Week 8: Not featuring the run
Rushing attacks remain on back burner; rousing, defining victory by Lions
Running backs have yet to move to the forefront of playoff races.
We're eight weeks into the season, and there have been only 28 games in which a running back had 100 yards. On Sunday, for example, the only back who hit the century mark was the Arizona Cardinals' Andre Ellington, who had 154 yards in a 27-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons.
It used to be said that defense and running games win championships. Not anymore. Teams such as the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks stress running attacks, but their feature backs aren't getting enough carries to get over 100 yards consistently.
Offense: Calvin Johnson had the second-best receiving day in terms of yardage in NFL history. He had 14 catches for 329 yards and one touchdown in Detroit's 31-30 victory over Dallas. It can be argued he had the best four-quarter game for a wide receiver. Flipper Anderson had a 336-yard day for the Los Angeles Rams in 1989, but 40 of his yards came in overtime. Johnson had 33 yards more than Anderson in regulation.
Defense: Even though the Cowboys lost, Sean Lee did everything he could to put the Cowboys in position to win. He intercepted two Matthew Stafford passes, returning them for 89 yards. He also had 10 tackles and two passes defensed. He was all over the field.
Special teams: Josh Brown was the Giants' offense in a 15-7 victory at Philadelphia. He was 5-for-5 on field goals, making three from between 40 and 46 yards.
LeSean McCoy is the only back with three 100-yard games, but much of his success was early in the season, when Michael Vick was working the read-option well. In the past two weeks, McCoy has been held to 55 and 48 yards.
The only backs who had 20 carries Sunday were Reggie Bush of the Detroit Lions (21 for 92 yards), Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers (29 for 94), Darren McFadden of the Raiders (24 for 73) and Peyton Hillis of the New York Giants (20 for 70).
Last year, we saw Adrian Peterson run the Vikings into the playoffs with his legs. Very few teams are doing that this year.
Here's what we learned in Week 8:
1. Defining result for two franchises: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones stood outside a stunned, depressed Cowboys locker room talking about the team's stunning, 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions. Jones mentioned how a loss such as this takes its toll and how the Cowboys will be average until they win such a big road game.
The Cowboys once again trend toward being an 8-8, 9-7 team. The Lions are a team of extremes. They are either great or bad. Sunday they were both. Matthew Stafford threw two interceptions to Sean Lee. Calvin Johnson and Bush each lost fumbles on what could have been scoring drives. Defensive backs missed tackles, missed coverages and took wrong angles. But what we saw was a Lions team that is loose and makes plays, which is why it is so dangerous.
The Cowboys had the ball with 84 seconds left, needing only to get a first down or run out the clock. That plan was foiled by an offensive holding penalty against left tackle Tyron Smith on third-and-14. Stafford got the ball back with 62 seconds left and he wasn't going to change the way the Lions do business. "They just throw it up whenever they can,'' Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher said of the Lions' offense. Stafford kept throwing jump balls all over the field to Calvin Johnson (14 catches, 329 yards), who finished just shy of breaking Flipper Anderson's NFL single-game record of 336 receiving yards.
Stafford's defining play was a deception. After a 22-yard pass to Johnson put Detroit at Dallas' 1-yard line, Stafford rushed to the line yelling, "clock, clock, clock." But instead of spiking the ball, Stafford saw a dormant interior Cowboys defense and jumped into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown, not even telling his teammates he was going to do that. That's the Lions. They are loose. At 5-3 going into a bye week, the Lions are riding extremes in what could be a playoff run. For the Cowboys, it was back to .500.
2. Patriots must trade for a wide receiver: Bill Belichick has to decide by Tuesday whether to trade for a veteran wide receiver. From the looks of the Patriots after eight games, he should definitely pursue adding Josh Gordon, Kenny Britt, Hakeem Nicks or some other veteran who can catch the ball.
Although the Patriots can celebrate a 6-2 start and a 27-17 win over the Miami Dolphins, they need one more experienced hand on offense for Tom Brady. Brady threw for only 116 yards even though he had Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola back on the field. It's pretty clear rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson are struggling in this offense. Dobson had four catches for 60 yards Sunday; Thompkins had none.
It's time to get a veteran. If I were the Patriots, I'd offer a second-round pick and QB Ryan Mallett to Cleveland for Gordon. If that doesn't work, I'd offer a conditional seventh-rounder to Tennessee for Britt. If that doesn't work, I'd call the Giants about Nicks.
3. Not clicking in Philly: Chip Kelly's offense works in the NFL. The Patriots ran the fast-paced version last year, won 12 games, had 74.4 plays a game and went to the AFC Championship Game. But Kelly's offense in Philadelphia needs some tweaks. The Eagles haven't scored an offensive touchdown in two straight weeks. Kelly has become too reliant on the read-option, which works best when Vick is behind center, but Vick may not be durable enough to carry the offense through the season.
