NFL Nation: Final Word 2012 Week 5

Final Word: AFC West

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
1:42
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Special day for Brees: Former San Diego quarterback Drew Brees can set a major NFL record when his former team travels to New Orleans to play his current team. Brees has thrown a touchdown passes in 47 straight games. He is tied for the NFL record with the legendary Johnny Unitas. It would be obviously special for him to set the record against the team that drafted him in 2001. Brees left for New Orleans in 2006. What was Brees’ longest TD streak as a Charger? Eight games in 2005.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Drew Brees
Derick E. Hingle/US PRESSWIREDrew Brees can break a record held by Johnny Unitas when he plays his old team, the San Diego Chargers, on Sunday.
Will Manning keep it simple again? Denver quarterback Peyton Manning is coming off his best game as a Bronco. Will he take a similar approach to New England’s defense as he did against Oakland in Week 4? According to ESPN Stats & Information, Manning threw 33 of his 38 attempts less than 10 yards downfield. Manning completed 27 of those 33 throws for 274 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Oakland. Manning’s average pass traveled 4.6 yards downfield.

A bad matchup in Kansas City? The Chiefs are 1-3, making Sunday's home game against Baltimore a must-win. The numbers suggest Kansas City will be in for quite a challenge. According to ESPN Stat & Information, the Ravens have outscored their opponents by 28 points in the first three quarters of games, which is the fourth best in the NFL. The Chiefs have been outscored by 74 points in the first three quarters of games, which is, by far, the worst mark in the NFL. If the numbers play out similarly Sunday, this could be a blowout. Here’s more statistical bad news for the Chiefs: The Ravens are 6-0 under John Harbaugh in games following either a Thursday game or a bye week. The Ravens beat Cleveland on Thursday night in Week 4.

Will San Diego continue to start fast? While the other three AFC West teams have had their challenges in the first quarter, San Diego has flourished. It hopes to do the same Sunday night at 0-4 New Orleans. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers have outscored their opponents by 25 points in the first quarter this season. That is the best in the NFL.

Blitzing in New England: What will give? The Denver defense is excelling while rushing five or more pass-rushers. However, New England quarterback Tom Brady is excelling when being blitzed. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Broncos have sent five or more pass-rushers 42 percent of the time (third most in the NFL), and they have held opponents to the second-lowest completion percentage on those plays (47.5). However, facing Brady will be a different animal. Brady is completing 66.7 percent of his throws against five or more rushers. His plus-4 touchdown-to-interception differential is tied for best in the NFL when blitzed.

Final Word: NFC East

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Keystone showdown: The Philadelphia Eagles have won six of their last eight games against the Pittsburgh Steelers, though the teams have not played since a 15-6 Eagles victory in Philadelphia in Week 3 of the 2008 season. The Eagles have won just twice in six tries in Pittsburgh dating to 1968. If the Eagles win in Pittsburgh on Sunday, they'll be 4-1 for the first time since 2006. If the Steelers lose, they'll be 1-3 for the first time since 2006.

[+] EnlargeWashington's Robert Griffin III
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesRobert Griffin III has plenty more comebacks to complete before he catches Matt Ryan.
Sweat the short stuff? The Eagles and the Steelers rank first and second in lowest completion percentage allowed on passes thrown 15 or more yards downfield this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information's "Next Level" numbers. Philadelphia is allowing a 28.0 completion percentage on such throws, and the Steelers are allowing 33.3 percent. But both teams have wide receivers -- DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown -- who are skilled at catching the ball short and making something happen afterward.

Fourth-quarter magic: Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III authored the first game-winning drive of his pro career Sunday in Tampa Bay. Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, who's in his fifth NFL season, delivered his 17th in Atlanta's victory over Carolina. No quarterback has led more game-winning drives since the start of Ryan's 2008 rookie season. Don't turn this game off if it's close in the fourth.

Going longer later: Those Next Level numbers from ESPN Stats & Info show us that the Redskins allow Griffin to take more shots downfield as the game goes along. His average target depth in the first quarter is 1.5 yards, third in the league. In the second quarter, that grows to 6.6, which is 21st in the league. And in the third and fourth, Griffin's average target depth is 9.4 yards, which is ninth in the league. What's odd about it is that they've only been trailing at halftime in one of their four games so far -- the loss to the Bengals in Week 3.

