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NFL Quick-Hits: 10 Observations from Week 2

Image source: Indianapolis Colts Facebook page

1. Schiano’s tactics weren’t dirty – just unnecessary.
When Eli Manning and the Giants got into the “Victory” formation following their thrilling come-from-behind victory against the Bucs on Sunday, Tampa Bay’s defenders fired off the ball and sent Manning backwards to the ground. The “Victory” formation is usually a causal affair. Players get down into their stances but only because it’s a formality. After the quarterback drops to a knee, players will pat each other on the helmet or shake hands because the game is over at that point. So it was rather lame for Greg Schiano to say following the game, “we fight until they tell us the game is over,” because the game is metaphorically over at that point. The play wasn’t dirty but it was highly unnecessary. The odds of a player getting hurt in that situation are much higher than a quarterback fumbling the ball, your team recovering, and marching into scoring position so you can either tie or win the game. So is there a lot to be gained by doing it? Schiano is trying to clean up the mess that Raheem Morris left for him in Tampa, which includes making his players tougher. But this isn’t the way to do it and it wasn’t very smart to tick off a head coach that has as much stature as Tom Coughlin. If he and the Bucs were pissed about the loss, then they shouldn’t have squandered a game that was well in hand until the fourth quarter. (Furthermore, what’s most disappointing about the situation is that everyone is now talking about that play as opposed to yet another incredible fourth quarter comeback engineered by Manning.)

2. Make no mistake, the Patriots’ loss was stunning.
Let’s really put the Patriots’ 20-18 loss into perspective. They were a 13.5-point home favorite against a team with the worst offensive line in football and arguably the worst quarterback situation as well. The Cardinals won despite gaining only 16 first downs, running just 61 plays and throwing for only 140 yards. Kevin Kolb’s average yard per pass went just 5.2 yards and Beanie Wells rushed for just 3.1 yards per carry. Arizona also lost the turnover and time of possession battles, so talk about one of the weirdest games in the past 10 years – this was it. That said, let’s give credit were credit is due. I wrote several times this offseason about how Arizona’s defense was likely to come together this year under Ray Horton. The Cardinal defenders were often confused and out of place last season, but the players are more confident in Horton’s second year. It’s the same system that the Steelers run in Pittsburgh so it’s predicated on every player understanding their role, executing their job, and trusting that the man next to them will do the same. The players have bought into the approach and we seen the results thus far. (Through two games the Cardinals have held opponents to 17.0 points per game, which ranks fifth in the league.) I don’t expect the Cardinals to keep winning, especially the way they did Sunday in Foxboro. But I do expect the defense to continue to play well under Horton, who will be a head coaching candidate again next offseason.

3. Frustrations are already boiling over in Tennessee.
Following the Titans’ ugly 38-10 loss to the Chargers in which Tennessee rushed for just 38 yards as a team, Chris Johnson sounded off about his teammates. Said Johnson, “People need to step up and do their job. They don’t need to let people beat them. It don’t matter who the opposing defense is, you can’t let your buy beat you.” Johnson’s right: The Titans offensive line has been brutal. It was brutal last year from a run blocking standpoint and it’s been brutal through the first two weeks of the season this year. But I can count on one finger how many times Johnson has hit the whole hard this year. He’s making too many cutbacks trying to hit a home run on every play instead of trusting his instincts and using his vision to find creases in the defense. Does his offensive line need to perform better? Certainly. But right now Johnson is as much of the problem as he is the solution so instead of calling his teammates out publicly, he needs to figure out what can be done internally to better the situation because we’re only two games into a very long season.

4. Alex Smith finally looks comfortable.
For the first time in his career Alex Smith is running the same offense with the same playbook with the same offensive coordinator as he did the year prior. And what do you know? He’s been successful. It’s too early to make bold statements about the positioning of any team, but the 49ers might just be the best squad in football. They beat the Packers in Lambeau, then returned home on Sunday night and suffocated the Lions for four quarters. Detroit had to scratch, claw, and fight for every single yard that they earned, which is the way San Francisco’s defense wants it. On the other side of the ball, Smith once again took what the defense gave him, didn’t turn the ball over and threw two more touchdown passes to give him a total of four on the season. It’s hard to make statements in only two weeks but the Niners have sent a message that last year wasn’t a fluke. If Smith is their weak link, they’re in good shape so far.

