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NFL Quick-Hits: 10 Observations from Week 3

1. No sense debating the Lions’ fourth down gaff – it wasn’t supposed to happen.
One of the hot topics around your water cooler this morning will be the Lions’ decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 in overtime instead of attempting a game-tying field goal from the Titans’ 7-yard line. But there’s no sense debating the decision because the play was never supposed to happen. Following the game coach Jim Schwartz said that Detroit was trying to draw Tennessee offsides. Whether or not the Lions would have still gone for it had the offsides attempt not worked is unknown, but the most controversial play of the day wasn’t controversial at all. Shaun Hill (who came into the game after Matthew Stafford suffered a leg injury) and the Lions just blew the task at hand. The bigger worry for Schwartz should be the fact that his team has yet to play well. The Lions arguably should have lost Week 1 to the Rams, were dominated by the 49ers in Week 2, and allowed 44 points to a Titans team that had been outscored 72-23 coming into Sunday’s action. For a team coming off a postseason berth a year ago, the Lions look every bit a sub-.500 team.

(For what it’s worth, I thought the Lions should have gone for it on fourth down in that situation. Their defense and special teams were brutal all afternoon and they were playing on the road. But you don’t put the ball in the hands of Hill with the day Mikel Leshoure was having.)

2. So far the NFL’s gamble hasn’t paid off.
One of the biggest reasons why Roger Goodell and the NFL hasn’t given in to the demands of the locked out officials is because the league assumed that the replacements would get better each week. But just six nights after the replacement officials contributed to a first quarter between the Broncos and Falcons that took over an hour to complete on “Monday Night Football,” this was the scene on Sunday night: Baltimore’s Ladarius Webb throwing his helmet in disgust, New England’s Vince Wilfork screaming at an official in the end zone following Justin Tucker’s game-winning field goal, and Bill Belichick angrily chasing down line judge Esteban Garza and yanking his arm as he tried to run off the field. Following the game, you had linebacker Brandon Spikes tweeting, “Can someone please tell these f****** zebras foot locker called and they’re needed Back at work !!!!” It wasn’t just the Baltimore-New England game either. The Detroit-Tennessee contest was a mess as well, as the replacement officials gave the Titans an extra 12 yards following a penalty in overtime (which eventually led to the game-winning field goal). Is this the vision that Goodell has for his league? The fans, which allow the NFL to be the most popular game in America, deserve better than this. It’s not like the regular officials don’t blow calls, make mistakes, or factor into wins and losses. But the NFL has become a punch line because of these replacements.

3. The jury is still out on the Cardinals, but not their defense.
Are the Cardinals for real? Even after they crushed the Eagles 27-6 on Sunday, skepticism remains. They’re essentially two plays away from being 1-2 instead of 3-0, so let’s wait a few weeks before we assume we misjudged Ken Whisenhunt’s team in preseason. But one thing’s for sure: The Cardinals’ defense is for real. Players were confused and often caught out of position when Ray Horton took over as defensive coordinator last season. He runs the same defensive scheme that Dick LeBeau uses in Pittsburgh, which means every player has a specific role that must be executed or the entire defense may struggle. But in Year 2 of Horton’s scheme, his defenders have a firm grasp on what their responsibilities are and at least three through weeks they’re thriving in their roles. They held Michael Vick to just 217 yards passing, sacked him five times and forced three fumbles on the day. Daryl Washington is becoming a star, Patrick Peterson is on the fast track when it comes to his development, and Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett and Kerry Rhodes are steady veterans. The offense remains a huge concern thanks to one of the worst offensive lines in football, but Horton’s defense is going to keep Arizona in most games going forward.