Bothering the QB: The New York Giants probably will bring intense pressure on Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden in Sunday's game. The Giants ranked just 17th in the league in sacks through four weeks after ranking third last year, but according to ESPN Stats & Info, they are putting opposing quarterbacks under duress on 20.7 percent of drop-backs, and that figure is the fourth-best in the league. The Giants have played against Tony Romo, Josh Freeman, Cam Newton and Michael Vick, all of whom are mobile quarterbacks who can get out of the way of a pass rush, so that probably explains -- at least in part -- how they could be getting to quarterbacks but not knocking them over. Weeden is attempting 42 throws per game, so the Giants will have chances to take their shots.

Final Word: NFC South

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

[+] EnlargeRoddy White
Jake Roth/US PresswireRoddy White has 27 receptions for 413 yards so far this season.
Still No. 1: There was a lot of speculation that Julio Jones would surpass Roddy White and become Matt Ryan's favorite target this year. It hasn’t worked out that way. Ryan has had much more success throwing to White. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ryan has completed 73 percent of his passes to White and averages 11.2 yards per attempt. Ryan has completed 51.6 of his throws to Jones and is averaging 7.1 yards per attempt.

It’s a passing league: It took the Falcons some time to realize that, but new coordinator Dirk Koetter has Atlanta throwing the ball much more than at any other time since Ryan has been in the league. Although the Falcons have led 78.3 percent of the time this season, they have dropped back (including sacks and scrambles) on 66.1 percent of their offensive plays. Their previous highest drop-back rate in the Ryan era was 59.5 percent last season.

Ready for the pistol formation: A week after facing Carolina with quarterback Cam Newton and the read-option offense, the Falcons have to be ready for Washington’s Robert Griffin III and the pistol formation. The Redskins have used that formation on 54 plays this season, and the rest of the NFL has combined for 36 plays out of the pistol formation. The Redskins are averaging 6.6 yards out of pistol sets this season.

Mismatch time: Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch has gained a league-high 199 rushing yards after contact this season. The Carolina defense has allowed a league-worst average of 2.7 yards after contact.

Win-win situation: There’s been a lot of talk this week about San Diego’s decision to let Drew Brees walk after the 2005 season and replace him with Philip Rivers. You can’t really call that a mistake by the Chargers. Since 2006, Brees ranks first in the NFL in passing yards, touchdown passes and pass attempts. Rivers is second in passing yards and third in touchdowns and attempts. Perhaps more importantly, Rivers ranks second in wins in that span, and Brees is fourth.

Final Word: AFC South

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Favorable matchup: Per ESPN Stats and Info, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is not connecting on mid- to long-range throws. On balls in the air 15 yards or more, he’s at just 28.6 percent and has not completed more than two such passes in a single game. But the Colts could help cure that. The Colts' secondary talent is an issue even when they are fully stocked. Now they may be without starter Vontae Davis and nickel back Justin King. That would mean big roles for Cassius Vaughn and newcomer Darius Butler. Provided the Packers can hold Robert Mathis, and maybe a limited Dwight Freeney, Rodgers could have favorable matchups to exploit.

[+] EnlargeMark Sanchez
Gary Rothstein/Icon SMIHouston's defense could provide more headaches for struggling Jets QB Mark Sanchez.
Can the Jets score enough? Based on the Texans' play so far, we have to wonder. The Texans lead the NFL in point differential at plus-70 through four games. It's the highest point differential through a team's first quarter of games since the Saints were plus-78 in 2009, when they won the Super Bowl. The challenge for a Jets offense now without injured receiver Santonio Holmes will be to break through. The Texans are allowing a league-low 14.0 points per game. The Jets just endured the third-worst home shutout loss in team history, a 34-0 defeat to the 49ers. They gained just 145 yards, their fewest since 1997.

