September 25, 2016

Around The League – Week Five

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
The Philadelphia Eagles, dubbed a “dream team” in the preseason by one of the many knuckleheads they pay millions of dollars to, are 1-4, can’t get out of their own way and are the whipping boys of the NFL.And that’s pretty awesome.

The Eagles are best known over the past decade-plus as massive overachievers. Losers of four out of the five NFC Championship games they’ve played since 2001, three of them at home, as well as a couple more home postseason games, they are the team that’s always just good enough to not get it done.

This year, they’re the team that isn’t really a team. No one grabbed more high-profile free agents during the rushed signing period between the end of the lockout and the start of training camp (Nnamdi Asomugha, Vince Young, Steve Smith, Jason Babin to name a handful) and the lack of cohesion shows. Philly is poor fundamentally, doesn’t know how to put games in which they have a lead away, and are near the bottom of the league in turnover differential. Going into last week’s loss against the Bills, a game in which they turned the ball over five times yet still had a chance to win until defensive lineman Ju’Qua Parker fell for the old “trying to draw the other team offside trick” (AKA, the oldest trick in the book), the Eagles had outgained their opponents by 275 yards and held the ball for 16 more minutes. Yet they had one win to show for it. And that’s still all they have.

Michael Vick surely deserves some blame for all this, as does the defense, which is now 30th in the league against the run and features a host of defensive backs who never seem to have learned how to tackle. But the common denominator coursing through all of this franchise’s underachievement since the early aughts is coach Andy Reid. Reid still doesn’t know how to manage the clock, spend his timeouts properly or balance his offense. He makes the same boneheaded coaching errors that he made when he was a novice. He tells anyone who will listen in the aftermath of these ugly defeats that he’s the one who deserves the blame and he’s mostly right. Reid isn’t out there playing. But he’s been there so long that there is clearly a culture around the franchise that reflects more on him than anyone else. And it’s a culture of disappointment.

Reid always skates despite never living up to expectations. If Philly goes 6-10 and misses the playoffs this year, after all the spending and posturing and talking it did after the lockout, and he keeps his job yet again, then something is clearly wrong in the City of Brotherly Love. Not that there isn’t something clearly wrong there already.

This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. Green Bay: The Packers got down 14-0 less than three minutes into the second quarter against Atlanta the pitched a shutout, scoring 25 unanswered points and completely wiping the pretender Falcons out on Sunday night. A visit from the Rams this weekend should allow these guys to stay right at the top of the list.

2. Detroit: 5-0 for the first time since the ‘30s after a convincing, Monday night win over the Bears and with a fluffy schedule (minus this week’s game against San Francisco) up til Thanksgiving, the Lions already look playoff bound and are on a collision course with Green Bay for NFC North supremacy on Turkey Day.

3. New England: Look at the Pats! Grinding out wins. Looking just mediocre to lousy on defense as opposed to horrifying. Getting perennially injured players back for important games? What’s next? The Dallas Cowboys, that’s what.

4. New Orleans: The Saints just keep on winning and are now one debatable goal line call from being 5-0. It’s still really early but if the Lions fade, seeing New Orleans and the Packers rematching for an NFC crown isn’t remotely far-fetched.

5. Buffalo: The opportunistic Bills took advantage of the hilarious Eagles to the tune of five turnovers and grabbed another win in a game most picked them to lose. At 4-1 and with the tiebreaker over the Pats in the AFC East, Buffalo can go into its bye alone in first place with a win over the Giants this week. Oh and by the way, the Bills 12 picks through five weeks so far marks one more than they had all of last year combined.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams
1. Indianapolis: Poised to win their first game of season, the Colts blew a 24-7 lead to the Chiefs of all teams, and are now cruising for 0-8 with the Bengals, Saints and Titans coming up next. They’re playing a little better but continue to prove that Peyton Manning may well be the most valuable player of all time.

2. Miami: The Dolphins may actually be worse than the Colts, they just had a bye last week so their suckiness isn’t as fresh. When they resume on Monday night against a desperate Jets team and without their starting QB Chad Henne (who’s not that good to begin with), the stink should rise back to the top.