5. Maybe it was just rust for Vick.
One week after playing like a rookie in Cleveland, Michael Vick completed 23-of-32 passes for 371 yards with one touchdown and added 10 carries for 34 yards and another score the Eagles’ 24-23 come-from-behind win against the Ravens on Sunday. It was vintage Vick, as he threw two costly interceptions and fumbled on an exchange with LeSean McCoy, but he also elevated his team to victory. That’s two last-second touchdown drives that Vick has engineered in as many weeks and while he deserves criticism for the turnovers, he deserves praise for pulling victory out of the jaws of defeat in back-to-back weeks. Still, questions remain about his health. He took two big shots by Baltimore defenders early in the game and he stayed down on his knee for a couple of moments after taking the first hit. How long before we see Nick Foles have to enter a game that Vick leaves due to an injury?

6. The rookie quarterbacks were much improved.
Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson picked up their first NFL wins, RGIII once again dazzled despite losing in St. Louis, and Brandon Weeden actually resembled a professional quarterback in a road loss to Cincinnati. All in all, it was a great day for rookie quarterbacks around the league. What Luck did in Indianapolis was particiluarly noteworthy. With the Colts and Vikings tied 20-20 with just 31 seconds remaining in the game, Luck took Indy 44 yards in four plays, setting Adam Vinatieri up for a game-winning 53-yard field goal. He certainly wasn’t perfect on the day, missing open receivers and taking a huge 22-yard sack on a crucial fourth down in the fourth quarter, but he remains well ahead of where he should be for a rookie signal caller. Wilson got a lot of help from his defense and special teams but both his and Tannehill’s athleticism were on display yesterday. Weeden also deserves praise for taking better care of the ball this week than in the Browns’ opening-season loss to the Eagles and credit him for taking what Cincinnati’s defense gave him. (The middle of the field was wide open throughout the day and Weeden just kept firing balls in between the linebackers and safeties.)

7. Morgan is fortunate to still be on Shanahan’s roster.
The Redskins were an enormous gift by Rams’ rookie Daryl Richardson, who fumbled with just under three minutes remaining in the game. Washington took over at its own 37-yard-line needing at least a field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime. But on a third-and-eight play in St. Louis territory, Redskins’ wideout Josh Morgan caught a pass from Robert Griffin III and after being shoved by Cortland Finnegan, Morgan chucked the ball at the Rams’ corner and was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul. So instead of being well within Billy Cundiff’s range to tie the game, the play moved the Redskins out of field goal range and they eventually lost the game, 31-28. Part of you feels for Morgan because Finnegan started the fire by shoving the Washington receiver. But Morgan simply has to be better than that. With the game on the line, he has to keep his cool. A team never wins or losses on just one play but in a situation like that, it’s hard not to forget everything else that happened prior to that situation. That’s a play that Morgan and the Redskins may not forget the rest of the year.

8. Bush reminds us of how exciting a player he is.
The Saints did what they had to do two years ago when they traded Reggie Bush to Miami. They knew they were overpaying him and they found his replacement in Darren Sproles very easily on the open market. But while he became a forgot man in NFL circles, Bush has quietly turned into a reliable playmaker for the Dolphins. He totaled 109 yards in Week 1 against one of the best defenses in the league (Houston), and then for an encore performance he rushed 26 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns in Miami’s 35-13 win over the Raiders on Sunday. The 23-yard touchdown run that he had in which he broke several tackles and refused to go down was reminiscent of his days at USC. He’s an exciting player again and doesn’t get enough credit for playing with raw emotion and passion. He continues to be the featured player in Mike Sherman’s West Coast offense and it’s a role that certainly suits him.

