Cornerback position is in good shape
I cannot remember a time when it was this hard to decipher who the best corner in the league is. On Sunday, the undisputed top-4 corners were absolutely on their game. Patrick Peterson and Richard Sherman sealed wins for their teams with late game interceptions. Derrelle Revis and Charles “Peanut” Tillman respectively kept in-check the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson. Revis corralled a late fourth-quarter interception and, if not for some horrendous play-calling that gave the Cardinals an extra possession, Revis would have kept Fitzgerald without a score and a rather pedestrian game. Tillman shadowed Johnson most of the game and could only best him on a 1-yard jump ball play for a touchdown. Otherwise, four catches for 44 yards was nothing to get excited about for Johnson. The player who would likely rank as fifth, Joe Haden, completely blanketed A.J. Green to the tune of seven catches for 51 yards. These two are used to dueling each other as they battled in one of the better rivalries in the SEC: Florida against Georgia. Haden is a physical corner who is not afraid of press coverage. When he gets beat, he has enough closing speed to make up for his mistakes or wins by the wide receiver. Another performance of note, was Aqib Talib slowing down Julio Jones for the majority of the first and second half of the Patriots-Falcons game. Jones eventually was able to breakout, but that was when he was being covered by Alfonso Dennard. Similar to Haden, Talib is relentless in press coverage and is as physical as they come.
Personally, I feel Peterson is the best of the bunch due to his ability to run with any receiver. His ball-skills are terrific and he is as fluid an athlete as you will see in the league. He can cover the speed receiver, the big receiver or the quick slot receivers. Sherman and Revis are no slouches either and Tillman has been underrated for so many year. A case could be made for any of these players as the best corner in the league. Regardless of how much of a passing league the NFL has become, the corner back position is in good shape with some great young players.
Verner, leading the Titans defense
Speaking of great cornerback play, it must also be noted that Alterraun Verner, has already picked off quarterbacks four times. Out of the 23 times he has been thrown to, he has only surrendered 8 completions and a 12.3 quarterback rating against opposing signal-callers. Verner has been a tremendous surprise this season and a key contributor to the Titans 3-1 start. Along with improved play from Michael Griffin and the opposing presence of Bernard Pollard, the Titans defense should be considered one of the most feared.
Colts, becoming the AFC version of the 49ers
The Colts looked great last season under the tutelage of Bruce Arians and their deep passing game. The Colts this season have since ditched that game-plan for one that is more conservative, while featuring a power running game. After 4 games, the Colts are third in the league in rushing, despite getting below average production from Trent Richardson. Pep Hamilton has simplified the offense for Andrew Luck and the offensive line is absolutely mauled opponents. Rushing for 153 and 184 over the last two games, the Colts have made the defensive fronts of the 49ers and Jaguars look completely ordinary (although the Jaguars do that on their own repeatedly). They are doing it with a true committee of runners. Whether it is Ahmad Bradshaw, Trent Richardson, Donald Brown or even Luck, who has shown some nice elusiveness, the Colts can put any back out there and be relatively successful. Additionally, the Colts are tied for 7th in the league in sacks, due in large part to a resurgence from Robert Mathis who already has 7.5 sacks. The formula for Indianapolis has been a stout running game and dominance in the offensive and defensive lines. Andrew Luck is also taking better care of the football, while still showing great signs of improvement in his sophomore season. One could say that they are the San Francisco 49ers of the AFC with the type of balance they are displaying.