4. The Vikings’ upset of the 49ers was easier to spot than you think.
The biggest shock of Week 3 came in Minnesota where the Vikings upset the 49ers, 24-13. The Vikings, who barely got by the Jaguars at home in Week 1 and who were beaten by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck in Week 2, were 7-point home underdogs against a San Francisco team that was regarded as the class of the NFC – if not the entire NFL. But the 49ers were also coming off wins against the Packers and Lions and were due for a letdown. Their offense is also very methodical and lacks explosion, so once they get behind by a couple of scores they’re not prone to stage comebacks. Now, did I see Christian Ponder completing 21-of-35 passes for 198 yards with three total touchdowns (two passing, one rushing)? No. But his ability to scramble proved to be a major weapon against a stingy San Francisco defense, which couldn’t limit the big play. Throw in the fact that Minnesota won the turnover and time of possession battle and it all adds up to one of the bigger upsets of the year thus far.

5. The Texans and Falcons look like the class of each conference.
With all due respect to the 3-0 Cardinals, the Texans and Falcons look like the class of the AFC and NFC through the first three weeks of the season. Houston has outscored opponents 88-42 and its first trip out West proved to be a successful one, as the Texans beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos 31-25 on Sunday. The Falcons, meanwhile, are 2-0 on the road and had no trouble with previously unbeaten San Diego despite coming off a short week of rest and preparation following their Monday night win over Denver. No quarterback has been more efficient than Matt Ryan through the first three weeks of the season and Mike Nolan has transformed Atlanta’s defense into a top 10 unit. One other thing the Falcons have done well is blend Mike Smith’s philosophy on ball control and Dirk Koetter’s desire to throw the ball vertical. Atlanta’s offense is still very methodical but the difference now is that the scheme is built around Ryan and the no-huddle, compared to Michael Turner and the ground-and-pound philosophy that Mike Mularkey implemented the past four years. Both Atlanta and Houston play keep-away better than any team in the league, with the only difference being that the Texans have a legit running game to compliment their passing attack. Both defenses are also built to confuse opposing quarterbacks and force turnovers, which the Falcons and Texans have been able to do thus far.

6. The Ravens come up huge.
The Ravens exacted a small measure of revenge last night on the Patriots, who beat Baltimore in the AFC title game just a few months ago. The replacement officials marred an otherwise terrific night for the heavy-hearted Torrey Smith, who played less than 24 hours after the death of his younger brother. He caught six passes for 127 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a beautiful 25-yard grab in the second quarter. Joe Flacco also impressed one week after struggling against the Eagles, as he completed 28-of-39 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns. The win was huge on a couple of different levels for Baltimore. First and foremost, the Steelers lost to the Raiders earlier in the day so the Ravens and Bengals are now tied atop the division at 2-1. The victory also guaranteed Baltimore a leg up against New England when it comes to tiebreakers at the end of the year. Even though they’re 1-2, Bill Belichick’s Patriots will bounce back and be in the playoff mix at the end of the year. So it’s huge for the Ravens to have a head-to-head win over a team that they always seem to meet in the postseason.

7. There’s a good chance the Saints will head into their bye week winless.
I guess we all should have seen this coming. No team could have gone through what the Saints did in the offseason and now suffer any residual affects. Not only was New Orleans marred in the bounty scandal, but don’t forget that Drew Brees missed significant offseason time while battling with the front office over his contract. In losing Sean Payton the Saints not only lost their head coach but their playcaller as well. Talk all you want about Pete Carmichael being a reliable fill-in but through three weeks the Saints’ offense has yet to develop consistency. The biggest problem, of course, might be on the defensive side of the ball as Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme has yet to sink in. In their 27-24 victory on Sunday, Kansas City was able to play keep-away with Jamaal Charles, who rushed for over 200 yards on the maligned New Orleans defense. Through three weeks Spagnuolo’s unit has allowed 40 points to Washington, 35 to Carolina and 27 to Kansas City. And with Green Bay and San Diego coming up, there’s a very realistic chance that the Saints will be 0-5 heading into their Week 6 bye.

