By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Chief Doubter
A look at five statistical storylines from the early Sunday games here in Week 9.
1. Getting to 9-0 without a passing game is a remarkable feat. It’s also a recipe for ultimate disaster.
You can quote Alex Smith’s amazing 26-4-1 record over his last 31 starts all you want as fact of his excellence, but sometimes you have to dig at least a little bit to get at some truth.
Smith “won” a 23-13 game in Buffalo Sunday as the Chiefs went to 9-0, but let’s not give No. 11 too much credit.
For the fourth time in five weeks, he threw no touchdowns. His 4.28 yards per attempt marked the six straight week he’d been under the league average of 7.2 yards per attempt .
But his defense (two touchdowns) outscored his offense (three field goals) and the opposition (13 points for a Bills team with more heart than sense).
And so all is well! Except that it’s not.
Andy Reid is getting the most out of what he’s got, but the Chiefs have yet to top 400 yards of offense once all season and they are a Jamaal Charles hamstring pull from real trouble.
The last few Super Bowl champs have all averaged at least 400 en route to their Lombardi Trophies, and have all passed the ball the best when the chips were down.
If the Chiefs can’t figure out a way to move the ball they seem doomed to an NFL Films video with lots of regular-season highlights and a sad postscript.
2. How ‘bout them Cowboys.
As if to save America from a solid week of incessant “What’s wrong with the Cowboys” roundtable, full of microanalysis of Dez Bryant, Tony Romo and Jerry Jones, Dallas pulled out a 27-23 win over the Vikings and averted disaster.
A loss, and they would have been just a half-game up on Washington at 4-5; instead, they maintain the 1.5-game edge over the Skins and Eagles (pending Philly’s game today).
Thank you for sparing the rest of NFL Nation for pretending to care about the Cowboys’ perceived or real slights.
Having 51 passes to nine runs, as they did vs. the Vikings. seems like a pretty shaky foundation for success, but they put the game on Romo and he delivered, spreading it around to eight receivers and only throwing one INT. He went 9 plays for 90 yards to win it in the fourth, adding to what’s actually been a remarkable record of clutch behavior across his career.
Is a four-point home win against the Vikings anything to write home about? Nope, but when you’ve been on the wrong end of three close games against good teams (losses to the Chiefs, Broncos and Lions), a win means a lot. And the Cowboys are the only team in that division that looks capable of not just limping into the playoffs but being capable of beating anyone.
3. The Rams need to learn from the last two weeks.
We’re no fans of Sam Bradford, but we’re also on record criticizing a series of Rams coaches for their overreliance on passing the ball. Despite the fact that this Rams team has a quality defense and a consistently unproductive passing game, Bradford has been dropping back 40 times a game his whole career.
Yet all of a sudden, with the Rams down to Kellen Clemens, they have had to go to the run – and lo and behold, it’s been great (200 yards last week, 170 this week in the 28-21 loss to Tennessee).
But just as coach Jeff Fisher deserves blame for ignoring the run until they needed it, Rams GM Les Snead deserves some heat for the lack of a viable backup QB.
In both of his starts, Kellen Clemens has been handed an excellent defensive effort and a great running game (200 yards last week, 170 this week). But Clemens couldn’t drive home the nail either time, and didn’t produce a single pass play over 27 yards. Sunday vs. Tennesee, he had the ball in his hands twice in the fourth quarter; he fumbled it inside his own red zone and failed to lead a tying drive.
How can you go into a season with so many good building blocks, but no one viable behind a so-so starter with an injury history. At 3-6 in a loaded NFC West, the Rams are basically dead in the water thanks in part to their handling of the QB position.
4. The Panthers are the Patriots of the NFC – the QB is the only topic of discussion, but the D is the star.
Carolina (5-3) needed to make a statement Sunday, and the Panthers did just that, beating Atlanta 34-10 for their fourth consecutive win by double digits, their fourth straight allowing 15 points or fewer. That’s not easy to do.
Cam Newton was just OK after three straight great games (two INTs, 6.7 YPA), but it hardly mattered -- they did it Sunday the way they’ve done it the last month.
Run defense: Fresh off allowing 75, 63 and 48 in blowing out Minnesota, St. Louis and Tampa,
Turnovers: They’ve forced at least one in all eight games, and added three more Sunday.
First downs: The offense got 22, 22 and 21 the last three weeks, and added ?? Sunday.
Play a bad team: Unfortunately, the Falcons appear to qualify at this point; the “best” team Carolina has beaten is 3-5 St. Louis.
Coming up next for the Panthers are San Francisco, New England and Miami – win two of those three, and Carolina fans can start to think a little bigger.
5. In other news …
Big Shiny Hood Ornaments might be fool’s gold, but their absence was felt by the Saints (6-2) and Falcons (2-6) Sunday. CHFF chief Kerry Byrne talks a lot about the Shiny Hood Ornament Man Law, which more or less states that wide receivers are the most overvalued position in sports.
But New Orleans missed top WR Marques Colston, and the Falcons are just a shell without Julio Jones and Roddy White. Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham both had big days at TE, but these teams are never the same without their ornaments. …
Maybe it’s time to start taking Jake Locker and the Titans a little seriously. At 4-4, they’re not going to be a lot better than .500 (if that), but Locker is 4-2 in his six starts and got some nice help from his running game Sunday (198 yards against St. Louis!). This could be a surprise team of 2014. ...
The Chargers (4-4) showed that anything less than perfection from Philip Rivers (two INTs) is going to lead to bad things. They allowed 500 yards of offense, and in their four losses have allowed an average of 425 yards a game. …
Those Jets (5-4) are fun. Lose 49-9 one week, beat the Saints the next week. And even better, they beat the Saints with retreads like Greg Salas, Zach Sudfeld and Josh Cribbs playing key roles on offense. Next week: they cure cancer, then drop the beaker on the way from the lab.
Minnesota (1-7) basically played the same game vs. Dallas they played all of last year – a lot of Adrian Peterson, decent defense, safe passing game. They won the close ones last year (5-1 in games decided by 7 or less), they’re losing them this year (1-3)