By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer
Another week in the books, and a couple of surprises have emerged â both good and bad â across the league. And that’s why we’re hereâ¦
THREE THINGS WE KNEW
1. Calvin Johnson should never be single covered. I really don’t feel like this even needed to be stated, but I guess the Cowboys and Bears haven’t discovered game film yet. Had they, it should have been quite clear that this man is the best receiver in football right now (sorry, Wes Welker, your system makes you good) and he simply cannot be covered by just one man â especially not the likes of poor Terrance Newman or Charles Tillman. I know Detroit is good, and they have a lot of weapons offensively, but none are anywhere close to being mentioned in the same breath as Johnson, and like the old adage says, never let their best player beat you. It would also have helped if the Bears had figured out that keeping their own quarterback upright and giving him more than 0.05 seconds to throw the ball might also be a good idea.
2. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense are virtually unstoppable. In the salary-cap era, I’m surprised at how many offensive weapons Green Bay has accumulated. How else to explain Rodgers completing passes to 12 different receivers on Sunday night? The Falcons had a 14-point lead and the Packers offense bottled up, but Rodgers and company made the adjustments, hit a couple of big plays (the touchdown to Jones that swung the lead being the biggest), and suddenly they danced out of Hot-lanta with a 25-14 win. I don’t really begin thinking of anyone “going undefeated” until at least halfway through the schedule, but what I will say is that with the offensive rules currently in place, combined with the number of different players who can make huge plays for Green Bay, this team should at least be able to lock up the number one seed in the NFC by week 15.
3. The NFC South teams don’t like each other. This is quickly becoming my favorite division, because all four teams seem capable of beating any of the other teams in the division in any game each and every year â even if one team is clearly superior across the board than the other. That was almost the case on Sunday, when the Saints nearly coughed one away to the Panthers. Carolina is clearly improved because they have a QB in Cam Newton that’s making plays and a team that’s bought into his play and the words of their new coach, Ron Rivera. The results on the field might be disappointing, but with the way Atlanta has played this whole season, and with how poorly Tampa played in their demolition at the hands of the 49’ers, it’s clear the gap has already closed rather quickly between the top and bottom teams in this brutal quartet.
THREE THINGS WE THOUGHT WE KNEW THAT WERE PROVEN TRUE
1. John Fox wasn’t making it through a full season with Kyle Orton at quarterback. Is he still the best option for the team? That’s debatable, because he’s the best true passing QB on the roster, but clearly the fans and even some of the players have begun to question whether he’s capable of leading a team to the playoffs. Is Tim Tebow the answer? Again, debatable, and I guess we’re all about to find out. I believe that certain players are just “winners,” no matter what people might say about their skills or physical abilities. Ben Roethlisberger comes to mind, a guy who has won at every level. Mark Sanchez and Joe Flacco have overcome some questions with playoff success, but even they still face lingering questions because of one or two noticeable flaws or shortcomings. Will Tebow be able to get into that discussion, that of a “winner with some flaws,” or will he wind up more like Troy Smith â a career backup who’s game simply couldn’t transfer to the NFL level? I think he can be the former, but that will probably be more determined by his supporting cast than anything else.
2. Having great skill position players doesn’t matter if your interior lines stink. Hello, teams that wear green. Are you reading this? Both the Eagles and Jets were supposed to contend for their respective conference championships, and instead both are in need of a very quick rebound in order to avoid missing the postseason entirely. The Eagles have a good defensive line, but their offensive line can’t keep Michael Vick upright, and the linebacking corps â a huge fear for everyone in Philly before the season even started â has proven to be a major issue. Meanwhile the Jets are trying to piecemeal together their offensive line with the injury to Pro-Bowler Nick Mangold, who might just have proven to be the offensive MVP. In his absence, Mark Sanchez has gotten happy feat, and what was once the league’s best running attack has been effectively shut down. The Jets also can’t get any semblance of a pass rush from their defensive line, a big reason why their once-vaunted defensive unit has been mediocre at best, getting absolutely torched by BenJarvis Green-Ellis in a crucial need-a-stop drive at the end of the game last week. Both teams are in trouble because they spent so much of their offseason focused on skill players (Nnamdi Asomugha and Plaxico Burress, anyone?) that they forgot where football games are won â and now lost.
3. Quarterbacks get all the praise for wins and all the blame for losses. And really, they don’t deserve either. This goes back to last week, when every pundit completely overlooked the fact that the Cowboys defense shut down San Francisco in week two, the only reason Tony Romo had a chance to make that comeback. That same defense was arrogant enough to think they could stop Calvin Johnson with single coverage â see above. Plus, apparently the Cowboys offense has never done a tackling drill in their lives. Yes, Romo has made plenty of mistakes, but he’s only part of the reason the Cowboys are 2-2. What everyone overlooks is that Dallas has 52 other players on the roster who are all culpable in the losses and all contributors in the wins. Romo didn’t win Dallas a game, and he also didn’t lose them a game. His mistakes are simply the most visible, so he gets most of the focus. It’s not fair, but that’s life for an NFL QB.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED
1. Counting out the Steelers is a bad idea. I feel like this could have worked for the category above, but we’re putting it here because it’s a lesson that always needs to be re-learned. There are too many veterans to count this team out completely, and they still play in a favorable division with the Bengals and Browns. Ultimately, I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, but it could get very interesting in the AFC with the Steelers, Jets, Bills, Titans, and whichever of the Raiders/Chargers duo doesn’t win the division. Only two of those five will make it, and Pittsburgh now has a critical tiebreaking win over Tennessee in their back pocket. Don’t look now, but in the course of just one week the Steelers went from outsider to frontrunner in the AFC wild card race.
2. The Cardinals won’t be playoff contenders this season. My opinion on Arizona changed two weeks ago when they couldn’t hold off the Giants, but I figured I’d give them this past week’s game against Minnesota before totally writing them off. Now? I feel completely safe in saying Arizona won’t be playing postseason football. Kevin Kolb may ultimately be the answer, but 10 points isn’t going to cut it against a bad Vikings team that had begun to make a habit of blowing leads. Plus, it’s usually not a good thing to give up four touchdowns in the first quarter! It’s still a pitiful division, and two wins over San Francisco could quickly change the division landscape, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath if I were a Cardinals fan.
3. Even in a passing league, running the football wins games. And it really doesn’t matter HOW a team runs the football, as long as they do it well. The Patriots acknowledged that the Jets passing defense was containing them, so they simply turned around and handed the ball off on a drive that began at the 7:14 mark and kicked the game-icing field goal with 1:06 remaining. Perfect execution in crunch time. Meanwhile Jahvid Best only had 12 carries, but managed to rip off a career-best 168 yards against the Bears â the first 155 on only 8 carries. That is efficient, and as long as the defense has to respect the run, the passing game will only be that much more dangerous. Kudos to those two teams for executing the fundamentals of the game of football to earn a victory.