Sunday, September 22, 2013
NFL Week 3 Sunday Studs and Duds
By Kevin Seifert
Week 3 left us with fewer wrinkles and slightly longer fingernails. After 22 of the first 32 games this season were decided by fewer than eight points, the majority of Sunday's games were double-digit blowouts.
The New York Giants absorbed a 38-0 licking from the Carolina Panthers. It got so ugly at CenturyLink Field that the Seattle Seahawks played backup quarterback Tarvaris Jackson for the final 18 minutes, 54 seconds of their 45-17 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. And even one of the closer games, the New York Jets' 27-20 victory over the Buffalo Bills, wouldn't have been that close were it not for the Jets' team-record 20 penalties.
No further setup is needed for our weekly take on Sunday's best and worst performers:
1. The Trent Richardson trade, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts: The consensus analysis suggested that both teams won the trade that sent Richardson to the Colts for a first-round draft choice. For one week, at least, that analysis held up. The Browns let loose in an upset victory over Minnesota, scoring a touchdown on a fake field goal, setting up a field goal with a fake punt and letting new quarterback Brian Hoyer throw 54 times. The Browns looked like they were having too much fun to accept a tanking of the season; good for coach Rob Chudzinski and his staff. The Colts' acquisition of Richardson, meanwhile, paid off with a goal-line touchdown on his first carry and, more important, seemed to have inspired the presumably displaced Ahmad Bradshaw, who ran for 95 yards in the Colts' 27-7 victory over San Francisco.
2. Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins quarterback: Tannehill didn't put up the raw yardage as he did in previous victories over the Browns and Colts, but his fourth-quarter performance Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons was special. He threw on 12 of the 13 plays on the Dolphins' game-winning drive, completing nine -- including twice on third down -- for 69 yards and a 1-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dion Sims. No one seems quite sure where to classify Tannehill among his fellow quarterbacks in the 2012 draft class, but at this point, we can't ignore his role in Dolphins' first 3-0 start since 2002.
3. Rush offense, Dallas Cowboys: It's certainly worth nothing that tailback DeMarco Murray gashed the St. Louis Rams for 175 yards in an easy 31-7 victory. But this is one of those occasions where the running back shouldn't get all the credit for a big day. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 149 of Murray's yards came before contact. That means the Cowboys did a smart job with their play-calling relative to the Rams' scheme. It also suggests that the Cowboys' blockers did an exceptional job of keeping defenders away from him. It usually takes more than one to get it done, as the kids like to say. (Or maybe they don't. I just made that up.)
4. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals coach: Lewis' team didn't make it pretty Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, beating the Green Bay Packers despite committing turnovers on four consecutive possessions at one point. So as the Bengals' highlight, I'll pick out Lewis' sharp and, it turns out, critical catch of a poor spot on an apparent Packers first down late in the fourth quarter. Replays confirmed that receiver Randall Cobb's knee touched the ground before the ball crossed the line to gain the first down. On the ensuing fourth-down play, the Bengals forced a fumble and Terence Newman returned it for the game-winning touchdown. It wouldn't have happened without Lewis' challenge. Last season, Lewis didn't get a call reversed. He's already had two in 2013.
5. Defense, New Orleans Saints: Rob Ryan's overhaul of this group continues to impress. No one has scored more than 17 points against the Saints this season, matching the number produced by their 2012 defense over 16 games. Sunday, the Arizona Cardinals managed just one score and 247 total yards in the Saints' 31-7 victory. One of the most encouraging factors has been the play of rookie safety Kenny Vacarro, who broke up a potential game-deciding touchdown in Week 1 and had a fourth-quarter interception Sunday.
1. Decision-making, San Francisco 49ers: The team allowed linebacker Aldon Smith to play Sunday against the Colts, two days after he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. Immediately after the game, Smith and the team confirmed he would leave indefinitely to "get better," according to CEO Jed York. It was a weak sequence of events no matter how you look at it. Don't get caught up in whether the 49ers could have officially suspended him based on the NFL's collective bargaining agreement. And let's not worry about whether it would have been fair to discipline Smith, who is supposed to be innocent until proven guilty. If the situation is grave enough that Smith needs help away from the team, and assuming that decision was made before the game rather than in the 20 minutes between its conclusion and the announcement, then the 49ers made an indefensible decision to play him. If they were concerned about Smith's well-being, they could have made him a game-day deactivation and sent him to deal with his issues immediately rather than wait to squeeze one more game out of him.
2. Bill Leavy, NFL referee: Leavy and his crew made their second basic misapplication of a rule in three weeks. Sunday, Leavy overlooked the new wording of the so-called "Jim Schwartz rule" that penalizes coaches for challenging non-reviewable plays. In the second quarter at the Metrodome, Leavy penalized the Vikings 15 yards instead of docking them a timeout after coach Leslie Frazier challenged a fumble. (The rule was rewritten in the offseason.) Instead of getting the ball on the Browns' 26-yard line with two timeouts left, the Vikings faced a first-and-25 at the 41-yard line and eventually settled for a field goal. In Week 1, you might recall, Leavy rendered the wrong down after a Packers penalty and was also publicly contradicted on a personal foul he called by league vice president of officiating Dean Blandino. The NFL rule book is thick and nuanced, but Leavy is a veteran referee. You would hope his mistakes would be of judgment rather than of factual error.
3. Pass protection, New York Giants: There are so many places to spread blame when one NFL team loses to another by a score of 38-0. The NFL deck is heavily stacked against such outcomes, and blame for the Giants' embarrassing performance Sunday can be spread evenly. But I'll focus my angst at the team's pass-protection schemes, which allowed six -- yes, SIX!!! -- sacks in the first 17 minutes of "action" against the Panthers. Manning took seven sacks in the game before the Giants mercifully put in backup Curtis Painter. The Giants are now 0-3 for the first time since 1996 and growing less competitive by the week.
4. Leslie Frazier, Minnesota Vikings coach: Recent history (since 1990) tells us the Vikings have a 3 percent chance of making the playoffs after starting 0-3. But that's only part of the concern for Frazier, who got outcoached by the legendary guru across the field (Chudzinski) in his home opener. The Vikings fell for two trick plays on special teams, and for the second consecutive week their defense was helpless on a game-winning drive. Worse, Frazier's errant challenge flag was compounded by his apparent failure to point out Leavy's mistake. Remember, Frazier is essentially in a contract year. It has been assumed he needs a playoff appearance to get a new deal. The Vikings' meager chances of a postseason berth suggest that Frazier is in his final months as the team's coach.
5. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers quarterback: Only a late surge of garbage yards got Kaepernick over the 100-yard mark against the Colts. He still completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, took three sacks and finished with an 11.8 Total QBR. Worse, Kaepernick looked hesitant and especially unsure of whether he should run or keep looking downfield for receivers. It's true that tight end Vernon Davis didn't play, and a depleted receiving corps contributed to just one completion on passes that traveled at least 10 yards downfield. But anyone who watches Kaepernick regularly would accept that he is in the first slump of his young career.