense in the NFL stuffed the run and hung tough in the red zone, forcing field goals, not touchdowns.
Geno Smith played like a rookie, in sharp contrast with his veteran level performance last Monday night. Smith missed a wide open Stephen Hill for a sure TD, but at least the Jets are taking downfield shots. Then he took sacks on back-2-back third down tries. The first catch by a Jets WR came in their two minute drill before halftime. This is not a dynamic offense, especially after their top two running backs left the game following injuries.
How can Rex Ryan be so aggressive on Monday Night and so conservative against the Steelers? Why not go for it on fourth and one from inside the 5 in a scoreless game? New York had been the single most penalized team in the NFL and added another 60 yards.
Patriots: Tom Brady took five more sacks against New Orleans and was under constant pressure again. And we saw the rarest of Brady plays, an 11 yard scramble for a first down, something he almost never does. Brady’s protection was decent – the sacks weren’t entirely the fault of poor protection from his offensive line. Rather, the problem was with his receivers unable to get open; coverage sacks.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski should be back next week, and we can expect him to immediately become the focal point of this passing game, because nobody else is. But it’s worth noting Brady’s struggles throwing the deep ball of late. He’s just not hitting his receivers in stride, missing an easy potential TD to Danny Amendola here; just one of several poorly thrown deep balls.
How good is this defense? New Orleans didn’t gain a single first down on seven of their 12 drives, including the last two that cost the Saints the victory. After four consecutive 100 yard games, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham didn’t catch a pass with Belichick taking him out of the game completely. But star cornerback Aqib Talib limped off the field, a potential impact injury with Vince Wolfork and Tommy Kelly already missing from their defensive line.
Steelers: If Todd Haley hasn’t been thoroughly discredited yet, he should be at this point. Haley’s offense still doesn’t work two years into his tenure here, despite having a two time Super Bowl winner playing QB. Big Ben doesn’t take many sacks, shaking off defenders with his linebacker sized body, but he took a pair on the first scoring drive; forced to settle for three points as a result.
Antonio Brown dropped a sure TD in the end zone, but made a great grab on third and long to keep their next drive alive. Entering the game, the Steelers were averaging only 58 yards per game running the football, a number that has declined every year since 2010. Le’Veon Bell was a complete non-factor in his first game since running all over the Vikings, and the Steelers couldn’t even average three yards per carry despite playing with a big lead for most of the second half.
The problems are simple to understand – they don’t force turnovers and settle for field goals. One of those problems was solved with a pair of interceptions in winning the turnover battle for the first time this year. And tackling was much better after a bevy of misses doomed their chances against the Vikings. Rookie sixth rounder Vince Williams and first rounder Jarvis Jones are both starting at linebacker.
Texans: The box score numbers looked great, outgaining the Rams nearly 2 to 1 for the afternoon. But yards that don’t equate to points have been this team’s Achilles heel during this four game losing streak. One touchdown in six red zone tries isn’t going to cut it at any level. Three red zone turnovers will doom any team’s chances.
I think the Texans have to go with third stringer Case Keenum at quarterback moving forward. Today’s failures weren’t Matt Schaub’s fault, but his body language was consistent with a QB who has lost his mojo, and the team picked up on his frustration. Plus, it was very clear that the coaching staff didn’t trust him. Houston’s initial first and goal situation? Run, run, penalty, pass short of the goal line, field goal attempt; not exactly creative play calling.
Backup TJ Yates was worse, throwing a pair of red zone interceptions. Keenum was every bit as good as Yates in preseason, and if Gary Kubiak is going to make a change, Keenum seems to be the guy with the most upside moving forward.
Four penalties and a turnover in the first quarter is no way to start a statement game at home against a bottom feeder. They had 95 penalty yards before halftime, and their No. 30 ranked red zone defense allowed TDs on all three St. Louis red zone opportunities.
Reports from the locker room after the game were not good. Following the loss to Seattle two weeks ago, there was anger boiling over. Following the loss to St. Louis, there was just a quiet acceptance of their fate.
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]