By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Observer-At-Large
Here are 10 Things We Learned from a Week 7 Sunday where Super Bowl champion quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees) were the only guys to pass for 300 yards, but newcomers (Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Christian Ponder) stole the show.
1. Something is wrong with Philip Rivers.
From 2009 to 2010, Rivers was the league’s most consistently excellent regular-season quarterback. Manning, Brady and Rodgers might have been better, but no one did it week in and week out without slumps or skips like Rivers. His worst in-game passer rating over 32 regular season games was 73.4, and he was over 80 in all but three games.
This year, with the same coach, same basic cast of characters on the offensive line and in the passing game, he’s been just as consistent. As in consistently mediocre. He’s turned it over 11 times in six games – twice more than he did in all of 2009 – and his yards per attempt is at 7.9 after seasons of 8.4, 8.8 and 8.7. His rating of 82.3 is decidedly un-Rivers like, and his Chargers are 4-2 despite him instead of the other way around (i.e., Rivers’ last three years in San Diego, where the rest of the team squandered wins in every way possible.
Sunday, he couldn’t get anything done vs. the Jets, then had one of the worst brain farts in recent history, throwing it away on fourth down as the Chargers attempted to come back with seconds left. Norv Turner couldn’t even muster it up to yell at Rivers as he came off the field and tried to explain himself. Rivers did take some big hits vs. New England in Week 3, and even though he hasn’t turned up on the injury report, it seems pretty likely that there’s something physical going on.
Rivers will turn 30 in December, so time’s ticking on his window to get to a Super Bowl. And when you look at the coach/QB combos in other cities, it’s ticking loudly indeed.
2. If the Rams get the No. 1 pick, they should trade Sam Bradford.
It was a great Sunday for the 49ers, who have to be in the best position to make the playoffs of any 5-1 team ever. They’ve now got a full three-game lead, and can actually, you know, play football. The Cardinals are over. So are the Seahawks.
And the Rams? At 0-7, without any semblance of an offense, they’re the surprise team of the year (in a bad way).
Is it Bradford’s fault? Maybe not. But it’s worth noting that the breakthrough of 2010 (7-9) came almost solely thanks to an improved defense. And it’s also worth noting that the A.J. Feeley Rams on Sunday looked just like the Sam Bradford Rams.
Feeley averaged 5.7 yards an attempt and led the Rams to three points. For his career, Bradford is averaging 6.0 yards at attempt, and has only gotten St. Louis over 20 points in a game three times in 22 career starts. That’s pretty pathetic, and with the franchise right back to where it was when Bradford got there, the Rams would be foolish to pass on Andrew Luck if they get the No. 1 pick. Get a future No. 1 for Bradford, and start over.
3. Jim Caldwell is the worst head coach to ever reach a Super Bowl.
OK, maybe there’s some competition. Bill Callahan, Ken Whisenhunt and Jim Fassel were all unlegendary as well, but Caldwell is making Peyton Manning look like more of a coach on the field with each passing week.
Caldwell is surely a good football guy, and certainly inspires loyalty from his bosses. When Caldwell was the head coach at Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons had one winning record and a 26-63 overall mark – yet it took eight fruitless seasons for him to finally get the ax.
Can’t imagine he makes it to Year 4 in Indy, not after Sunday night’s 62-7 loss to the Saints that felt every bit like Alabama vs. Middle Tennessee State.
According to the pro-football-reference.com search engine, the last team that was on a losing streak of 5+ games and lost a game by 50+ points was the 1972 Patriots. They lost 52-0 to Miami in Week 9 under coach John Mazur, who was fired that week.
Will Bill Polian pull the trigger on Caldwell? It’s pretty doubtful, considering the Manning factor and Polian’s pragmatic approach, but it’s also extremely unlikely that the Colts’ uninspiring boss will be back.
4. The Texans finally showed some swagger.
All signs pointed to another Texans collapse, but instead Gary Kubiak’s boys came through with easily the biggest win in franchise history.
Re-take the division lead in a two-team race to the playoffs? Check. Demoralize No. 2 team in division, 41-7? Check. Prove that the defense can do it without Mario Williams? Check. The Texans only allowed Tennessee 3.1 yards per play, and that’s only 3.1 yards per play more than you got. Get their stud running back back on track? Arian Foster’s 234-yard, three-touchdown day was a sight for sore eyes, for fantasy owners and actual football fans as well.
The Texans still need Andre Johnson back badly (only seven completions to WRs Sunday), but the AFC South seems like it’s finally going to be theirs … unless, of course, this was just another false note of hope for a franchise that has had tons of them over the years.
5. Tebow: Incredible. Newton: Incredibler, Rodgers: Incrediblest.
Yes, the Tim Tebow Show was must-see TV. If the historical parallel for Tebow is Steve Young, then we watched Tebow go from early Young (creamsicle Bucs uniform, lots of stumbling around) to classic Young (“get that monkey off my back!”) in a single three-hour span.
