Column: NFL Quick-Five: Things learned after Week 7
Published: Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 22, 2013 22:10
“Quick-Five” for Week 7 of the NFL may not resemble a buffet spread, but it indisputably satisfies your craving for a widespread recap of the action from this past Thursday, Sunday, and Monday. Oh, you already forget what went down on Monday? Lucky you. We make note of two quarterbacks that deserve some more loving, a trade that isn’t looking all too sweet for one side, as well as the hardest football team to decipher in the entire league.
This hardly needs to be rewritten, but as always, “Quick-Five” lives for your feedback, arguments, agreements, cusses, and criticism. I’m ready for it, kind of like how Case Keenum was kind of ready to play quarterback for the Texans, and totally opposite from how “ready” Matt Barkley appeared to be as QB for the Eagles.
Before we get rolling, I leave you with a single joke. Question: What was the most common word on Josh Freeman’s school transcripts? Answer: Incomplete.
1. The Bengals are the toughest squad to figure out in the NFL.
After seven weeks, Cincinnati is sitting pretty at 5-2, and I still have absolutely no idea what to make of them. Can Andy Dalton get the Bengals to where they eventually want to go? Could they ride wide receiver A.J. Green and a punishing defensive line deep into the playoffs? Will the torn Achilles suffered by starting cornerback Leon Hall be devastating? Altogether, the Bengals are a total enigma to me. They got a marquee victory over the Packers in Week 3, only to follow that up with a stinker against Brian Hoyer and the Browns. After another huge win at home, this one over the Patriots in Week 5, they needed overtime to escape against former practice squad QB Thad Lewis and the Bills. On Sunday in Detroit, Cincinnati won their second road nail-biter in as many weeks, again by a 27-24 margin. The verdict is still out on Dalton as to whether or not he fits the mold of a franchise gunslinger, but in the wins over the Bills and the Lions he tossed six touchdown passes. Green, a top-five receiver in the NFL, has also come alive lately after failing to eclipse the 61-yard mark in Weeks 2 through 5—he has 258 yards and two scores the last two Sundays. Defensively, Cincinnati must adapt to not having Hall, but the front four causes absolute havoc. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins (four sacks) is in charge of a boisterous defensive line, which also features Carlos Dunlap (also four sacks), Michael Johnson, and Domata Peko. The Bengals have bowed out of the playoffs to Houston in 2011 and 2012, but this year I believe they’ll finally get over that hump and advance past the wildcard round.
2. Matt Ryan is quietly putting up a sensational year, considering the circumstances.
If this is how Matt Ryan is going to perform for the entirety of his prime, sign me up immediately. At 28 years old, Ryan is playing the best football of his life. He had a career season last year, throwing for over 4,700 yards and 32 TD’s, and through seven weeks in 2013 he has been just as impressive. He’s completing passes at a 70 percent clip, only has three interceptions, and is averaging close to eight yards per attempt. For those who aren’t the biggest Ryan supporters, their main argument has always been the sheer crazy talent of the Falcons’ weapons: Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez. With Jones out for the year and the normally Ironman-like White sidelined as well, what do the Ryan detractors have to say now? In a win over the Bucs on Sunday, Ryan went 20 of 36 for 273 yards and three TD’s, and keep in mind he really only had one receiver who didn’t require a nametag in practice that week. That man is Harry Douglas, who exploded for seven catches and 149 yards—Douglas caught one of the touchdowns, while backup running back Jacquizz Rodgers was responsible for the other two. Despite missing two bonafide options in Jones and White, Ryan is still putting points up in bunches. If the Falcons defense had a pulse and their overall record was a bit better than 2-4, he’d be right in the thick of the MVP discussion.
3. Philip Rivers is currently my pick for Comeback Player of the Year.
From one under-appreciated quarterback to another, it’s about time that this column recognizes Chargers QB Philip Rivers for his sizzling start to the year. Rivers has been special this season and, like I said last week, San Diego is a sneaky playoff contender. They’re 4-3 at the moment, and really they’re a play or two away from being 5-2 or 6-1. In the opening week, the Chargers blew a 28-7 third-quarter lead to the Texans, a nightmarish collapse that took the ultimate turn for the worst when Rivers was intercepted by a diving Brian Cushing, who got up and returned the ball for the game-tying score. San Diego’s other two losses are to the Titans and the Raiders, and considering they still have to face the Chiefs and the Broncos twice each, they can’t afford too many more slipups to inferior squads. On Sunday, against the most inferior squad of them all, the Jaguars, Rivers made it clear he wasn’t horsing around. He threw just four incompletions (Brandon Weeden throws more than that in warm-ups) and, thanks to a much-improved Ryan Mathews, the Chargers were able to coast to a 24-6 win. Incompletions have been a rarity of sorts for Rivers—no QB in the NFL has a higher completion percentage than his 74 percent mark—and his quarterback rating is second to the great Peyton Manning. Rivers has thrown for over 400 yards on three occasions already, including in statement victories over the Eagles and Cowboys. All in all, Rivers is most definitely my midseason Comeback Player of the Year.
4. Tennessee went from contenders to pretenders faster than you can say “Ryan Fitzpatrick.”
Eventually, if you want to be good you have to “beat good,” and that’s something that Tennessee has failed to do the last three weeks. After a surprising 3-1 start featuring home wins over the Chargers and Jets, the Titans were unable to cash in one any of the three resume-padding opportunities against the Chiefs, Seahawks and 49ers. The fact that starting QB Jake Locker went down with an injured hip against the Jets, and made backup Ryan Fitzpatrick start against Kansas City and Seattle, certainly didn’t help matters. Still, the same issue that has plagued Tennessee over the years has come back to haunt them in 2013: a dull, lackluster offense. Chris Johnson seems to be as far removed from his 2,500 total-yard, 16-TD 2009 season as Peyton Hillis is from his days on the Madden cover. Locker has shown a few flashes of stardom—he has nine TD’s (eight passing, one rushing) thus far and didn’t throw his first interception until Sunday—but he’s fragile and doesn’t exactly possess an elite core of receivers to throw to. While the Titans were very much in the ballgame versus the Chiefs and Seahawks, they didn’t score against the 49ers until the 4th quarter, at which point San Fran had built a 27-0 lead. Progress has been made this season but, even in the top-heavy AFC, Tennessee is significantly more “pretender” than “contender.”