Andy Dalton regressing
Alright, will the real Andy Dalton please stand up? Whether he is a mediocre weak-armed quarterback who throws nine interceptions with a 66 quarterback rating in their four losses , or a quarterback who is on the cusp of being a top-tier player, as evidence by his 105 quarterback rating in their 6 wins, the Bengals need to know which Andy Dalton they have at their disposal. Not only are his inconsistencies hurting the team, but when he plays well, he tricks the team into thinking he can win games. His play in losses, is nothing short of brutal and it doesn’t exude a whole lot of confidence for a guy who has not locked himself as the quarterback of the future. In my opinion, he was the main reason the Bengals lost that game. Gio Bernard showed up. A.J. Green showed up. The Bengals defense, decimated by injuries to key players, allowed 189 yards and were terrific on third downs against the Ravens. They absolutely showed up. Andy Dalton did not step up and despite the Ravens secondary (we are looking at you James Ihegdibo) and Joe Flacco providing the Bengals with numerous opportunities to win the game, Dalton did not rise up to the occasion. It is clear that when he is off, the Bengals need to change their game plan and rely more on their explosive rookie running back, Gio Bernard.
Ultimately, he is the best option they have as backups Josh Johnson and Zac Robinson are bit players who are barely worth backup positions. Dalton needs to fix his issues quickly because the division title is no longer a lock and even if they make the playoffs, Dalton’s play has been mediocre at best. The Bengals would be smart to adopt the type of strategy the Chiefs have used with a game-manager style quarterback in Alex Smith. The formula is to play smart football, make high-percentage throws and rely on your defense.
St Louis getting their groove back
I was one of the many people who predicted the Rams defense being one of the best in the league this year. Well, they struggled out of the gate due to injuries to Cortland Finnegan and a tough schedule. Over their last three contests, they are allowing an average of only 12.6 points per game and have sacked the likes of Andrew Luck, Jake Locker and Russell Wilson, three, four and seven times respectively. Despite a 1-2 record in those contests, the Rams are showing improvement which is impressive if you consider that Sam Bradford is out for the season. The most note-worthy play from the defense in their 38-8 thumping of the Colts, was when their defensive ends combined to score their first touchdown of the game. Robert Quinn, cleanly beat Anthony Costanzo in the first quarter and stripped sacked Andrew Luck. Chris Long was there to pick up the football and score a 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown. Over this three game span, Long and Quinn have re-energized the defense and have been terrors at their positions, recording 10 sacks between them. With the added pressure, Janoris Jenkins is playing like he did in his rookie season last year with aggressive coverage.
Equally impressive was Tavon Austin who had a punt return of 98 yards. It is a known adage around football that you should never field a punt at the two yard line. Well, if you have the speed and athletic ability that Austin possesses, you can get away with such plays. His other two receiving touchdowns were for 57 and 81 yards, which show the type of ability he has in the open field. The Rams need to find more ways to get him into open space.
Is it just me or is Golden Tate improving steadily every game? Not only is he a solid special teams contributor, but he can run any route and is a danger in the short or deep passing game. Despite his diminutive stature, he can go up and high-point the ball over bigger defenders. Does that profile sound familiar? There is currently a diminutive receiver who plays a feisty style of football and also attacks the football once it comes in his vicinity.
I see so many similarities between Steve Smith and Tate, most notably, how they continuously play with a chip on their shoulder. Both are short, yet stocky receivers who possess great speed and the ability to make great plays in the boundary. Tate’s ability to beat coverage will increase even more when Percy Harvin is back, which will alleviate some double coverages on the outside.
Offenses seeing red in Arizona
The Arizona Cardinals are 5-4 and this with a quarterback who has thrown 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Since the return of Daryl Washington in week five against the Panthers, Arizona has been 3-2 and shaved off 20 yards from their average total yards allowed per game to become a top 12 unit. Combined with the continued great play of Calais Campbell and Karlos Dansby in the front seven and Patrick Peterson continuing his ascension as a top-tier cornerback, the Cardinals are looking like the second best team in the division. There is still a lot of football left and improvement in the passing game, especially Larry Fitzgerald who has been held under 50 yards receiving in five of eight games. If the Cardinals can continue to manage Carson Palmer, which they did on Sunday where he completed 20 of 32 passes with only one turnover, they can challenge for a Wild Card position on the strength of their defense and an underrated running game (As long as Andre Ellington gets more touches than Mendenhall. Yes, I have Ellington on my fantasy team).