9. Bad day for injuries around the league.
The Giants’ offensive line isn’t very good and the depth behind the starters is thin. Thus, losing left tackle David Diehl (knee) for any amount of time is troublesome. Even worse, running back Ahmad Bradshaw underwent an X-ray for a neck injury and at this point, his status remains unclear…The Eagles lost center Jason Kelce, left tackle King Dunlap and receiver Jeremy Maclin in their win over the Ravens. Kelce is done for the season and keep in mind this is a team that already lost Jason Peters to a season-ending injury before the season even started…Adding insult to injury, the Patriots could be without tight end Aaron Hernandez for awhile after he suffered a high ankle sprain in the team’s embarrassing 20-18 loss to the Cardinals…People in St. Louis thought running back Steven Jackson was benched right before halftime for spiking the ball following what he believed to be a touchdown, and then cost the Rams an opportunity for a touchdown as they were pushed back 15 yards. But it was worse – Jackson suffered a groin injury on the play and never returned. The Rams also lost Rodger Saffold again, this time to a knee injury…Blaine Gabbert had to be replaced by Chad Henne after he injured his toe and hamstring…Despite not being listed on the Seahawks’ postgame injury report, receiver Sidney Rice, who hasn’t looked right all season, left the game early for an unknown reason…Just a bad day for injuries in the NFL.

10. It’s going to be a great one in Atlanta.
The NFL couldn’t have asked for a better Monday night matchup than the one it’ll get tonight when the Falcons host the Broncos. Peyton Manning was sharp in Denver’s win last Sunday night against the Steelers and it’ll be interesting to see how he attacks an Atlanta secondary that lost its top corner in Brent Grimes (Achilles) for the season. On the other side, Matt Ryan is now at the helm of an offense that can actually outscore opponents through the air instead of trying to grind out wins on the ground. As Michael Turner’s play continues to decline, Julio Jones’ career is just taking off. The Broncos love to get after the passer so Ryan will need to continue to get the ball out of his hands quickly as he did in Week 1 and throughout the preseason. There’s also added incentive for both teams after what happened on Sunday. The Chargers are 2-0 after beating the Titans so if the Broncos don’t want to lose any ground in the AFC West, they need a victory tonight. And with the Saints sitting at 0-2 two weeks in, the Falcons could take sole possession of the NFC South, which is huge considering how good that division is top to bottom. It’s going to be fun tonight.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Fade Material: NFL Week 2 Predictions

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick sets up a pass before throwing to teammate DeSean Jackson for a touchdown against the Washington Redskins in first half of their NFL football game in Landover, Maryland November 15, 2010. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Not a great start last week but not bad either. I hit the Eagles and Bengals but the Colts never arrived in Houston and the Titans fell short in Jacksonville. I’ll try harder today…

Cardinals @ Redskins, 1:00PM ET
Cam Newton was incredible in his debut but Arizona’s defense was sofffffft. Now the Cardinals have to hop a flight cross-country to play a Redskins team that didn’t have to move after playing at home last week. While the situation is built like a house of cards, Rex Grossman played well last Sunday against the Giants and I think he’ll carry that confidence into today. The Cardinals are just 1-6 against the spread in their last seven road games and 1-7 ATS in their last eight games as a road underdog. The Redskins, meanwhile, are 4-0-1 ATS in their last five games overall and 3-0-1 ATS in their last four games versus the NFC.

Browns @ Colts, 1:00PM ET
Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment because I’m right back on the Colts this week after their brutal performance in Week 1. It just doesn’t sit right with me that Indy is a 1-point home underdog against a Browns team that got drubbed by the Bengals at home last Sunday. Kerry Collins looked like crap-o-la in Houston but he should have an easier time this Sunday against Cleveland. The underdog is 3-1-1 against the spread in the last five meetings between these two teams while the Browns are 0-5 against the spread in their last five games versus the AFC.

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With Michael Vick and the Eagles coming to town, it’s statement time for the Falcons

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes during the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on September 11, 2011 in Chicago. UPI/Brian Kersey

Week 2 is a little early for statement games but the Falcons may be the exception.

