By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
Not that I’m complaining, but there’s something definitely wrong with the Colts. It’s not Peyton Manning, who passed John Elway for third on the all-time passing yardage list last week, and is arguably better than ever right now, at least statistically (70 percent completions, 1,365 yards, 11 TDs and just one pick through his first four games). It’s not Bob Sanders, the king of all overrated players, being injured again (he misses at least half the season every year and the Colts barely miss a beat). But it’s something. Indy is 2-2 after four weeks with both losses in the division. This is sort of stunning considering they’ve cornered the market on starting seasons 10-0, 12-0, 14-0, etc., and clinching the AFC South practically by Thanksgiving (including last season, when they decided to scoff at history at 14-0, pulling their starters halfway through a Week 16 game against the Jets which led to their insufferable GM Bill Polian taking a long, slow leak all over their fans by saying that, “people who really understand the game understand why we did what we did.”).
Upon examining their first four games, it looks like the Colts are being bitten in the ass by some of the same issues that have plagued them in the past. They aren’t running the ball (75.5 yards per game, 29th in the league) and they are mediocre on defense (29th against the run, 24th overall). Obviously, with a quarterback like Manning and receivers like Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie (65 catches, 854 yards, seven TDs combined), a lack of a rushing threat isn’t the end of the world. But in all of the Colts near-miss seasons (of which there have been several), becoming one-dimensional and predictable on offense has hurt them somewhere down the line when it’s important, with the second half of last year’s Super Bowl loss to the Saints a prime example. The Colts’ approach in last week’s loss to Jacksonville down the stretch was questionable too, as the Jaguars play-calling suggested they were practically volunteering to go to overtime on the heels of the game being tied late in regulation on a TD pass from Manning to Collie, only coach Jim Caldwell (who has seemed overmatched from time to time since taking over for his predecessor, St. Tony Dungy) called a timeout, thus giving the Jags enough time to move into position for the game-winning field goal. Now they get the undefeated Chiefs in a game they’ll have to play without safety Melvin Bullitt, who has played a ton the past couple seasons in place of the always injured Sanders, but is now out for the year himself.
History suggests the Colts will rebound and be plenty scary down the stretch (their only Super Bowl win came in a year they didn’t actually win their division). But another loss this week and with games against Houston, Philly, Cincinnati and the Patriots all coming up before Turkey Day, there may be reason to wonder if one of the best runs of the past decade may be slowing down.
This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. Baltimore: No one is running away with anything this season, making these slots harder to fill. But the Ravens winning at Heinz Field – their own personal house of horrors – knocking off the reigning No. 1 team in the Steelers in the process, gives them the slight edge. It doesn’t hurt that the winning drive directed by QB Joe Flacco (24-of-37, 256 yards, TD) came in the final minute against the league’s top-ranked defense.
2. Pittsburgh: The Steelers were just over a minute away from being 4-0 without Ben Roethlisberger before Flacco’s heroics. It’s conceivable that Roesthlisberger’s return won’t go as smoothly as has been predicted. But the guy is a two-time champion, he’s healthy, he has a star running back in Rashard Mendenhall (89 carries, 411 yards, 4.6 YPA, four TDs) and he has a defense that’s as good as anyone’s. Watch out.
3. New York Jets: As painful as it is to admit, the Jets are really, really good and their stinkbomb against the Ravens in Week 1 seems to have been a fluke. Not only are they rolling without defensive stars Calvin Pace, Darrelle Revis and Kris Jenkins, they’re getting stunning numbers from not yet washed up LaDainian Tomlinson (56 carries, 341 yards, 6.1 YPA, three TDs) and even more surprisingly, QB Mark Sanchez, who has eight TDs and zero picks after throwing 20 last year. The Jets are 3-0 in the AFC East for the first time since 2000.
4. New Orleans: The Saints gutting out a two-point win at home against a team as bad as Carolina might suggest a lower spot on this list (or no spot at all), especially when you add a couple of turnovers and just one offensive TD in the game to the equation. But through their early season struggles, the defending champs are still 3-1 (and a shanked 29-yard field goal from being 4-0), they haven’t even come close to playing their best game yet and have the pathetic Cardinals and the not there yet Bucs in the next two weeks.
5. (tie) Kansas City/Atlanta: The Chiefs, of course, are now the league’s only unbeaten team (of course they are!), hence their presence here despite a bye last week. And the Falcons? Well let’s just say they made a certain Patriots Daily staff member who writes a column about the NFL look a bit, um… stupid, with their gritty, comeback win over the 49ers last week. Receiver Roddy White had six catches for 82 yards in the fourth quarter and also saved his QB and the rest of the team when he ran down Niners corner Nate Clements after Clements had intercepted a pass on what looked like the Falcons last gasp drive, forced a fumble and gave his team another chance to win (which of course, they did). Sorry for being a jackass, Atlanta.
This Week’s Fiver Worst Teams
1. Buffalo: In the Bills defense (since they don’t have any), it has been the Patriots and Jets who have run up and down the field on them the past two weeks. But really, 266 yards rushing against the Jets after 200+ against the Pats? And 444 total yards given up (including a large chunk by Jets third-stringers) won’t fly when you’re 0-for-10 on third down and have 109 yards passing. Even with a decent shot to win this week at home against a Jacksonville team sure to let down after its stunning win over the Colts last week, the Bills are going to be lucky to go 2-14 this season. Sad but true.
2. Carolina: Finally, signs of life from the Panthers, who led the Saints in the fourth quarter before succumbing last week. The near miss came with a high price though as star receiver Steve Smith was carted off the field with an ankle injury in the third quarter. It may not matter that much since rookie QB Jimmy Clausen can’t get him the ball and Smith’s all the Panthers have in the passing game.
