This week’s edition is abbreviated. Life and AAU basketball tryouts for both of my kids intervened. We’ll be back to a full dime of football dissemination next week. Thanks.
$.01--In this week’s Football Meteorology, I boldly forecast a Carolina Panthers win over the San Francisco 49ers. On my Sunday morning radio show, I doubled down and made the Panthers winning outright in San Francisco against the unbeaten 49ers my “best bet” for Week 8.
Unlike your favorite local television meteorologist, I’ll stand up and apologize for thunderstorms raining all over my sunny prediction. The 49ers made sure I look like a damned fool with their too-easy 51-13 romp over the visiting Panthers.
I knew the 49ers were good. I wasn’t yet ready to buy into them being that good. Now I’m sold.
Kyle Shanahan formulated a perfect plan of attack to use Carolina’s defensive aggressiveness against them. Misdirection runs and trap blocks galore set the 49ers free for 232 rushing yards. Tevin Coleman rushed for three TDs and caught another TD pass. Many of their runs featured backs going untouched deep into the defense.
Those 232 rushing yards by the 49ers topped the total yards from Kyle Allen and Carolina’s offense. Allen threw three INTs, the first of his career after going 160 passes without a pick. Nick Bosa terrorized the poor Panthers QB for three sacks and an INT, which he returned with gusto to set up one of San Francisco’s six offensive TDs.
Now 7-0, the 49ers will need to weather an oncoming storm. The schedule difficulty picks up, with the Panthers the first of seven straight opponents who entered Week 8 with a non-losing record. Being unbeaten means they’re going to have teams gunning to shoot them down, drawing the proverbial “A-game” from the likes of the Cardinals, Packers, Ravens, Seahawks and Saints in the coming weeks. Then again, the 4-2 Panthers fit that bill entering Week 8 and they were no match for the haboob that blew them into the Pacific. Great win by the only remaining unbeaten team in the NFC.
$.02--The Chicago Bears yoyoed from worst to first in the NFC North from 2017 to 2018. It appears the string snapped at the top.
The Bears plummeted back into last place in what is arguably the NFL’s most competitive division when Eddy Pineiro’s 41-yard field goal attempt as time expired sailed wide left. Pineiro’s miss--after Bears coach Matt Nagy elected to have Mitchell Trubisky simply kneel and not try to get any closer--sent the Los Angeles Chargers home as 17-16 winners.
The Chargers did very little well in their win. Chicago held them to just 11 first downs and an absurdly low 42 total offensive plays. They were guilty of 8 penalties to Chicago’s 5 and missed a field goal of their own. Yet the Bears lost thanks to some dreadful play by Trubisky and the trust Nagy has in Trubisky to execute plays well above his pay grade.
Pineiro kicked three field goals in the first half, the longest of which was 25 yards. Three red zone trips, three short field goals. He missed a fourth from 33 yards when it hit the upright and caromed away.
After the game, Nagy explained he didn’t want to risk fumbling or getting a penalty because the Chargers would know the run was coming. He was rightly pilloried for it by both local Chicago and national media. His commitment to Trubisky and the odd refusal to attack the end zone in the red zone--and yes I’m aware those two principles seem contradictory--are complicit reasons why his Bears fell to 3-4 and the bottom of the NFC North.
There is no easy fix. Benching Trubisky would show up GM Ryan Pace, who traded up to select him No. 2 overall in 2017. Trubisky’s numbers are much better on paper than reality, and he doesn’t strike most anyone as the bedrock leader of the offense. Chase Daniel as the backup is more capable of making the routine reads and throws which continue to flummox Trubisky in his third season. It probably needs to happen, but changing course midseason is a difficult decision for a surprise (to them) last-place team, albeit one that still fields a defense good enough to carry them within reason.
$.03--Perhaps no team needed a win in Week 8 more than the Philadelphia Eagles. Reeling after a 37-10 butt-kicking on national television in Dallas that dropped them to 3-4 and out of first place in the NFC (L)east, the Eagles traveled to Buffalo to take on the 6-1 Bills.
The Eagles played their best, most complete game of the season in throttling their hosts, 31-13. All three phases contributed to the devastation of the AFC’s top Wild Card team entering the weekend.
The run game got going with Jordan Howard playing the role of workhorse. The big play came when Miles Sanders hit the turbo button on his 65-yard TD run up the left sideline, the sort of chunk plays the Eagles offense just has not been biting off of late.
Carson Wentz and the passing game picked apart what had been a good Bills defense. Wentz avoided the negative plays and looked accurate and relatively poised. He handled the RPOs well and made good decisions. The OL held up decently, too.
Defensively, the Eagles put on the big boy pants and handled the Bills’ conservative power-based run game adeptly. No, allowing 98 yards on 20 carries doesn’t qualify as shutting down Frank Gore, Josh Allen and Devin Singletary, but they didn’t allow the giant chunk runs and tackled well on the back end. The Eagles have not done that of late, and the Bills run as well as just about anyone.
They wanted to force Allen to beat them with the pass, and the erratic second-year QB couldn’t do it. Allen completed less than half his 34 passes and got sacked 4 times. He fumbled thrice. Remember, this Eagles defense has been decimated by both injury and a talent drain on the back end of late.
Even the special teams got in on the act. Philadelphia blocked an extra point. Cam Johnston boomed his punts. The coverage teams allowed nothing.