Third down is difficult: The Bears have been very stingy defending third-down this season, allowing a conversion rate of only 26.1 percent. When opponents pass on third down, that rate drops to 21.6. That’s not good news for Jacksonville, as quarterback Blaine Gabbert is the league’s 28th- rated passer on third down, connecting on only 48.6 percent of his throws for an average of 3.59 yards per attempt.

Not allowing plays: The Titans have just one interception and six sacks this season. Vikings second-year quarterback Christian Ponder has not been intercepted yet this season. But he’s playing largely risk-free. His average pass is travelling 5.4 yards downfield, more than a yard shorter than the next lowest quarterback. Since the start of 2008, only five qualified quarterbacks finished a season with an average throw distance below 6.0 yards, with none making the playoffs. The Titans have played a passive defense concerned with big pass plays. Here’s a great chance for them to be far more aggressive.

Also: The Packers have never won at Indianapolis, losing all three meetings since the Colts relocated from Baltimore. The Packers' last road win against the Colts came in 1974 at Baltimore. … The Jaguars have just two sacks in four games, last in the NFL. … Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has played far better with his team ahead than behind this season. … Matt Hasselbeck is 1-3 in his career against the Vikings with the last meeting coming in Week 11 of the 2009 season as a member of the Seahawks. Seattle lost 35-9.

Final Word: NFC West

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Seahawks' rare opportunity: A Seattle Seahawks victory at Carolina would give all four NFC West teams a winning record through Week 5 for the first time since the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002. The Arizona Cardinals (4-1) and St. Louis Rams (3-2) have already played. The San Francisco 49ers (3-1) will be above .500 no matter what happens against Buffalo on Sunday. NFC West teams had 10 combined victories through Week 8 last season. They already have 12 this season even before the Seahawks (2-2) and 49ers play their Week 5 games.

[+] EnlargeAlex Smith
Benny Sieu/US PresswireSan Francisco's Alex Smith has proved this season that he can be a capable QB on the road.
Defending Alex Smith: The 49ers' quarterback was generally exceptional at home last season. His Total QBR score at Candlestick Park (76.1 out of 100) was 42.3 points higher than it was on the road (29.3). That was the largest point differential in the NFL. The 49ers play at home Sunday for only the second time in five games this season. Despite the heavy road schedule, Smith enters this game against Buffalo with an overall QBR score 30.1 points higher than it was last season. Only three teams have realized larger gains from last season and only one, Cincinnati, has done so with the same quarterback behind center. Smith is at 66.8 on the road, 79.4 at home and 69.8 overall, which ranks eighth in the NFL. No wonder absolutely no one is asking when Colin Kaepernick might take over.

What a rush: Quarterbacks dominate headlines. Rushing attacks could dominate remaining NFC West games for Week 5. The 49ers rank second (5.4) and the Bills fourth (5.1) in yards per rushing attempt this season. The 49ers are second on first down at 5.1 per carry (the Bills lag at 3.9). The Bills are first (7.0) and the 49ers second (6.2) on second-down rushes. Meanwhile, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch leads the NFL in rushing yards, not only this season but since Week 9 last season. Carolina's Cam Newton ranks second to Robert Griffin III in rushing yards by a quarterback with 167 (5.1 per carry). The Panthers rank fourth in team rushing yardage since the start of last season. Seattle and San Francisco emerged from Week 4 ranked among the NFL's top five in fewest yards per carry allowed.

Going small on defense: The Bills run their offense primarily from personnel groupings featuring three or more wide receivers. They lead the NFL with 591 rushing yards against defenses featuring additional defensive backs. They rank fourth in yards per carry on these attempts (6.3). The 49ers are allowing only 3.4 yards per carry on 45 attempts with their nickel and dime defenses. The rest of the league allows 4.9 yards per carry on these rushes.

Russell Wilson's history: The Seahawks' rookie quarterback had three passes intercepted during a 19-13 defeat at St. Louis last week. It was the first three-pick game of his NFL career and only the third time he's thrown more than two in 50 college games and four in the NFL. Wilson had only seven games with more than one interception during his college career. The multipick games came in bunches. There were three in a five-game span in 2009 and three in a row during the 2010 season. Wilson transferred from North Carolina State to Wisconsin for the 2011 season. He threw only four picks all season, two against Michigan State.

