NFL Week 9: What We Learned

It’s all downhill from here.

We’ve moved past the halfway point for the 2013 NFL season and there’s a lot of information to sift through.

One thing is certain: we don’t know as much as we know.

What do I know?

  • It’s going to be a dogfight for the AFC wild cards. Assuming the Bengals, Colts and Patriots hold their divisions and assuming that neither Kansas City no Denver collapses, you’ve got five of six spots pretty well secured. Leaving one spot for the Jets, Dolphins, Browns, Titans and Chargers to go after. The Jets have to cushiest schedule but are the most inconsistent. But anything can happen, so hang on.
  • Given the injuries the Packers and Bears are dealing with, the Lions are the favorite for the NFC North title. It’s going to come down to consistency and getting out of their own may. The Lions have not been penalized as much as they have in years past—57 flags through eight games at a rate of 7 per game puts them just in the top ten for most penalized—and they have to continue to improve if they want to lock this down. They have a chance to beat the Bears and Packers for the title if they play smart football over the second half of the season.
  • Adults can be bullied. As much as we don’t want to believe it (or some don’t), it happens. We shouldn’t be blaming the victim—it’s a bad look.
  • Speaking of Miami specifically, what a disaster. Even taking away the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito mess, this team has looked a bit rudderless. They have a solid running back in Lamar Miller who they have only just started giving more than a dozen carries and still won’t give him a full load—despite a 4.8 yards-per-carry average. The offensive line was a disaster before they lost two of their starters and their big money receiver—Mike Wallace—has been completely ineffective.  If they were winning, the other stuff would seem trivial. Now? It looks symptomatic.
  • The chickens could be coming home to roost in Green Bay. For a long time there have been concerns—primarily among national media but occasionally among fans—that having unproven or just flat out bad backups behind quarterback Aaron Rodgers was a bad idea. The Packers were willing to gamble since Rodgers is one of the tougher guys out there, but now that he’s out with a fractured collarbone, and now that we’ve seen Seneca Wallace play, it has to be a concern. As we’ve discussed when Jay Cutler and other quarterbacks have gone out with injury the pickings are slim in free agency and the trade deadlines are past. We expect GM Ted Thompson to pull some magic out of his bag of tricks, but while the rest of the team seems to be fine with “next-man-up” talent, quarterback is too important a position. If the team collapses it will highlight one of the rare times when Thompson has failed to find talent to develop.
  • Coaching is rough. Media and fans both get on coaches about failings on the field but few people realize how much of a grind the job is. Denver’s John Fox and Houston’s Gary Kubiak both ending up in the hospital in one weekend is a reminder, as was the sad situation with Andy Reid’s son not long ago. Ultimately, criticism comes with the job, but it’s important to remember how much these guys put into their jobs and the toll it takes on them and their family.
  • I don’t know what to make of the Bengals, Jets or Browns. I’m having a hard time buying the Chiefs.  The Panthers are proving to be the contender I thought they might be in preseason.
  • Andrew Luck is a damned fine quarterback. Eddie Lacy should have been the first running back in the 2013 NFL draft. The rookie quarterbacks this year are just as inconsistent and raw as I expected them to be.
  • Everyone says “Wait until Seattle is on the road, then we’ll see how bad they are” but they’re 47-1 on the road. So what are we waiting for?
  • Even the Jacksonville Jaguars look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and say “Oh man, that’s bad.”
  • The last few years have seen some great quarterback classes and all indications are that 2014 will have another stellar crop. This year seems to be the year of the running back though. Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard and Zac Stacy are all performing well—Lacy and Stacy especially the last two games, though I suspect if the Bengals gave Bernard 20 carries, he’d be right there with them. That said, it’s going to be the rare back worth a first round pick—with Trent Richardson and David Wilson’s struggles, it doesn’t seem to be worth the risk to grab a back in the first round. Bernard and Lacy were second round picks, Stacy was grabbed in the fifth. Add in Andre Ellington, who is going to have a strong second half of the season and was a sixth round pick and, if you have a good scouting department, you can grab value anywhere.

That’s all for this week. I’ll be back later in the week to highlight the Thursday night matchup as well as break some plays down with the All-22 coach’s tape.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

What We Saw: Cincinnati Bengals at Miami Dolphins

image via NFL.com

Just when you think you know the Cincinnati Bengals and Andy Dalton, they play like they did last night.

Losing 22-20 in overtime on a safety has to be pretty deflating for a team which some were saying had finally “arrived” and could possibly contend for the Super Bowl.

It’s the opposite for the Miami Dolphins who, on top of the Jonathan Martin bullying flap, were seen as a team in turmoil, spiraling out of control after a promising start to the season.

A lot of people walked into this game assuming a Bengals win. Not many thought that the chaotic Dolphins would really give the Bengals a game.

It certainly didn’t turn out to be anything like what we expected.

It was, in many ways, the tale of two quarterbacks.

via SBNation.com

Dalton, coming off three straight 300-yard plus games, was being talked about as having finally reached his potential. The questions of his vertical accuracy and his arm strength were being put aside and with the myriad weapons around him, he looked hard to stop.

Last night was a complete regression for him. The offensive line had some issues protecting him—he was sacked five times, including the game-ending safety—and under the intense pressure Dalton seemed to wilt. He made some awful decisions which resulted in four turnovers (three picks and a fumble), held the ball too long and generally looked completely out of sync with his receivers.

image via CTSport.com

The Miami Dolphin’s Ryan Tannehill wasn’t spectacular but played a much smarter brand of football and took care of the ball. That may seem like damnation by faint praise, but given he turned the ball over four times in the last two games, it’s a big step.

He still looks like he and receiver Mike Wallace are not on the same page and he actually looked like he missed injured receiver Brandon Gibson, but he didn’t make mistakes.

That lack of mistakes made a big difference.

We also saw two of the most underutilized running backs in the NFL today. At least in terms of Miami’s Lamar Miller, the team seemed more willing to lean on him.

image via sportsworldreport.com

They still have an unhealthy fascination with Daniel Thomas (who is just painful to watch run the ball) but Miller continues to show everyone how good he is, despite a poor fumble on a big run.

Miller needs to work on his vision as that play in particular showed he had a lot of wide open space which he didn’t see and should have.

The Bengals still won’t use Giovani Bernard to run the ball frequently enough.

They have him on the field more than BenJarvus Green-Ellis (48% of the plays vs. 42%) and a ton on third downs (which accounts for the consistent targets) but they don’t run him nearly as much as Green-Ellis.

image via fansided.com

It seems insane that Bernard has carried the ball just 81 times to Green-Ellis’ 131 carries when Green-Ellis’ yards-per-carry is 3.2 on the year and Bernard’s is 4.5. Or given that he ran the ball in for two scores during Thursday’s game.

Bernard left the game with a rib injury, which may have led to a head-scratching decision late in the game to throw a bomb on 3rd and 4 instead of just running the ball.

Running the ball kills the clock and possibly gets you a first down and a closer field goal. At worst, you end up in the same spot.

You can appreciate the desire to go for the kill, but the Bengals left too much clock on the board considering how easily the Dolphins were moving the ball.

That left Tannehill time to get the team close enough for the tying field goal and send the game into overtime.

Which eventually put the ball back in Dalton’s hands on the one, where he held onto it too long one last time.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.