An angry and confident Rivers is dangerous for the league
After four games, it is safe to say Philip Rivers is back. Not only is he completing a whopping 74% of his passes, but he has the moxie and confidence that we have seen him display when the Chargers have been right in the past. Rivers has always been a confident player and his trust in his abilities always transpired towards his receiving core. When he was posting Pro Bowl numbers, he was one of the best deep ball passers in the game, finding the likes of then-Charger, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd. It takes a fearless player to be able to throw the ball downfield with virtually no worry whether it will be picked off or not. In the past, Rivers could make the necessary plays 30 or 40 yards downfield that would show his confidence. Last season, however, was a struggle for Rivers due to a revamped offensive line where he was sacked 49 times. The big passing plays were not possible because the offensive line play was poor, thus not giving Rivers and his receivers time to materialize their routes. The Chargers, through three games, are 3rd in the league in sacks allowed with six. Mike McCoy has done brilliant work in making sure Rivers gets the ball out of his hands quickly by utilizing match-ups to his advantage. Against the Cowboys, McCoy made sure to exploit Bruce Carter in coverage by running a myriad of wheel routes with Danny Woodhead, who scored twice. The talent is not as strong as previous seasons and they are still struggling running the ball, but the Chargers are Rivers are playing good assignment football and Rivers, most importantly, has his confidence back and that is a bad sign for NFL defenses.
Broncos defense deserves as much credit as the offense
Not much needs to be said about the Broncos. This is as good a team as I have seen since the 2007 Patriots. Their offense will receive all the praise, but that defense has some terrific performers. Wesley Woodyard needs to be considered one of the best middle linebackers in the league. Danny Trevathan, despite his week one blunder where he dropped a pick-six just before crossing the goaline, has come out of nowhere and been a great coverage linebacker. Shaun Phillips, who the Chargers gave up on last season, has provided a great presence not only as a stand-up linebacker but also with his hand in the dirt. The rest of the defensive line has been stout as well, sporting the best run defense in the league. The secondary has held their own. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has squandered any thoughts of his demise from last season’s Eagles disaster. Conversely, Raheem Moore has played the safety position like a Pro Bowler. Broncos fans may never forget about the debacle on 4th down where Moore was beat in coverage, but his play so far will surely make them forgive him. All this considering Von Miller and Champ Bailey have not played a snap yet. I will not even mention the offense, as everyone and their mother is talking about it, ad-nauseum. It will be scary when they get back Miller and Bailey as they are not missing them one iota so far.
Ravens play calling is a mess
The most disappointing team this season, outside of the Giants and Steelers, must be the Baltimore Ravens. How is it conceivable that Ray Rice gets 5 carries in a game? The hiring of Jim Caldwell who, last season, was one of the pivotal reasons why the Ravens won the Super Bowl. Ray Rice was featured not only as a runner but as a pass-catcher as well. The offense was simplistic, yet Caldwell knew the right time to call down-field “shot-plays” to exploit defense and use the speed of Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith. This season, it appears the ghost of Cam Cameron has reared its ugly head with Rice getting only 41 touches in 3 games. Joe Flacco, has simply not been efficient enough with his passing so it only makes sense to give the ball to your best players. Additionally, the defense has been middle of the pack against the run and pass. When you consider the Ravens are reeling with the losses of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, it is imperative that Jim Caldwell must re-focus his gameplan around Rice and the running game.
Last strike for Greg Schiano
The situation in Tampa Bay has become a league-wide joke. Greg Schiano has completely lost his team, if he ever had their support to begin with. This all stems from a disciplinarian coach who came into a situation having never won anything at a mediocre program at Rutgers. His way of coaching will never endure himself to established players. From his practice habits, to his late game shenanigans when opposing teams are kneeling the ball against the Bucs (and boy, have the Bucs seen their fair share of victory formations against them), Schiano is making a great case for never coaching in the NFL again. The Josh Freeman situation has been handled extremely poorly by both parties, but the news that it was leaked that he is-or isn’t-in the NFL substance abuse program, just wreaks of the bush-league type dealings that you do not expect to see from an NFL franchise. From Derrelle Revis complaining about how he was utilized, to the MSRA fiasco, the last straw should be if Schiano leaked these stories about Freeman. The Buccaneers have now dealt with back-to-back head coaches who have turned their teams into media circuses. It is hard to believe that someone could be as bad as Raheem Morris was but Schiano may very well take the cake. The most important factor is their 0-4 record, their lack of discipline which has made them one of the most penalized teams in the league. Schiano has completely lost his team and it is only a matter of time before he is axed.