Huddle Up Week 8: Steelers Dominate Patriots By Passing The Ball by Jason King

Here are a few stats that help epitomize the NFL.  Baltimore rallied from a 24-3 deficit to defeat Arizona 30-27 on Sunday, which marked the fifth time this season that a team has rallied from a 20 plus deficit to win a game.  The Dallas Cowboys, before last Sunday, had 12 straight games decided by 4 points or less. 12 straight. Two Sundays ago they beatSt. Louis34-7, and this past Sunday night they lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 34-7. 

Cam Newton has more passing yards (2,393) than every other quarterback in the NFL not named Drew Brees.  TheSan Francisco49ers have a magic number of 6.  Pat Angerer leads the NFL with 90 tackles on the season, 22 more than NaVorro Bowman who is second.  Angerer is the starting middle linebacker of the Indianapolis Colts.  There has not been a Colts player in the top 10 in tackles since 2006.

Jared Allen (12.5 sacks) and DeMarcus Ware (12 sacks) are both on pace to break Michael Strahan’s NFL record 22.5 sacks set in 2007.  TheSt.Louis Rams scored 56 points in their first 6 games of the season.  The New Orleans Saints scored 62 points in a Week 7 throbbing of the Colts.  The two teams met on Sunday inSt. Louisand the Rams won 31-21, earning their first victory of the season.

The vaunted Patriots offense scored 30 or more points in 13 straight regular season games from Week 10 last year until Week 6 this year.  In those 13 games, the Patriots averaged 35.6 points per game.  In the Patriots last two games they have scored 37 points total (18.5 points per game).

Chris Johnson is averaging 2.8 yards per carry.  His longest carry of the year is 25 yards.  By comparison in 2009, when he rushed for 2,006 yards, he averaged 5.6 yards per carry and his longest run was 91 yards.

The Lions, 49ers, Bills, Bengals and Panthers have all either matched or surpassed their win totals from 2010.

Now, onto some of Sunday’s big stories. 

The Pittsburgh Steelers are suddenly a passing team.  The Steelers dominated the Patriots on both sides of the ball on Sunday, but the Patriots made two head scratching moves just 48 hours before the game.  They cut veteran cornerback Leigh Bodden and placed rookie cornerback Ras-I Dowling on injured reserve.  They were arguably two of their top three cornerbacks and definitely two of the four best cornerbacks on the team.

Bill Belichick always makes decisions like this and doesn’t care about the timing of them or how they are perceived.  But I think these moves could have been made during the bye week.  I find it hard to believe that the Patriots determined after practice last Thursday that Bodden was no longer needed and doctors informed the team that Dowling would be out for the season.  These were evaluations that should have been made during the bye week and the decisions should not have come 48 hours before one of the biggest games of the season, which could ultimately determine home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Now on to game specifics.  To steal a famous saying, “this isn’t your father’s Steelers offense.”  They pass the ball a lot.  On Sunday, they passed a season high 50 times.  For the season they have passed the ball 285 times compared to 212 runs.  Big Ben is averaging 8.1 yards per completion for the season.  On Sunday he picked apart the Patriots defense.  He completed 36 of 50 passes for 365 yards and 2 touchdowns.  The Steelers game plan was simple and clear.  Spread the Patriots out, let Big Ben throw the ball, all while sustaining long drives to keep the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands.  Big Ben didn’t complete a pass of more than 26 yards.  They helped the Steelers sustain long drives.  The Steelers scoring drives were: 11 plays 5:52, 16 plays 7:47, 10 plays 5:39, 14 plays 7:06, and 11 plays 5:54.  In total the Steelers scoring drives were 62 plays and they ate up 31:19 of game clock.  It was really a good game plan put in by Bruce Arian (Steelers offensive coordinator) and executed by the Steelers offense.

The Steelers offensive line played another good game.  Big Ben was sacked 5 times.  That number isn’t so bad because the Steelers called 55 pass plays.  This offensive line has really come together and is a big reason for the Steelers continued success.  When they struggled (in losses to Baltimore and Houston) the offensive line was bad.  They are now playing much better and are big reasons for the Steelers four game winning streak.

The Steelers defense also had a very good game plan.  They played man on the Patriots receivers all day.  They were very physical with them.  Ike Taylor shadowed Wes Welker all day long limiting him to 6 catches for 39 yards.  Brady was constantly under pressure and the Pats offense never found any rhythm.  The Steelers made the necessary adjustments from their recent struggles against the Patriots.  They held the Patriots offense to 213 total yards and 17 points.  The Patriots were 3-10 on third down conversions.

When Mike Tomlin said a few weeks ago that the jury was still out on his Steelers team, it seemed like an accurate statement.  Well this Steelers team looks poised for another run into January.  They are 4-0 at home and will get the game they have been waiting 7 weeks for on Sunday.  The Ravens come toPittsburghand the Steelers have revenge on their minds.