Note: ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this item.

Final Word: AFC North

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Return of the playmakers: The Steelers are hoping the return of two former NFL defensive players of the year will lead to the return of takeaways on defense. Outside linebacker James Harrison (knee injury) has forced 27 fumbles in the previous five seasons, and strong safety Troy Polamalu (calf) has intercepted 19 passes in his past 52 games. Turnovers will be a major storyline against the Eagles, whose 12 turnovers rank second in the league. With Harrison and Polamalu playing a combined one game this season, Pittsburgh has forced one interception and two fumbles. Since the start of 2010 season, the Eagles are 7-2 when Michael Vick doesn’t commit a turnover and 11-9 when he does, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Trent Richardson
Mitch Stringer/US PRESSWIRETrent Richardson has only managed 26 carries in the Browns' past two games.
Time to stop the pass: The Ravens have been vulnerable against the pass this season, allowing quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards the past three games against them: Michael Vick (371 yards passing), Tom Brady (335) and Brandon Weeden (320). It will be time to sound the alarm if the Ravens' pass defense can't stop Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel. He has thrown seven interceptions (only Tony Romo has more) and has fumbled four times (tied for second-most in the NFL). Cassel could be close to losing his job to Brady Quinn. In the playoffs two seasons ago, the Ravens held Cassel to 9-of-18 passing for 70 yards and three interceptions.

Give the ball to Richardson: Browns rookie running back Trent Richardson has received 26 total carries the past two games since busting out for 109 yards rushing. Richardson made sure the Cleveland coaching staff hasn't forgotten about him, telling reporters that he sees room to run against the Giants. And he's right. The Giants have given up an average of 118.3 yards rushing per game (21st in the NFL) and 4.5 yards per carry (25th). Despite the lack of touches, Richardson has made an impact this season. He's the third Browns rookie in the Super Bowl era with a rushing touchdown in three straight games, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Eric Metcalf (1989) and Kevin Mack (1985) also accomplished that feat. If Richardson scores again Sunday, he will become the first rookie in Browns history to rush for a touchdown in four straight games.

Bengals to air it out: It probably wouldn't be wise to test the Dolphins' run defense. Miami has allowed 2.4 yards per carry, which is easily the best in the NFL. No other defense is averaging less than 3 yards per carry. That should be fine for the Bengals, who have done a lot of damage through the air. Cincinnati is second in the NFL in passing yards per play this season (trailing the Panthers), and ranks third in most yards after catch. Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green, the AFC's offensive player of the month, has scored a touchdown in three straight games.

Big Ben primed for big game: The Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger is among the NFL's hottest quarterbacks because he has taken advantage of defenses not blitzing him. When teams send four or fewer rushers, he has completed 74.3 percent of his passes and has recorded a 93.5 QBR, both of which rank first in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Roethlisberger also has thrown five touchdowns and no interceptions when defenses don't blitz. Remember these numbers when Roethlisberger plays the Eagles, who have the league's highest rate of sending four or fewer rushers (80.3 percent) since Juan Castillo took over as defensive coordinator at the start of the 2011 season.

Final Word: AFC East

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Reclaiming Gillette Stadium: Sunday marks the first home game since the New England Patriots were upset at Gillette Stadium in Week 2 by the Arizona Cardinals. The Patriots entered that game 35-1 in their previous 36 home games with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. But Arizona ended the streak with a 20-19 victory. New England (2-2) is 0-1 at home and will try to start another run at Gillette Stadium on Sunday against quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Including playoffs, Brady is 8-4 all-time against Manning.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bolden
AP Photo/Bill WippertBrandon Bolden emerged against the Bills in Week 4, giving the Patriots a formidable one-two punch in the rushing game.
Running Patriots: The Patriots are not known for their running game, but they are eighth in the NFL in rushing at the quarter-mark of the season. New England had its best rushing day last week against the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots rushed for 247 yards and had two 100-yard rushers (Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden) in the 52-28 victory. New England showed it is unafraid to run if that's what the defense allows.

