NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2010 Week 3

Final Word: AFC South

September, 24, 2010
9/24/10
4:02
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Keeping a balance: The Texans won their first game largely thanks to the run and their second mostly because of the pass. If they can do both with some semblance of balance, it would benefit them greatly against a desperate Dallas team. Balance usually means an offense can be patient, and the more Houston can be patient, the more likely the Cowboys are likely to press.

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
AP Photo/Bill BaptistAnother big game from running back Arian Foster could give Houston the balanced attack it will need against Dallas.
Sound tackling: I’m not so sure Michael Vick has been as incredible as the Eagles are saying. Certainly he’s dangerous and how he does against the Jaguars will garner giant attention Sunday. Jacksonville’s secondary has holes, but they shrink if the pass rush is good. The question to me is sure tackling. Jack Del Rio pledged this would be a better tackling team than last year. One of the major culprits, Reggie Nelson, is gone. If the Jaguars can limit yards after the catch and big runs after contact, they could surprise some people in the team’s second non-blackout of the season.

Two tights or three wide: The Colts ran it far better last week with Brody Eldridge playing quite a bit as a second tight end doing a lot of blocking work. Denver has only two sacks and is allowing 4.5 yards a carry. Do the Colts feel like their line can hold up without much help, allowing them to attack with three wide receivers? Or do they use Eldridge a lot to ensure their best chances running it? Test the Broncos and see, I say. If the Broncos can’t be disruptive or stop the run against three wides, the Colts can use either grouping virtually whenever they like and reduce any predictability.

Bounce back ability: Adversity hits all NFL quarterbacks to some degree every year. How they bounce back is usually the big indicator about how effective they can be. Vince Young got benched last week and Wednesday said he still didn’t know why. I guess he doesn’t have to know why, he just has to know how not to get benched again. He’s got to prove he’s the long-term guy, and a good showing against the Giants could do much to help the cause.

The Texans have to be wary of over-pursuit: Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders says the Cowboys ran more draws than any other offense in 2009. Houston was the league's worst defense against draws last year, allowing an average of 7.6 yards per carry. We talked about the Texans' ability to be patient on offense. They’ve got to do the same on defense to avoid getting burned by run plays that need a bit of time to develop.

AFC West: Final Word

September, 24, 2010
9/24/10
4:02
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

[+] EnlargeChiefs
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelThe Chiefs haven't started a season with a 2-0 record since 2005.
Numbers favor Kansas City: There’s real meaning to Kansas City’s fast start. It extends beyond the fact that the Chiefs are 2-0 for the first time since 2005 and that they won a total of just 10 games in the past three seasons. A 2-0 start means a team is on the right track. According to ESPN Stats & Information, 167 teams have started 2-0 since 1990. Of those 167 teams, 107 (64 percent) have made the playoffs. Only 28 teams (17 percent) have finished with a losing record. These stats don’t necessarily mean Kansas City is on to something -- remember, Denver started 6-0 last season and ended up 8-8 -- but it is a meaningful start as the Chiefs prepare to host San Francisco.

San Diego’s secret weapon: The Chargers are excited about first-round pick Ryan Mathews as a primary back. And there’s the dynamic but tiny Darren Sproles, who is a fine change-of-pace back and a weapon as a receiver. But the Chargers’ running game doesn’t stop at Mathews and Sproles. Teams must account for Mike Tolbert, who will likely start Sunday because of an ankle injury to Mathews . At 5-9 and 243 pounds, Tolbert usually requires multiple defenders to bring him down. The Chargers plan on using him often near the goal line, but I also expect to see him play more snaps in general, starting Sunday at Seattle. Tolbert has 108 yards on 18 carries in two games. In Week 1 at Kansas City, the third-year player had a 29-yard run. He added a 23-yard run in San Diego’s win over Jacksonville last week. A combination of Mathews, Sproles and Tolbert will be a major headache for defenses.

The Asomugha-Fitzgerald show: The Raiders are committed to using star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha more aggressively this season to use his immense ability. Asomugha has moved around and even has played safety. The Raiders will need Asomugha at his best Sunday at Arizona. He will face Larry Fitzgerald, by far the best receiver Oakland has faced this season. The Cardinals’ offense may be in disarray, but Fitzgerald is still a difference-maker.

Can Kansas City continue to make the key play? In their two wins, the Chiefs have come up big when it counts. Will they continue their streak against the 49ers on Sunday? In Week 1, Kansas City’s defense had a great goal-line stand against the Chargers. The Chargers’ threat ended at the Kansas City 6-yard line with 39 seconds to go. In Week 2 in Cleveland, the Chiefs’ offense closed the deal. On a gutsy call by coach Todd Haley, Kansas City converted a 4th-and-inches run play at the Browns’ 36-yard line at the two-minute warning with the Chiefs holding a a 16-14 lead. Good teams win close games.

Is Thomas ready to replace Marshall? When Denver drafted Demaryius Thomas, it did so hoping he’d be a replacement for Brandon Marshall, who was traded to Miami. Like Marshall, Thomas is a big receiver who possesses many skills. Thomas showed a glimpse of how good he can be when he had eight catches for 97 yards and a touchdown catch in his NFL debut during a Week 2 win over Seattle. The Colts certainly must account for Thomas on Sunday. Still, the Colts are probably relieved they won’t be facing Marshall. Last December, when Denver roasted Indianapolis, Marshall set an NFL record with 21 catches against the Colts. Thomas is very likely not ready for that type of show, but after a strong debut, expect Denver to continue to go to its new receiver.

