By Columnist Jean-Paul Bergeaux
Things I know.
Rushing matters in this “passing league”. Back in week 3 I noted a higher percentage of teams with high passing yards lost games compared to teams with high rushing yards in a game. This is counter-intuitive to the “common knowledge” of a passing league that is ruled by quarterbacks. However it continues to be true. Go back and look at the week to week leaders in both categories. Last week was a particularly noticeable week for this stat. The bottom line is that in general teams have to rush well to win games. Don’t forget that the Saints, who are known as a passing team ran exceptionally well last year and were quite balanced, and this year are not. It should be no surprise that the Colts and Ravens look the best they have in a long time when Donald Brown and Ray Rice broke out for 100 yard games.
Special teams suffer as injuries pile up. You can see it across the league. As teams pile up injuries, special teams start to suffer. Coaches are caught with two options. Either suffer on special teams with depleted talent, or play special teams aces over other backups. It’s a tough choice and special teams do matter. Look at how many games were won in the special teams this week and in recent weeks. Everything from returns, to FG kicks (missed or made) and finally punters who can pin opponents back deep with a big leg. By the way, what don’t punters get about “don’t kick to that guy.”? Is it that difficult to kick a football out of bounds? Of course referring to Hester and Jackson.
The NFC West is just plain terrible. It’s official. No team from the NFC West is going to have a winning record. Not a one. It’s likely that the winner of the NFC West will have a losing record. That would be the first time a team with a losing record would make the NFL playoffs. The Seahawks play TB and then host STL at home. The Rams have the 49ers, who at 5-9 could win the division at 7-9, and then go to Seattle, a tough place to play. Then whoever wins this division will probably host the Saints, Giants or the Packers. Oh the humanity!
Things I think I know.
The Eagles are a scary team. The Eagles have been out on the fringe making noise all season, but pundits have been focusing on the Falcons, Jets, Steelers and Patriots while the Eagles have been putting together some good performances and getting lucky in ways that only winning teams do. This team is just plain FAST all around. If Vick can make it through the next few weeks and the playoffs healthy, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with. There has to be doubt that he can do that, but the QB slides on Sunday are a good sign.
Matt Cassell makes a huge difference to KC. Who would have thought that Matt Cassell was actually going to make it, even after going 11-5 in NE. He never started a game in college, but is a legitimate starting QB in the NFL. Kansas City looks like a different team with Matt Cassell in the game. Not just when passing, but running, on defense and special teams. Sometimes, having a leader that you trust changes the entire teams belief and effort in winning a game. They haven’t won the AFC West, but at 9-5 with a game lead on SD, the Chiefs have two winnable home games where they have yet to lose a game this year.
Cost is driving teams to rely on young players. And those rookies and second year players are making a difference. Many times the teams that break out and make deep runs have good young talented rookies making big plays. Talented veterans who cost more aren’t affordable because of the amount drafted rookies are paid before they even start playing football. This year we’re seeing several rookies and second year players making a big impact for KC and NE. KC obviously has Eric Berry (FS), Dexter McCluster (KR) and Tony Moeaki (TE), but has anyone noticed Kendrick Lewis (S) who leads the team in interceptions? NE has Gronkowski and Hernandez (both TEs) with Jermaine Cunningham (DE), and Devin McCourty (CB) who are all rookies and at last count five 2nd year starters to add to that. Then take into consideration rookies Sam Bradford (QB-STL), LeGarrette Blount (RB-TB), Mike Williams (WR-TB), Ndamukong Suh (DT-DET), Carlos Dunlap (DE-CIN) and Joe Haden (CB-CLE). This league is getting younger fast.
Things I know I don’t know.
What does Matt Flynn’s performance mean? After NE has been ripping teams up on defense, no one expected Matt Flynn to be much more than road kill to Bill Belichick and the Patriots. But Flynn ripped up the NE defense. Up and down the field, running, passing and handing off the ball to a resurgent running GB team. Maybe it just proves just how important Bill Belichick’s film study is. He didn’t know how to defend a new entity in Matt Flynn. Maybe it’s just that Matt Flynn is better than anyone thought. What it means we will only know if Flynn gets another chance to play. Either because GB gets rid of him or because Rodgers has injury issues.
Is everyone ready for the new overtime rules? There have been a lot of overtime games this year. There’s no reason for that to change in the playoffs, so is everyone prepared for the new rules? A FG doesn’t win it. Only six points more than the OT beginning points wins the game. It’s going to be interesting to watch how this works out. If there are several OT games, it’s very possible that games will be extended longer than overtime games usually are. That could effect how tired a team could be after a game lengthened by this new rule. Who knows how this will turn out…
Why didn’t Leslie Frasier start someone who will play next year? With Favre’s 1 millionth injury this year, it won’t matter now, but, it was known that Favre is not coming back to play next year (thank goodness). So why didn’t Frazier give Joe Webb a chance, to see what he can do? Maybe they are not optimistic that Joe Webb is the long term answer to the Vikings quarterback position, but why not try? What is the benefit of playing Favre? No one really wants to see Favre, and the fans would be more excited to see an unknown quantity given a shot. It just doesn’t make sense.