8. The Steelers’ defense is getting exposed.
We’ve reached a point when it’s no longer surprising that Pittsburgh’s defense allows a 100-yard rusher, isn’t able to generate pressure, and allows big plays when one of Dick LeBeau’s zone blitzes backfires. The problem is that James Harrison and Troy Polamalu can’t stay healthy. The bigger problem is that the Steelers haven’t drafted well on that side of the ball in a long time. Younger players have failed to step up and there’s no new wave of brilliant Pittsburgh defenders coming down what used to be an endless pipe of production. The unit is old, tired and now, underperforming. The Steelers’ defense used to dictate games and now opposing quarterbacks are outsmarting them, even aging signal callers like Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer. If you’re expecting the Steelers’ defense to all of a sudden flip the switch and go back to being the dominate force that it’s been for over a decade, you might be waiting awhile. Re-enforcements are not on their way.

9. The Jets are in trouble.
A team source told Jason Cole of Yahoo Sports! that Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis “probably” has a torn left ACL. If “probably” turns into “confirmed,” New York is in major trouble. Revis means everything to Rex Ryan’s defense, so much so that the Jets’ entire season could be lost without him locking down one side of the field. Mark Sanchez completed 21-of-45 passes for 306 yards with one touchdown but his numbers are misleading. Against Miami’s weak pass defense, Sanchez routinely missed open receivers, struggled under pressure and threw two interceptions. If Revis is indeed lost for the season, the Jets will quickly find out what they have in Sanchez, who doesn’t handle pressure very well (on or off the field). It could wind up being a long year in New York.

10. Cowboys once again disappoint.
They may have earned a hard-fought victory but the Cowboys didn’t exactly send fear into the hearts of the NFC elite with their 16-10 win over the Bucs on Sunday. Dallas only racked up 297 yards of total offense, which featured six false start penalties and a couple of Jason Witten drops (including one would-be touchdown). Credit Tampa Bay’s defense for coming to play but 2.1 yards per carry out of DeMarco Murray isn’t going to cut it either. Through three weeks the Cowboys have one impressive performance (the opening win against the Giants), one dud performance (the Week 2 loss at Seattle) and one blasé performance (Sunday vs. the Bucs). We’ll find out a lot about Jerry Jones’ team when it hosts Chicago next week before visiting Baltimore following a bye in Week 6.

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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Example 948A that stats can be misleading

Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton throws against the Indianapolis Colts during the first quarter at Invesco Field at Mile High on September 26, 2010 in Denver.    UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom

If someone were to ask me before the games today how many points the Broncos would score if Kyle Orton threw for 476 yards, I probably would have responded with: “31.”

Because you have to figure that Denver gets in the end zone at least four times if Kyle freaking Orton is throwing for 476 yards. I mean, there’s no way the Broncos are scoring less than 31 points if Kyle bowl haircut Orton throws for 476 yards, right?

Thirteen. As in 13. As in 13 points the Broncos scored on Sunday in their 27-13 loss to the Colts.

How does Kyle Orton throw for 476 yards and the Broncos only score 13 points? Matt Schaub threw for nearly 500 yards last week in Washington. Do you know how many points the Texans scored? Thirty. I realize that Houston has a much more potent offense than Denver, but the math doesn’t add up when a quarterback throws for nearly 500 yards, only turns the ball over once and his team only scores 13 measly points.

Josh McDaniels is going to look at the film from the game today and puke. Peyton Manning threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns, but everyone knew he was going to do that. He’s Peyton Manning. When Kyle Orton gives you 476 yards, you have to at least be in position to win that game in the end.

The Broncos ran nine plays inside the Colts’ 15-yard line in the second quarter alone and only came away with three points. The red zone offense was brutal the entire game and some of that is on McDaniels, some of it is on Orton, some of that is on his receivers, some of it is on the offensive line and some of it you just have to chalk up to good defense.

Either way, Kyle Orton threw for 476 yards today and the Broncos only scored 13 points. I guess I could have just written that and saved myself 250-plus words, because it explains it all.

Janikowski seals win for Cardinals as Gradkowski plays well again for Raiders

GLENDALE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 26: Head coach Tom Cable of the Oakland Raiders watches from the sidelines during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on September 26, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Garrett Hartley’s best friend right now goes by the name of Sebastian Janikowski.

Just three hours after Hartley missed what would have been a game-winning 29-yard field goal for the Saints (who wound up losing to the Falcons in overtime earlier in the day), Janikowski missed his own chip shot as the Raiders fell to the Cardinals 24-23 in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.