Final Word: AFC North

September, 24, 2010
9/24/10
4:00
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
Rich Kane/Icon SMIJoe Flacco is looking to rebound against the Browns after a poor start to the season.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco needs a solid outing Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. The third-year player had the worst performance of his career, throwing a career-high four interceptions in last week's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Flacco's didn't look comfortable and was pressing, particularly in the second half. He's off to a very slow start, throwing for 402 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions in Baltimore's first two games. Flacco's passer rating is 41.2.

A key reason Baltimore's defense hasn't allowed a touchdown is its ability to dominate on third down. In two games, the Ravens have held opponents to 4-for-29 (14 percent) on third-down conversions. That stuffs drives, helps Baltimore with field position, and gets the ball back in the hands of the offense.

One of the major issues with Cleveland's offense is its two starting receivers -- Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi -- cannot get open. Neither of the Browns' 2009 second-round picks has been fast enough nor experienced enough to shake free of coverage in the first two games. Robiskie and Massaquoi have been targeted 19 times and only produced five receptions combined this season. Backup Josh Cribbs has been the team's most explosive receiver. He caught a 65-yard touchdown reception last week in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Tight ends Benjamin Watson and Evan Moore have also made plays.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they must be wary of the warm weather. Tampa can be a hot place to play football this time of year. The temperature is expected to hover around the high-80s and lower-90s Sunday. There is also a 50 percent chance of rain. Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas told me after Cleveland's Week 1 loss to Tampa that it felt like it was 100 degrees on the field. AFC North teams aren't used to this kind of heat.

After facing two solid quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Flacco to start the season, the Cincinnati Bengals catch a break Sunday with Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen getting his first career start. The Bengals were relentless on defense last week and rattled Flacco. There's a good chance Cincinnati and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer can do the same against Clausen. The Notre Dame product threw for 59 yards and an interception in relief against Tampa Bay last week.

Final Word: AFC East

September, 24, 2010
9/24/10
4:00
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

[+] EnlargeChad Henne
Fernando Medina/US PresswireShort passes could be the key to victory for Chad Henne and the Dolphins against the Jets.
The best way for the Dolphins to put up points on the Jets won't be the run game or the long ball. When thinking about what the Dolphins' offense can do best, two images come to mind: Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams pounding the ball and Chad Henne using his big arm. The best formula might be the short passing game. Since Jets head coach Rex Ryan took over and installed his defense, the Jets have allowed only 27.1 percent completions on passes longer than 15 yards, but 60.3 percent on passes 14 yards or shorter, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Henne took advantage last year in beating the Jets twice, completing 75 percent of his passes of 14 yards or shorter. He averaged 7.1 yards per attempt, gained 17 first downs and threw for a pair of touchdowns with no interceptions. On such throws against the Jets, Henne posted a 110.9 passer rating.

Nobody should be laughing about the Bills' chances to beat the Patriots. True enough, the Bills never have won in Gillette Stadium and have lost 13 straight to the Patriots regardless of venue. But let's not forget the Bills would've won in New England last year if not for a fluke play. Buffalo presents some tough matchups for New England. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't Buffalo's franchise quarterback, but he's the right choice for this game. New England's secondary has been vulnerable, and, unlike Trent Edwards, Fitzpatrick will test those unproven cornerbacks. Buffalo's chief strength is its underrated pass defense. If the Bills can get some pressure on Tom Brady, especially with sergeant at arms Kevin Faulk out of the lineup, then they'll have a chance.

Sunday night could be a huge turnover game for Mark Sanchez. Young quarterbacks are erratic. Just when you think they have it figured out -- Sanchez had the best day of his career last week against New England -- they waver. Sanchez hasn't committed a turnover this season, but Miami has an opportunistic defense that must be passed against if New York wants to win. Miami extracted four turnovers out of Brett Favre last week. Granted, Favre has been prone to those kinds of games throughout his career, but Sanchez has shown that propensity as well. Sanchez will need to be on point.

Patriots outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain is looking at Sunday's game like it's Christmas. When you look at Banta-Cain's stat line for last year, you can't help but be impressed. He led the Patriots with 10 sacks. But take a look at his game-by-game production. Seven of his sacks came on three days, leaving him with three sacks in his other 13 games. Banta-Cain amassed five of his sacks against the Bills, two in the season opener and three more in the rematch. He's off to a decent start this year with 1.5 sacks through two games.

As happy as Brady is to know Aaron Schobel won't be chasing him Sunday, the Jets have to be even more stoked Ted Ginn isn't with the Dolphins anymore. The Jets went to the playoffs last year, while the Dolphins watched on television. But the Dolphins did sweep the season series with monumental contributions from Ginn, whose last memory in South Florida will be of dropped passes and torturing the Jets. In the first game, which featured five lead changes in the fourth quarter, Ginn beat broken coverage for a 53-yard touchdown strike from Henne. In the rematch, Ginn set an NFL record by returning two kickoffs of at least 100 yards for touchdowns in a game the Jets lost by five points.

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