Grounded and pounded: The Jets (2-2) entered the season expecting to "ground and pound" opponents under new offensive coordinator Tony Sparano. Instead, the Jets' offense has been grounded. New York is ranked 28th in total offense and 24th in running the football. Shonn Greene, the Jets' leading rusher, is averaging just 2.8 yards per carry. The Jets lack an offensive identity and don't appear capable of outmuscling opponents as they have in the past. New York needs to figure out its offensive issues sooner rather than later. The Jets host the undefeated Houston Texans (4-0) on "Monday Night Football."

Coyle homecoming: Last week, Miami Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby returned to Arizona to face his former team. This week, it's Dolphins first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Coyle's turn. Miami (1-3) will play its second consecutive road game Sunday, against the Cincinnati Bengals. Coyle spent 10 years as a cornerbacks and defensive backs coach with the Bengals and developed several good players in Cincinnati.

Spilling over: Buffalo Bills tailback C.J. Spiller didn't look himself in last week's loss to the Patriots. Spiller came back sooner than expected from a shoulder injury and played tentatively. He rushed for 33 yards on eight carries and had a crucial fumble before halftime. Spiller struggled with blocking and breaking tackles. The Bills hope another week of rest has allowed Spiller's banged-up shoulder to heal. The San Francisco 49ers, the Bills' next opponent, are fifth in the NFL in run defense.

Final Word: NFC North

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Star tailback matchup? There was a time when a game featuring Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson would have spurred a week's worth of storylines on who deserves the title of the NFL's best running back. At the moment, neither Peterson nor Johnson can claim that label as the Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans prepare for Sunday's matchup at the Metrodome. Johnson broke out for 141 yards in last week's loss to the Houston Texans, but he has totaled 40 yards in the Titans' other three games. The Vikings' rush defense (3.3 yards per carry) has been strong all season. Peterson, meanwhile, had his best performance to date last week (102 yards against the Detroit Lions) as he makes his way back from December knee surgery. Peterson insists he is not all the way back, and statistical analysis supports that assessment. He is averaging 1.9 yards after contact per carry this season after averaging 2.5 yards after contact in 2011, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Adam Bettcher/Getty ImagesVikings QB Christian Ponder could have a big day against the Titans' lowly pass defense on Sunday.
Ponder's protection: To this point, the Titans defense hasn't offered much evidence that it can knock Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder from his current bubble. Ponder is the only NFL starter without an interception, and the Titans' bottom-ranked pass defense has managed only one in four games. The Titans have only six sacks and opposing quarterbacks have an NFL-high 118.7 passer rating. It's early in the season to lock in on trends, but the Vikings' early prescription for offensive success -- safe, high-percentage plays -- doesn't appear threatened by this defense.

Hitting the road: The Green Bay Packers will play the first of three consecutive road games Sunday when they visit the Indianapolis Colts, their first such schedule quirk since 1998. Including the postseason, the Packers have won 10 of their last 12 road games, and their .778 regular-season winning percentage on the road since the start of the 2011 season is an NFL best. Since December 2010, the Packers' two road losses have been at the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks, two stadiums well known to be tough on visitors. This week, on the other hand, Colts acting coach Bruce Arians encouraged Colts fans to fight back against Packers fans taking over Lucas Oil Stadium.

Woodson vs. Luck: Defensive back Charles Woodson has played nine games against rookie quarterbacks since joining the Packers in 2006. He has eight interceptions in those games. Can Woodson add the Colts' Andrew Luck to that list? Luck has thrown four interceptions in his first three NFL games, but only one in the last two after the Chicago Bears got him three times in Week 1.

Stacking success: The Bears will make the dreaded road trip after a Monday night road game, but they should still be offended to be only a 4.5-point favorite playing at the Jacksonville Jaguars -- who are 1-3 and have the NFL's worst offense and weakest pass rush. No team has averaged fewer than the Jaguars' 15.5 points per game, and the Bears' defense should have success rushing quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who has taken 12 sacks already this season. The Bears also have an opportunity to establish some momentum with their pass protection. The Jaguars have two sacks in four games this season. If the Bears truly turned a corner in Monday night's game against the Dallas Cowboys, they should win in a rout Sunday.

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