Giants are still alive
The recipe for the Giants and their three straight wins is quite simple. Sprinkle in an improved defense that has allowed 34 points in their last three games and blend in a renewed committment to the running game and you have a team that is still very much in the NFC East race. It is also not a coincidence that Eli Manning, who had three 300-yard passing games in his first five games, has none since. Kevin Gilbride is finally taking all the reigns from Manning and relying less on his throwing ability. The stats tell it all: 15 interceptions during the 0-6 start and only one (a pick six) in the three game winning streak. Has the running game looked dominant? Far from it. But the Giants are controlling the clock and not allowing their defense to start drives in precarious positions. Terrell Thomas is as good a story as you will find in the league. Back-to-back seasons, in 2011 and 2012, where he blew out his ACL, his career looked in jeopardy. Now, he has been, along with Antrel Rolle, the saving grace of a Giants secondary that was decimated by injuries to Stevie Brown and Corey Webster. As well, Justin Tuck and Mattias Kiwanuka are playing a key roles as the pass rush starts to gain traction. Jason Pierre-Paul continues to struggle and is doesn’t appear completely healed from his pre-season back surgery.
While it will still be an uphill battle, the Giants can take solace in having won a game against the Eagles, which could be huge for tie-breaker scenarios late in the season. The ebbs and flows of each of the teams truly shows that there is no consistency in this division. The Eagles (now up), Cowboys (now down) and Redskins (up and down), have all been through various high and low points during the season.
-Reggie Bush is still electrifying, but I have seen him get caught from behind far too often by guys who are way out of the play. He has definitely lost some miles per hour off his once game-breaking speed
-The Packers secondary should be ashamed of themselves. Nick Foles threw two long-bomb ducks that still managed to be corralled by Eagles players. This team has no shot at the playoffs without Aaron Rodgers.
-Drew Brees would be the clear-cut Most Valuable Player award winner if not for Peyton Manning.
-Let’s relax on Kaepernick. He has started less than 20 games in the league and he is missing key players in Crabtree, Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham who only returned against the Panthers. Yes, he needs to do more and improve his pocket awareness but keep in mind that of his 220 pass attempts, 116 have gone to Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. The latter, has looked old and slow and cannot separate from corners anymore. Kaepernick will be fine but, just as Manningham returns, Davis may be out with a concussion he suffered against Carolina.
-The Bears need to let Cutler sit. McCown has looked great and it is not easy for a backup to come in late in the game and drive a team down the field for a touchdown. The better he plays, the less pressure there will be for Cutler to return soon and he increases his stock as a potential starter for a team looking for a new direction at quarterback.
-I’ve talked up the Panthers defense more than once, but it cannot be understated. Their front four absolutely dominated the 49ers offensive line. You’ll be hard-pressed to see any team come into Candlestick Park and absolutely maul the best offensive line in the league. Carolina didn’t need to do much on offense because their defense predicated the entire game. Carolina is not only a legitimate contender for the Wild Card position, but as well for the NFC South, as they are one game back of the Saints.
-I left the Cowboys-Saints debacle for my quick slants because I do not want to spend too much time on their struggles. All that needs to be said is that Jason Garrett is not made to be a head coach in the league. He never makes adjustments and his offenses can never collectively be good on the ground and in the air in a game. Worst of all, Jerry Jones’ comments regarding Rob Ryan’s firing being a mistake completely undermines his staff. As per always, a mess in ‘Jerry’s World’.
-Speaking of the Cowboys, Sean Lee being injured for the next three games is a major blow. He is integral to a defense that is struggling playing the ‘Tampa 2’ defense. As the guy who calls the plays and directs traffic, this is a major loss.
-Atlanta is absolutely atrocious in the trenches. Their run blocking and run defense is non-existent. They lack any type of physicality and it is hard their run defense and running game. This season is a complete write-off at this point.
-Did the Dolphins forget that they actually have to play football? It seems they have been completely side-tracked by the Incognito-Martin saga. Tampa Bay needed a win and it was predictable that they would bring their best effort, but the Dolphins did not come close to matching that. Fourteen carries for two yards. TWO YARDS!
-Next week’s matchups are worth ensuring that you get all your chores done or buy your girlfriend that new toy to ensure your Sunday is free: Ravens @ Bears, Redskins @ Eagles, Browns @ Bengals, 49ers @ New Orleans, Packers @ Giants and Chiefs @ Broncos. All have major playoff implications and provide intriguing matchups and philosophical differences with regards to schemes and play-styles.