There were a handful of media members who predicted Atlanta to reach the Super Bowl this season, none more prominent than SI’s Peter King. But if the Falcons don’t believe they’re ready to take the next step then why should anyone else? Their brutal performance in Chicago last weekend followed an 0-4 preseason, which followed a 48-21 loss to the Packers in last year’s playoffs. Super Bowl? How about this team bothers winning a game of importance first?

Things don’t get any easier for the Falcons this Sunday night when Michael Vick and the Eagles come to town. ESPN has had a field day with the “Whose house is it?” topic, but the Falcons should be more concerned with starting 0-2 than trying to figure out whether Vick or Matt Ryan’s name should be on the doorknocker. Atlanta has lost four straight to Philadelphia and eight of its last nine to the Eagles, including two playoff games. To suggest Andy Reid has had the Falcons’ number over the years would be an understatement.

But Atlanta can change all that this weekend. The sloppiness that they exhibited in last Sunday’s loss to the Bears was rather uncharacteristic of the Mike Smith-led Falcons over the last three years. Thus, I expect Atlanta to play with more focus and pride this weekend.

But focus and pride are just two ingredients that this team is missing right now. They could also use a dash of attitude, swagger and aggressiveness. Their quarterback is seemingly ready to join the elite but he hesitates to throw downfield. Their offensive coordinator was viewed as a head-coaching candidate late last season but his conservative playcalling is befuddling with the amount of weapons the Falcons posses on offense. Their head coach was once a defensive coordinator in Jacksonville but thus far, he and his current DC can’t figure out the coverage woes that the secondary and linebacker corps is having. (Save for corner Brent Grimes, who has emerged as one of the team’s top playmakers.)

In other words, this team is a small mess right now – not a Super Bowl contender. But it’s not like the Falcons don’t have talent. On the contrary – this team is stacked. They have a slew of playmakers on offense, a ton of potential on defense, and thanks to the recent additions of James Sanders and Kelvin Hayden, plenty of depth as well.

With that in mind, the Falcons can’t allow this game to be about Vick and his heroic homecoming. After all, if they’re going to play second fiddle to him in their own stadium, then they might as well lay down for the rest of the NFC powers as well. This game needs to be about making a statement. This needs to be about beating an opponent that has had their number and stomping out the cloud of doubt that is starting to form around them.

A loss to the Eagles this Sunday isn’t going to eliminate the Falcons from the playoffs. But it wouldn’t kill them to have a sense of urgency right now either.

2011 NFL Week 2 Point Spreads & Preview

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick throws a pass during the first half of their NFL football game against the St. Louis Rams in St. Louis, Missouri September 11, 2011. REUTERS/Sarah Conard (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Eagles (1-0) @ Falcons (0-1), 8:20PM ET
Outside of Chargers-Patriots or maybe Bears-Saints, there isn’t a juicer matchup on the schedule this week. The Falcons should be embarrassed by the way they performed last week in Chicago but they have zero time to wallow in self pity because Michael Vick and the Eagles come storming into the Georgia Dome this weekend. Andy Reid has had major ownage on the Falcons over the years, as Philly is 9-2-1 against the spread in its last 12 games against Atlanta, which includes a 4-1-1 ATS mark on the road. With defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux set to miss over a month with a knee injury, the Falcons’ defense is in major trouble. An 0-2 start for the defending NFC South champions is a big-time reality.

Chargers (1-0) @ Patriots (1-0), 4:15PM ET
Two teams picked by many to win their respective divisions will square off in New England on Sunday when the Pats host the Chargers at 4:15PM ET. These two teams met in San Diego last October and despite dominating the first half, the Bolts fell to the Pats, 23-20. The underdog is 6-2 against the spread in the last eight meetings between these two teams, while the under is 4-1 in the last five meetings. That said, the over is 4-1 in the last five meetings in New England and after watching Tom Brady dissect the Dolphins on Monday night, it’s hard to envision a low-scoring game this Sunday at Foxboro.

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Tweeting NFL Week 2

Anthony Stalter (under TheScoresReport) and I (under fantasytips) will be tweeting throughout Week 2. Feel free to ask us questions, call us names, whatever…

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