The Cam Newton Show is also great drama. He was a one-man wrecking crew in the win over Washington, with 11.1 yards per attempt passing, 59 rushing yards and an ease that is exceedingly un-rookie like. Panthers fans didn’t even have this much fun during their Super Bowl run.
But The Aaron Rodgers Show takes home the Emmy. It’s no exaggeration to say that Rodgers is as dominant as any player in history right now. We do the Rodgers stat stuff every week, but it never gets old. The man is averaging 9.9 yards an attempt. If this were 1764, he’d be burned at the stake for witchery. He’s turned it over three times in 284 dropbacks. The Packers are 7-0, without having had to really sweat since the last two minutes of Week 1 – and the defense is average at best.
6. Any company that hires Reggie Bush as a spokesman should immediately file Chapter 11.
If Jim Caldwell, Steve Spagnuolo and Tony Sparano are on the hot seat, so should whichever genius ad exec green-lit the Pizza Hut ad featuring Reggie Bush and a fantasy football fan sharing a pizza and a smile.
First, no self-respecting fantasy player would ever like Reggie Bush, who doesn’t score touchdowns or pile up yardage. Second, Bush literally affected the lives of hundreds of college players at USC by taking whatever he could get as a Trojan and lying about it at every turn. Third, REGGIE BUSH SUCKS. He’s averaging 3.9 yards a carry, 5.7 yards a catch and has fumbled three times in 81 touches with Miami.
Pizza fans are strongly urged to avoid Pizza Hut, because if their judgment in terms of hiring pitchmen is that bad, could the Meat Lovers Deep Dish be any better?
Occupy Pizza Hut!
7. The Browns’ defense is for real.
No one likes a 6-3 game unless it’s baseball, but Cleveland’s defense deserves kudos after single-handedly getting the team to the .500 mark.
Big boss Mike Holmgren hasn’t done much to fix the offense, but the hiring of Dick Jauron to coach the defense is looking like a genius move. Cleveland is allowing 4.7 yards per play, down from 5.4 a year ago, despite mostly no-names in the front seven. (although they’re great names, like D’Qwell Jackson, Ahtyba Rubin, Jabaal Sheard).
Colt McCoy is doing his job by not making mistakes (four INTs in 289 dropbacks), and the Browns are making the most of what they have.
Unfortunately, averaging 4.3 yards per play on offense isn’t going to get you anywhere – especially with home-and-homes to go with the Steelers and Ravens. So, enjoy your ugly win, Browns fans. There probably won’t be many more to come of any variety.
8. You can never count the Jets or Falcons out.
Rex Ryan and Mike Smith don’t seem to have much in common. Ryan is a media hound, always quotable, while Smith is as obscure as you can get – can you remember a single instance of him saying anything, to anyone?
But on the field, they have similar success. They took over moribund franchises, imported rookie quarterbacks, and forged new identities. Atlanta wins with methodical, clutch offense, the Jets with methodical, clutch defense.
Two weeks ago, the Falcons and Jets were on the refuse heap, but both responded with back-to-back wins to get over .500 and right in the thick of the playoff mix. And they’ve done it with the one thing both teams have in common: the desire to pound the ball on the ground. Michael Turner put together back-to-back games of 139 and 122 yards, while the Jets ran more than they passed for the second straight week.
9. Yes, the Chiefs are a game out of the AFC West lead.
Todd Haley deserves some credit, and not only for the shaggiest coaching beard since Jeff Fisher got the boot in Tennessee. The Chiefs looked about as bad as a team could look through three weeks, but we noted after Week 3 that the division was mediocre enough that they weren’t done yet.
And now, the Chiefs are saying “Why Not Us?” While their 28-0 win over Oakland Sunday came without much contribution from the offense (4.3 yards per play?), six interceptions by the defense is almost always enough.
Kansas City has arguably the best cornerback tandem in the game (Brandon Carr and Brandon Flowers), and Haley apparently figured out how to build his Jamaal- Charles-less identity around that. The Chiefs are now seventh in Defensive Passer Rating (78.0), and while 9-7 is probably their best case scenario, it just might be good enough.
10. The Vikings are just like the 2006 Chargers … except for the winning.
In 2006, the Chargers had the league’s No. 1 running back (LaDainian Tomlinson, 1,815 yards) and the league’s No. 1 pass rusher (Shawne Merriman, 17 sacks). They also had the league’s No. 1 record, at 14-2.
Fast forward five years, and the Vikings have the league’s No. 1 running back (Adrian Peterson, 712 yards) and No. 1 sacker (Jared Allen, 11.5). The record? Sorry, Purple Nation, but it’s 1-6.
(Editor’s Note: this would be the right time to use the phrase “Ponder that one for a second!” but we are going to pass).
What that Chargers team had that this Vikings team doesn’t is Passer Rating Differential. The 2006 Chargers were No. 5 that year at +16.42; Minnesota is -16.40 this year and firmly in the league’s bottom 10. While Ponder looks pretty exciting, the Vikings are probably going to have to settle for a distinction as the league's most exciting 4-12 team ever when it's all said and done.