Complete team performances have been tough to come by for Doug Pederson and the Eagles. Getting one against what is alleged to be a good Buffalo team has to be encouraging for the 4-4 Eagles.
As for the Bills? They’re 5-2, but the degree of difficulty of their schedule is almost laughable. Tennessee’s win Sunday (they beat Tampa Bay 27-23) raises it a little, but beating the two New York teams and their combined three wins on the season, winless Miami and winless Cincinnati don’t impress me much, to quote Shania Twain. Here’s the crazy part though--it doesn’t get any tougher in the next few weeks. They play 1-win Washington, 2-win Cleveland, Miami again, and 2-win Denver in the next four weeks. Buffalo can likely win two of those games simply by not putting their uniforms on backwards.
$.04--Some 32 years ago, the best teacher I ever had taught me something I had not known before. Every time I use the phrase she taught me as an 11th grade English student, I think of Mrs. Linda Taylor at Columbus Northland High School (Go Vikings!). Unfortunately, I had to think of the late Mrs. Taylor today in relation to the Houston Texans.
Mrs. Taylor taught me about a Pyrrhic victory. It’s based on ancient times when King Pyrrhus defeated the mighty Roman army in a battle. Pyrrhus found the victory short-lived, however; his army took such brutal casualties that they were easily repelled and ultimately defeated once the Roman army regrouped and he had no reinforcements to call upon.
I really hope Houston’s thrilling 27-24 win over the Oakland Raiders (who remain better than expected) isn’t a modern example. But the news that star DE J.J. Watt will be out for the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle is one that makes it tough to like the Texans’ chances to win the war of attrition that is the NFL season and make a deep playoff run.
Watt has been brilliant the last 5-6 weeks after a sluggish start to the season. He leads the NFL in QB hits and pressures, and he was injured making a special TFL on a run play. The Texans are not the same defense without him commanding blocking attention, and he’s also the willing heart and face of the defense.
The good news in Houston is they can win without Watt...if Deshaun Watson can continue to play like a viable MVP candidate. He certainly did on Sunday. Watson threw for 273 yards and 3 TDs and also toted the rock for another 46. Plays like his two TD throws to TE Darren Fells, the second of which saw him kicked in the facemask pre-throw as he escaped a sure sack, elevate Watson to another level. His masterful operation of the Texans offense is both fun to watch and capable of outscoring anyone, anywhere.
With Watt out, Watson might have to do just that. Fortunately for Houston, it seems the injury to standout left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who represents their next two first-round picks, doesn’t seem serious. The 5-3 Texans are very talented but perilously fragile at key spots.
$.05--A big bunch of NFL quickies
--This is a great play by the Rams, but watch No. 23 for the Bengals on the bottom of the screen during and after the throw. That’s B.W. Webb doing, uh, well, I don’t know what he’s doing:
This TD by the Rams was a thing of beauty pic.twitter.com/UuewCVsAz5— Cameron DaSilva (@camdasilva) October 27, 2019
--The NFL’s top-rated passer after eight weeks is none other than Kirk Cousins. Yeah, the Vikings QB everyone wanted benched back in September. He was almost perfect (23-of-26) in Thursday night’s workmanlike 19-9 win over Washington, including a perfect 7-of-7 for 143 yards when throwing to Stefon Diggs. So much for their alleged rift, eh…
--Speaking of great passing, Detroit’s Matthew Stafford was a perfect 12-of-12 in the second half of the Lions 31-26 win over the Giants. His TD throw to Kenny Golladay in the third quarter was a no-window pass, but Stafford trusted the rocket launcher that is his right arm and the power of Golladay to make the catch anyway. Huge win by Detroit to snap a frustrating three-game losing skid and claw back into playoff relevance in the NFC.
--Joe Flacco is not a great passer. He got sacked from behind as he slowly wandered away from the pocket on Denver’s final chance to catch the Colts. After the game, he threw some of the best shade at his own coach, Vic Fangio, that any player has dared to speak in a long time.
Here's Joe Flacco's full quote on the lack of aggressiveness today. pic.twitter.com/sVuFZzFymm— Ryan Koenigsberg (@RyanKoenigsberg) October 27, 2019
The Broncos should be in full “sell” mode before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Sounds like Flacco would like to be made available...
--RIP Willie Brown. The Raiders Hall of Famer passed away this week. His stellar career ended just before my football awareness time but his reputation carried well into my time.
--The entire AFC South won on Sunday, which means all four teams have 4 or more wins. They are the only division that can say that through 8 weeks.
--Congrats to Bill Belichick on his 300th career coaching victory, including playoff games. His Patriots capitalized on the Browns turning the ball over on 3 consecutive offensive snaps in the first quarter to bottle up the 27-13 win and the milestone for the best coach of the Super Bowl era.
--I genuinely don’t like advocating for coaches to be fired, but someone is going to have to pay for the ongoing Cleveland Browns’ gross underperforming. Freddie Kitchens isn’t the only problem--far from it--but he’s the common denominator in too many of their issues, from asinine use of the challenge flag to too-complicated play calls, from a league-leading penalty volume (18 more on Sunday) to a consistent failure to recognize situational football, Kitchens is swimming in waters too deep. I will insist til I’m blue in the face the Browns continue to field one of the five most talented rosters top-to-bottom in the NFL this year. That they’re 2-5 and largely responsible for the 5 losses is a direct reflection on Kitchens.
-Sunday marked the only day in 2019 where all four major sports held contests that count in the standings. I hope you got to enjoy it.