3. Detroit: The Lions are now barely losing all of their games instead of being blown out in all their games. Baby steps. They scared the crap out of the Packers in Green Bay last week (26 points, 431 total yards, 24 first downs) and get the much improved Rams at home this week with QB Matthew Stafford on course to be back the week after. Detroit may well just be the best winless/8-67 on the road over the past 10 seasons/33 wins since 2000 team in history.
4. San Francisco: Clements carelessly fumbling away the Niners first win of the season while trying to score unnecessary points instead of just falling on the ball with a lead against the Falcons was a microcosm of his team’s sorry season thus far. The funny thing is, the Rams (2-2) are probably the best team in the NFC West right now (that’s right, the Rams) which means that even at 0-4, San Fran is very much still alive for a playoff spot.
5. (tie) Cleveland/Arizona: The Browns actually won a game last week, getting a solid defensive performance and another huge game from Peyton Hillis (think Mike Alstott, version 2.0), who ran for 102 yards and his fourth TD in four weeks against the Bengals. Cleveland had better watch out or they won’t be on this list much longer. As for the Cardinals, they must be the worst 2-2 team ever. Both of their losses have been by more than 30 points, they’ve allowed at least 364 total yards in each of their last three games and managed just 128 yards of their own in their 41-10 loss to San Diego last week. At least they’re now starting an undrafted rookie at QB just in time to face New Orleans this week.
- The Broncos passing game: If you had Kyle Orton as the best QB in the league through four weeks, you win. Orton threw for 348 yards against Tennessee last week and led the Broncos to a comeback win on the road in doing so. He’s averaging 355 passing yards per game and is on pace to finish with 5,676. And his receivers aren’t so bad either; witness both Brandon Lloyd and Eddie Royal going over 100 yards in the win over the Titans.
- Shaun Phillips, Chargers: It did come against the Cardinals and their woeful offense, but Phillips had four sacks, four tackles for a loss, two passes knockdowns and a 31-yard INT return for a score. The last time the Chargers got anything like that from a linebacker, it was Shawne Merriman before he got caught doing steroids and subsequently fell off the side of the earth.
- Terrell Owens, Bengals: Not much fun to give props to T.O. (especially after seeing the ridiculous ads for his even more ridiculous new TV show with Chad Ochocinco). But have to give credit where it’s due after he caught 10 passes for 222 yards and a 78-yard TD last week. Like him or not, he’s going to the Hall of Fame.
- The Broncos running game: Laurence Maroney, our dear old friend, had 11 carries for five yards against the Titans. Surprised? The rest of Denver’s runners weren’t much better, as Orton accounted for all but 19 of the Broncos total yards in the win. Denver is averaging a putrid 55 yards per game on the ground and injured starter Knowshon Moreno is no closer to coming back.
- The Bears offensive line: These guys allowed 10 sacks to the Giants, nine in the first half. Quarterback Jay Cutler kept on holding the ball way, way too long in the loss, but the concussion he suffered probably wouldn’t have happened if his line could block anyone for more than 0.3 seconds. Even overrated Giants defensive end/big mouth Osi Umenyiora, who hasn’t done anything in two years, had three sacks. If these guys were second graders, their report card would say, “Needs Improvement.”
- Andy Reid, Eagles: If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love pointing out ways/times/scenarios in which Reid, arguably the biggest fraud of a coach in the league, justifies his status as such. Last week, in the Eagles 17-12 loss to the Donovan McNabb-led Redskins, Reid had to call a timeout with fourth-and-goal at the 1 in the waning seconds of the first half (following a lengthy replay delay to see whether or not running back LeSean McCoy had crossed the goal line on the previous play). Coming out of the timeout, the Eagles didn’t have a play ready and were called for delay of game, causing them to settle for a field goal. Repeat, coming out of a timeout, they were called for delay of game. Par for the course for these guys in the Reid era. If your team is coached by Andy Reid and any clock management situation pops up, especially at a crucial moment in the game, you’d better start praying.
The moment you’ve all been waiting for – two more cents on the Pats trading Randy Moss to the Vikings. It’s strange because as shocking as the news was, as seemingly dumbfounding as the decision might be, it kind of makes sense. For all of Moss’s immense talent and ability, for all the records he set in 2007 and the highlights that went with them, the Pats never won anything with him on the team, not even winning a playoff game the past two seasons combined. Through four games this season, three wins, he has just nine catches. And even though he opens up so much extra room in the passing game for Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez and whomever, affecting the offense positively even when he’s not getting the ball, the Pats never had anyone doing anything like that when they were winning the Super Bowl in 2001, 2003 and 2004. They (and by they, I mean Bill Belichick) must have been convinced that they can not only win, but contend as well, without him. This is quite a leap of faith, considering those Pats had stellar defenses while these Pats have anything but. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, though.
Everyone who’s paid even an iota of attention to the Pats this season knows that Moss has been pissed off over not having a contract for next year. He’s proven over the course of his career that when he’s pissed off, he can and will disrupt his team. And even though, as Belichick went to great lengths to profess yesterday, Moss has yet to be any kind disciplinary problem (which may or may not be true), that doesn’t mean he won’t be down the road. What it looks like from this angle is that the team (and by the team, again, I mean Belichick) worried that Moss could have gone off at any second over his unhappiness with his contract status and that, combined with the feeling that they can win without him (along with the fact that he wasn’t likely to be on the team next year anyway), made the decision to trade him happen. The Pats are currently averaging 30 points per game, a number that will almost certainly decrease with Moss in Minnesota catching passes from (and eventually not winning with) BrettFavre. But what difference does it make if you win 41-14 or 24-14? None whatsoever.