Bruce Gradkowski and Darren McFadden led the Raiders on an 11-play, 66-yard drive to the Arizona 14-yard line to set Janikowski up with what should have been a game-winning kick. But he pushed the 32-yard field goal right and the Cardinals hung on to a not-so-well-deserved victory. (They turned the ball over three times and committed seven penalties for 104 yards. This coming after turning the ball over three times and committing 10 penalties for 109 yards in a loss to the Falcons last week.)

Besides Janikowski’s miss, the story here is the continued stellar play of Gradkowski, who completed 17-of-34 pass attempts for 255 yards and a touchdown. He did throw an interception, but he led the Raiders into the red zone twice late in the fourth quarter and gave them a chance to win. If anyone thought he would relinquish the starting quarterback job after snatching it from Jason Campbell last week, you were mistaken. It looks like for now, Tom Cable made the right decision to stick with Gradkowski.

Go ahead, Bruce – get down with your bad throwing-motion self.

Nothing surprising about Cowboys’ dismantling of Texans

NEW ORLEANS - DECEMBER 19:  Linebacker DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Dallas Cowboys sits in the bench during their game against the New Orleans Saints at the Louisiana Superdome on December 19, 2009 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

If you hate the Cowboys, these past two weeks have been glorious.

Food has tasted better. Little gumdrop midgets have been seen frolicking in dewy meadows. Even naked Twister with your wife has actually been somewhat enjoyable.

Yep, life has been good. “I told you they’re not as good as the media makes them out to be,” could be heard muttered from New York to Philadelphia to Washington over the past two weeks.

But alas, all that ended Sunday when the ‘Boys somehow lucked into a 27-13 win. Well, it may not have been luck but it sure feels like it. Dallas may have outgained Houston in virtually every statistical category and scored more points, but pay no attention to that – they were fortunate to win.

If you’re a Cowboy fan and you’re seething – relax. I’m being sarcastic. The truth of the matter is that people should have seen this win coming from a mile away. The Texans were coming off two emotional victories and were now facing a desperate Dallas team in search of its first win. They were also down their starting left tackle Duane Brown, who was suspended four games earlier this week for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The Cowboys entered Sunday with only two sacks, yet they recorded four today in Brown’s absence, two by DeMarcus Ware (who probably couldn’t sleep Saturday night thinking about playing against a shorthanded Houston O-line).

The point is that the Texans were due for a letdown and the Cowboys were due to get back on track. Cowboy haters have relished the past two weeks, but the fact remains that Dallas is a pretty good football team. They’re still an underachieving bunch, but this game was set up perfectly for them to win and they did.

As for the Texans, this is a painful reminder that if they want to reach the playoffs then they have to play at a top level each and every week. They’ll learn from this.

NFL Morning After Reactions: Rams, Jets, Redskins & more

Here’s a look at what local NFL beat writers and columnists have to say following their teams’ performance on Sunday.

– Tom Powers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes that the Vikings got their first glimpse of Brett Favre’s legend in Minnesota’s last-second win over San Francisco.

– After 19 straight losses, Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press says that there’s finally relief for the lowly Lions.

– After getting a taste of action in a win over the Chiefs on Sunday, Ashley Fox of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that Michael Vick is fine with his role with the Eagles, for now.

– Steve Serby of the New York Post says that Jets’ rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez uses his head to make history.

– Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe notes that the 2-1 Patriots are still a work in progress despite their 26-10 win over the Falcons at Foxboro.

– David Climer of the Tennessean says that the 0-3 Titans buried their playoff hopes with a loss to the Jets on Sunday.

– Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post writes that the Redskins’ focused disappeared long ago.

– Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ably points out that the brutal Rams are now the new Lions.

– David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune writes that Johnny Knox and the Bears’ wideouts are making quarterback Jay Cutler look good.

– Will Leitch of the New York Magazine says that the contract extension Eli Manning signed in the offseason might be a bargain with how well he’s playing so far this season.

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