3. St. Louis: I wonder if anyone involved with the Rams saw their nightmare first month coming. The fact that they got a week to regroup and now have to go play the Packers in Green Bay doesn’t seem fair. Any scuttlebutt on whether or not coach Steve Spagnuolo is in trouble should start any minute now.

4. Arizona: The Cardinals ran one stiff after another out under center last year and were awful. So they traded for who they thought was a decent alternative in Kevin Kolb for this year and they still stink. It’s not really Kolb (though he hasn’t been that great), it’s the defense. Four first quarter TDs allowed to the (previously) winless Vikings? Really? And another season looks like it’ll go by the wayside in the desert.

5. Jacksonville: At least when Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio booted Byron Leftwich in favor of David Garrard a few years ago, he knew Garrard could play. This season, when he booted Garrard in favor of rookie Blaine Gabbert, he can’t have known that because Gabbert can’t play, at least not yet. And it’s going to cost Del Rio his job.

What’s Trendy
– The 49ers: 4-1 with a bullet. Finally, for the first time since bouncing Steve Mariucci eight years ago, the Niners have made the right move at head coach with Jim Harbaugh. And Alex Smith, former No. 1 overall pick likely on his last life with this franchise, has seven TD passes and just one pick through five games and led San Francisco to a 48-3 (48-3!!!) win over a pretty good Bucs team last week.. Niners/Lions is the game of the week. Amazing.

– Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers: The Steelers were reeling headed into Week 5 and Big Ben, who’d been a shell of himself and could barely walk with Tennessee coming to town, stepped up. Five TD passes in a 38-17 win brought some joy and perspective back to Pittsburgh.

– The Raiders: Another Bay Area stunner, Oakland lost legendary owner Al Davis last week, fell behind big at Houston, but rallied to win a thriller late. The Raiders are 3-2, have Cleveland and Kansas City this week and next and given how non-threatening San Diego is even with a good record, they could conceivably win the AFC West. And that would be a stunner.

What’s Not
– The Falcons Defense: There are many problems in Atlanta, probably starting with quarterback Matt Ryan, who looks nothing like the same guy he’s been the previous three seasons so far this year. But the D, which cannot get off the field on third down (15-of-26 conversions allowed the past two weeks), isn’t helping. It’s hard to imagine this team catching New Orleans or even Tampa in the NFC South.

– The Bears Offensive Line: It’s becoming a joke in Chicago. Jay Cutler has to take a three step drop seemingly on every play just to avoid getting decapitated. It seems like there are 15 false start penalties on this group every week. Cutler has even confessed that he’s freaking out, saying that the constant pressure, “makes him uneasy.” And this has been going on for three years now.

– The Jets Coaching Staff: No need to belabor the point that much more. Just worth noting one more time that in a huge game against a defense in the Patriots that was allowing 475 total yards per game and had let Chad Henne, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jason Campbell all top 350 passing yards in previous weeks, the Jets passed 26 times, nine of which came in the fourth quarter when they were in hurry-up, comeback mode. Rex Ryan has done wonders with the Jets franchise since he arrived but he blew it big time last Sunday.

And finally…
Good for teams like the 49ers and Lions, who are erasing years of futility with their play over the first month-plus of the season. But how about a little love for the Cincinnati Bengals. They are 3-2 and would be 4-1 if not for an unfortunate last minute and a half of a loss to the Niners, yet they still can’t sell out a home game and will be blacked out on TV in Cincinnati this weekend for the third time out of three this season. They’re playing a rookie QB (TCU’s Andy Dalton, or the Red Rocket to his closest friends) and a rookie receiver (A.J. Green, spectacular so far) and are riding those two guys, as well as a surprisingly stout defense (seventh against the run, third against the pass). The Bengals haven’t played the Steelers or the Ravens yet, but they get the woeful Colts at home this week before a bye then winnable games against the Titans and Seahawks (though both are on the road). It’s always fun to watch teams come out of nowhere to threaten the status quo in the NFL and to have the Bengals, so often a laughingstock over the years, be a part of it is pretty cool.

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