By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Legend Questioner (@colonelcomey)
Five things we learned from an early slate of games Sunday that saw a landmark win in Indianapolis, and expected behavior in Green Bay and Miami.
1. If you were picking NFL quarterbacks based only on five games worth of evidence, Tom Brady wouldn’t be anywhere near the top 10. Maybe not even top 20.
I’ve been one of the beat writers for the Patriots for over a decade, and I’ve never seen Brady look this bad. He’s tentative, he’s not taking any chances, he’s uncomfortable, he’s … average. At best.
Most of the blame will and should be laid at the feet of the talent around him, but that doesn’t add up to struggles like we’ve seen this year in New England.
The Patriots have only scored 19 PPG, worst after five games in the Brady era, and Brady himself is a bit of a mess.
While Brady hasn’t been a liability, he hasn’t been a strength, either – he’s been playing like a classic “caretaker QB,” there to avoid mistakes and keep his team in games.
His 6.4 yards per attempt through four games was his worst since his worst season as pro (2002), and while some of it was drops, a lot of it was just shaky play.
That’s basically what he did in Cincinnati (one INT on what amounted to a Hail Mary in a driving rainstorm late), but his normal crisp short throws were off again as they have been for much of the season. His line (18 of 38, 197, 0 TD, 1 INT) was a bit surprising given a strong game in Atlanta, but the fact that it wasn’t flat-out shocking shows you where Brady is at right now.
It can’t be a coincidence that this is going on in conjunction with a defensive resurgence; clearly coach Bill Belichick, who preaches “Do your job,” is asking Brady to do a different job than he has in the past.
How Brady responds to that new job – and how healthy the Patriots can get the rest of the way – will determine a lot about their future.
2. Colts-Seahawks Was Pretty Epic.
Russell Wilson vs. Andrew Luck. You might not see this matchup again until 2017, when the NFL schedule maker pairs them up again … or, then again, you might see it in one or more Super Bowls before then.
Wilson and Luck have both displayed all of the stuff great QBs are made of. Great arms, better brains, guts, leadership, all of it.
Sunday, Luck got the better of things. Against the league’s best secondary, he didn’t make the big mistake (no picks), made the best throw of the season (a rocket to T.Y. Hilton for 73-yards that looked special-effects aided), and brought home his best win of a great career thus far.
Wilson ran for 102 yards, but struggled through the air for the second straight week and had two turnovers. But it was still pretty telling that on a day where he didn’t have “it,” his team still had a chance to win the game in the final throes.
It’s a shame the AFC can’t reclaim the Seahawks as their own so this would be a more regular thing. Instead, this shapes up as the new version of Montana (NFC) vs. Marino (AFC).
Thirty years ago, Montana and Marino went head to head in San Francisco, Marino winning 20-17 on an Uwe von Schamann field goal. The following season, they met again in the Super Bowl.
Don’t be surprised if these two QBs decide to move up their next scheduled date as well.
3. The Defensive Turnarounds in KC and New Orleans are Truly Remarkable.
Drew Brees is doing what Drew Brees does. In the Saints’ win over the Bears, he was accurate (29 of 35) and smart (16 receptions by running backs against a great Bears secondary). But last year, he probably would have lost the game because he “only” engineered 26 points.
Last year, opponents topped that 26-point mark 11 times. This year, they’ve yet to even top 18.
New Orleans allowed 6.5 yards a play in 2012, and they’ve cut that down to 5.3 while adding a bend but don’t break component – look for them to crack the top 5 in Bendability this week.
While a lot of credit is going to defensive coordinator Rob Ryan – and the return of Sean Payton/normalcy – some also needs to go to GM Mickey Loomis. First-round picks S Kenny Vaccaro (2013), DE Cameron Jordan (2011), and CB Malcolm Jenkins (2009) are all playing big, and rookie third-round pick John Jenkins has changed the culture at defensive tackle – where the Saints have long been vulnerable.
In Kansas City, you could at least see it coming a little. You knew they had the talent – but the offense was so, so bad, and left them in so many terrible positions (-24 on turnovers) that they just got dragged down in the muck.
The Chiefs this year are +9, and the defense – with most of the same names – is tops in the league at 11.6 PPG allowed.
Seeing how opponents like Dallas (16 pts), Philly (16 pts) and Tennessee (17 pts) have looked against other teams (all in top 13 scoring average through four weeks), it doesn’t feel like a fluke. Kudos to coordinator Bob Sutton, who is one of these hidden gems that hide on coaching staffs for years (the Jets for several different eras) before taking center stage late in life.
4. Championship Experience Paid Off Big Time for Baltimore and Green Bay … and the Complete Lack of it Cost Miami and Detroit.
It’s just classic. Mentally, I refer to games like Baltimore 26, Miami 23 and Green Bay 22, Detroit 9, as “Loser Team vs. Winner Team Inevitability Showdowns.”
Miami has no less talent than Baltimore. Same for Detroit and Green Bay. And yet, both results seem so predictable – winner team needs a win to right the ship toward a title, they get it. Loser team needs a win to legitimize themselves? They lose it.
Miami didn’t play like losers – no turnovers – but they also got pounded physically by Baltimore, taking six sacks and going 3-for-16 on third downs. And when they had a chance to tie the game late, they couldn’t pick up key yards and missed a long field goal.
Back to the pack they go, while the Ravens keep pace in the AFC North.
The Lions, playing without Calvin Johnson, were like a car with four wheels in Green Bay. My man Kerry J. Byrne isn’t a believer in big-time receivers, calling them “Shiny Hood Ornaments,” but Johnson is more like the front axle for the Lions.
Detroit, like Miami, also committed no turnovers, but they also only gained 4.5 yards a play – to Green Bay’s whopping 7.0 per play.
With the Bears’ loss to the Saints, the Packers and Lions are effectively tied for the top at two losses each. Anyone want to put a few bucks on which team steps forward from that crew (hint: rhymes with Green Bay Smackers.)
5. Notes And News And Noogies ...
It was a little hard to take that Eagles-Giants game too seriously, even though it was a huge win for Philly and a devastating loss for the Giants. The NFC East needs to go in the corner, sit quietly, and reflect on their actions for awhile. …
Eli Manning is certainly struggling, but give the guy credit for trying – he’s on pace to throw it 650 times this year, way above his career high (589 in 2011). …
You know it’s a bad season when you go to play a 2-2 team on the road, lose by 14, bench your “franchise quarterback,” fail to cover the spread ... and it’s easily your best game of the season. Congrats, Jacksonville. That’s where you are right now. ..
Detroit’s secondary was off to a great start (No. 5 in Defensive Passer Rating), but Aaron Rodgers tends to put a damper on things: 20-30-274, no picks, one TD, 106.8 rating. …
Jay Cutler had a nice day in the loss to New Orleans (128.1 rating), but he also lost a fumble and dug the Bears a hole with five straight bad drives to take home-field advantage off the board early.
You’ve got to hand it to the NFL for their all-out blitz for Breast Cancer Awareness month. But considering the cheesy letters they sent out to the fans this week about their safety record - as an obvious response to the new book “League of Denial” – it’s tough to give them too much credit for their big-heartedness. …
The AFC is still awfully crowded, with 12 of the 16 teams at .500 or better heading into the night games.