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Sevransky's Week 11 AFC Tidbits
Sevransky's Week 11 AFC Tidbits
Sevransky's Week 11 AFC Tidbits
By Ted Sevransky
Welcome to Ted Sevransky's weekly look at the NFL. He spends every Sunday typing furiously at his laptop as he watches the games, giving you the key info that the box scores and game recaps simply don’t have. This week: AFC tidbits from around the league in Week 11.
Where did this defensive performance come from? The Broncos had been struggling to stop the run all year. This week they shut down the NFL’s third leading rusher for most of the ballgame, blowing up play after play at the line of scrimmage or in the backfield. Unfortunately for Mike Shanahan, his cornerbacks couldn’t handle man-to-man coverage downfield without Champ Bailey in the lineup. We saw the Broncos defense stiffen in the red zone - a problem area for this stop unit all year - forcing a pair of field goal attempts following two long drives in the first half. There was some semblance of a running game, with converted fullback Peyton Hillis carrying the load this week. Consecutive straight up road wins as an underdog isn't enough to convince me that this team is capable of bigger and better things ahead.
This defense has now forced more turnovers than any other defense in the NFL after picking off Drew Brees in the first half for its 21st turnover created. Herm Edwards is showing aggression after going for the first down in the first quarter rather than kick a field goal from inside the 25 yard line in a scoreless game. This passing game is no longer a work in progress – it’s working. The aerial attack is vastly improved over the last month, with Tyler Thigpen getting more and more comfortable running this offense. Third and long? No problem for this suddenly potent passing game, converting on five third-and-long tries. The youngest roster in the NFL is growing and developing nicely – this team has the potential to make a Miami Dolphins type transformation in 2009, if not sooner.
Even with all of the injuries and attrition on the offensive line, the Colts came into this game having allowed only eleven sacks and they didn’t allow a sack again today. With three starters out in the secondary, the defense was unable to stop the run or the pass. Indy also continues to have problems with their kick and punt return coverage, the same woes that have plagued them for the last three seasons. Even when they aren’t clicking on all cylinders, this is still a very difficult offense to get off the field. We saw dropped passes, missed connections, and penalties galore, yet the Colts scored points on seven of their eight drives in this ballgame. And with 19 touchdowns on their last 24 red-zone trips, it doesn’t get any easier to stifle this offense even.
Above .500 for the first time since 2005, this team is showing a bit of swagger and plenty of confidence. Judging by their remaining schedule (extremely weak), perhaps that confidence is merited. Still, it’s rare to see this dramatic of a conversion from a 1-15 team to a confident team fighting for a playoff spot. This is not an easy team to lay points with, particularly against the better defenses that they face. The offense moves the football consistently, but they are not explosive, nor do they put up points in bunches. This team as a whole is better than the sum of their parts, a testament to first year head coach Tony Sparano and his staff.
There are two key weaknesses on this team, the two primary causes of their disappointing season thusfar. First, there’s really no downfield passing game, just dinks and dunks. If the Jags had a deep threat or two, it would really open things up for their quality running backs. But the entire passing game seems to consist of three yard outs and five yard slants, with a limited receiving corps to boot. Secondly, there’s still no pass rush. The Jags traded their draft away for a pair of rookies who were supposed to revitalize the unit. Instead, they haven’t been able to generate much pressure, leaving the secondary constantly vulnerable. When nobody on the team has more than 2.5 sacks after Week 11, it’s clearly problematic. Miami’s Joey Porter has 13.5 sacks this year while the entire Jaguars team has 19 sacks for the season.
The quarterback shuffle continues. Andrew Walter started last week; this week he is the third stringer. JaMarcus Russell got the start here, but was benched for a series before halftime. Oakland’s offensive line was exceptionally leaky, so Tom Cable made the decision to go with the more mobile Marques Tuiasasopo, the third stringer last week. Tuiasasopo immediately fumbled a handoff, and was back on the bench the next series. None of these quarterbacks are going to succeed until the offensive line learns how to pass protect, and that seems like an impossible task. Good thing that this defense is loaded with playmakers – Thomas Howard and Nnamdi Asomugha were both outstanding today. And punter Shane Lechler is a real field position weapon, a huge advantage for a team with an offense that hasn’t scored a touchdown in it's last 13 quarters of football.
This defense seems to get worse every week. There’s absolutely no penetration at the line of scrimmage without the injured Amobi Okoye. The secondary wasn’t very good to begin with and without a pass rush, it’s getting worse. At one point last year, I was convinced that there was no difference between backup QB Sage Rosenfels and starter Matt Schaub. With Schaub out for a month, Rosenfels has his chance to shine. Frankly, he’s no Matt Schaub – too many poor throws, too many careless decisions with the football. For the second time this season, Rosenfels was personally responsible for losing a winnable game against the Colts thanks to some horrific throws in the final minutes of both games.
The Titans passing game has improved by leaps and bounds in recent weeks. Earlier in the season, Kerry Collins was simply a game manager, as the Titans won close games by running the football and playing great defense. Over the last few weeks, however, Collins and the emerging receiving corps have become the focal point of the offense, consistently beating defenses stacking eight or nine men in the box to slow down the running game. Trailing by double digits on the road in the second half, the passing game was the difference, with three passing touchdowns; two of them big plays down the field to a resurgent Justin Gage.