In a boring, 15-7 loss to the New York Giants, Vick went 17 offensive plays before succumbing to his hamstring problems. To run any fast-paced offense, you can't have three-and-outs and you can't commit turnovers. Vick started Sunday with back-to-back three-and-outs. During the second quarter, Vick told the Eagles' staff he felt his hamstring pop. Enter Matt Barkley and exit any hope of the Eagles doing anything on offense. Barkley's not accurate enough or good enough protecting the ball to be the answer to the Eagles' offensive problems.
At midseason, Kelly doesn't know where to go at quarterback. He's concerned about Vick, whose hamstring remains a problem. Nick Foles hasn't been cleared from his concussion symptoms. Barkley isn't ready.
"I think we've had some instability at the quarterback position," Kelly said. "I think we've also got to step up. And it starts with me. I'm the playcaller. I'm the guy calling plays. In the last two weeks I haven't done a very good job of it."
4. Bengals in control of AFC North: The Bengals' 49-9 victory over the New York Jets, coupled with the Pittsburgh Steelers' 21-18 loss to the Oakland Raiders, puts Cincinnati in the driver's seat for the AFC North title.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton is on a roll. After being criticized for not getting the ball deep, Dalton picked apart the Lions' man-to-man defense last week and destroyed a very good Rex Ryan defense Sunday. Dalton threw for 325 yards and five touchdowns, four to Marvin Jones, who was playing with a sore shoulder. It was the worst performance by the Jets since Ryan has been the coach.
The Bengals are 6-2, lead the idle Baltimore Ravens by 2½ games and don't have to worry about the Steelers. After two straight wins, the Steelers hoped to climb back into the divisional race by beating Oakland. But they got behind 21-3 and just aren't good enough to overcome missed field goals and mistakes. This game reflected how the team has underperformed all season.
The Steelers are 2-5 and all but out of the division and wild-card races. From the sounds of coach Mike Tomlin after the game, expect a change at kicker. Shaun Suisham missed two field goals and Tomlin noted the Steelers lost by three. They also suffered more injuries along the offensive line -- Ramon Foster (concussion), David DeCastro (ankle) and Guy Whimper (knee). The Steelers are a mess.
5. AFC West stalwarts challenged: Despite being at home, the Kansas City Chiefs struggled to beat the Cleveland Browns 23-17. The Denver Broncos came back from a 21-7 deficit to beat the Washington Redskins 45-21. The Broncos knew going in that QB Peyton Manning was playing with two sore ankles, including one that has a mild sprain. To change things up, the Broncos tried to run the ball more. Even though Manning threw 44 passes, they called 34 runs for 107 yards, and there were some other changes. Ronnie Hillman, who had a key fumble last Sunday night, was inactive. Knowshon Moreno was the lead back. Montee Ball was the backup. They combined for 25 carries and 81 yards.
The Broncos have a bye in Week 9, which is needed to rest their offensive line and Manning's ankles. Coach John Fox called the game the team's best defensive effort.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs are one week away from a needed bye. Alex Smith was sacked six times, and Andy Reid questioned his own play calling afterward. After jumping off to a 20-10 halftime lead, the Chiefs let the Browns get back in it.
"I probably got stale on [the plays]," Reid said. "I didn't dial them up as well as the first half. I have to do a better job there. That's two weeks in a row that we've come out a little bit slow in the second half.
The Broncos visit the Chargers after the bye and the Chiefs go to Buffalo next week before their bye. The AFC West rivals meet on Nov. 17.
To a man, Cowboys players and owner Jerry Jones defended wide receiver Dez Bryant after the receiver had two verbal meltdowns in the second half of the 31-30 loss to the Lions. Jones said Bryant's tirade gave the offense a spark. Isn't this another sign that Cowboys players aren't held accountable for bad behavior? Bryant wouldn't stop yelling when he didn't get the ball. … Watching Matt Ryan struggle minus Roddy White, Julio Jones and left tackle Sam Baker reminds me of his struggles at Boston College his senior year. He lost top receivers and blockers, making some scouts wonder if he was a top pick. He's still elite, although he couldn't generate anything in a 27-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. … How can the NFL sell pro football in London if it keeps showcasing the Jacksonville Jaguars? They have had eight consecutive double-digit losses and are one of the worst teams since the 1976 expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. … Here is a scary thought. Colin Kaepernick is completing only 57.1 percent of his passes. His top two wide receivers have only 49 receptions. Yet, the 49ers' 42-10 victory over the Jaguars was the fifth consecutive game in which they've scored more than 30 points. That ties the team record set in 1994 and 1997. Imagine when they get Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree back. … The Dolphins continue to fit the pattern of a top-spending team not having a winning record. They have lost four consecutive games. Two of their prime free-agent acquisitions -- Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller -- are out for the season with knee injuries. They inserted Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, moved Jonathan Martin back to right tackle and benched Tyson Clabo. Ryan Tannehill was sacked six times and had two interceptions. "I thought our protection was better," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. That's scary. … Jason Campbell gave the Cleveland Browns' offense a little bit of a spark in a 23-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. He threw for 293 yards and had two touchdown passes. Because the Browns' defense is pretty good, that performance made Cleveland more competitive. Expect Campbell to get the next start.