The Rams ride the momentum of the Cardinals World Series title; dominate the Saints 31-21.  The Rams dominated the Saints in all facets of the game on Sunday.  StevenJackson described it best.  “I think the Cardinals being here was great for the city. Whoever showed up today, regardless if the place was empty, today was the day.   We came out with a mindset we were going to fight.”

This was the Rams team that many people expected to see at the start of the season.  They finally showed up on Sunday.  Whether they were motivated by the St. Louis Cardinals is unknown.  What is known is how they dominated the Saints.  It started on defense.

The Rams sacked Drew Brees 6 times.  They had 10 tackles for loss.  They forced 2 Brees interceptions including a pick 6 that sealed the game for the Rams.  Their game plan was to hit Brees early and often.  It worked great for the Rams.  When Brees wasn’t getting sacked he was forced to get rid of the ball quickly.  The longest play of the game for the Saints offense was a 25 yard completion from Brees to Marques Colston in the 4th quarter.  At the time the Saints were down 24-7 and the Rams were in a prevent defense.

Defensive End Chris Long was the star on defense.  He couldn’t be blocked.  He sacked Brees 3 times and pressured him 7 more times.  The Saints right tackles Pat McQuistan and Charles Brown both played and neither could stop Long.  Long had 2 sacks and 4 pressures on Brown, and 1 sack and 3 pressures on McQuistan.  He was the single biggest impact player on defense because he wouldn’t give Brees time even on those quick passes that the Saints so often have success on.

The Rams were up 17-0 at the half and didn’t let up in the second half.  Steven Jackson was a monster on Sunday.  He had 29 touches for 191 yards (25 carries 159 yards) and two rushing touchdowns.  Beyond the numbers, it wasJackson’s energy that helped the Rams most.  He was a man determined.  He ran as hard as he has run all year long.  He would not be denied.

AJ Feeley managed the game for Steve Spagnola’s team.  He threw the ball 37 times but didn’t turn it over.  He made a beautiful throw before halftime, as he threaded the needle with a perfect 8 yard pass into a fast closing window, which resulted in a touchdown right before the half.  This was a big touchdown because it was a 3rd and goal play and if the Rams settle for a field goal, the lead is two scores instead of three.

As I said in last week’s Taking It To The House’s Power Rankings, the Rams will have a lot to say about who wins the NFC West.  6 of their last 9 games are division games.  In fact the Rams are the only team in football that hasn’t played a division game.  They playArizona on Sunday.

Huddle Up

  1. The NFC East can be had with 9 wins.  The Giants lead the division at 5-2.  They have the toughest schedule in football over the next 2 months.  The combined record of their last 9 opponents is 39-25.  The way the Giants played on Sunday, they will be lucky to finish 7-9.  They play: at New England, at San Francisco, Philadelphia, at New Orleans, Green Bay, at Dallas, Washington, at NY Jets, and Dallas.  The magic number for the Giants I believe is 4.  If they can go 4-5 in these games they should win the division.  The games that are of most importance are the game in three weeks against the Eagles and those two games in four weeks againstDallas.  The Eagles and Cowboys both sit at 3-4.  They have both given away games they should have won.  As a result they have to be almost perfect for the next two months.  They wayDallas has played this year; there is no reason to believe they can put together any type of winning streak.  The Eagles seem to be playing their best football right now.  Still, in order to finish 9-7, both teams would have to go 6-3 in their last 9 games.  The Redskins have too many injuries and offensive line issues to be in the conversation.  The NFC East race will be the most interesting in football.
  2. Miami gives up another 4th quarter lead, but some blame has to be put on Jeff Ireland.  Two straight weeks the Dolphins have given up second half leads.  The fact of the matter is that they don’t have the talent to compete for 60 minutes.  They play hard but their offense is limited.  Matt Moore can’t do much at quarterback and Reggie Bush had a good game on Sunday (15 carries for 103 yards) but is not an every down running back.  The defense can keep them in games but only for so long.  Last week the defense didn’t give up a point for 57 minutes but the offense couldn’t put the Broncos away.  On Sunday they held the Giants offense to 10 points for 50 minutes.  Once again, the offense had opportunities to put a team away and couldn’t do it.  While Tony Sprano has to take some of the blame, the front office is also at fault for constructing a team that can’t compete in this league.  GM Jeff Ireland needs to be fired right along with Sprano.  When Bill Parcells was with the Dolphins he instituted the “One Voice” policy, which states that during the season the head coach speaks for the team and in the offseason the GM speaks for the team. Ireland has stuck with this policy and hasn’t spoken since the season began.  The problem with that is Parcells had proven himself in the NFL with rings and success in three different places. Ireland hasn’t earned that right.  The Dolphins need change at the top before they can start winning games on the field.
  3. Problems in Baltimore?  Joe Flacco has completed only 53.8% of his passes this season.  For some reason he doesn’t feel comfortable with his role in the Ravens offense.  I have thought for years that Cam Cameron was the wrong coordinator for Flacco.  Flacco threw it a season-high 51 times on Sunday.  Some of the problem is Flacco missing some throws that he has to make.  The Ravens came back and beatArizona 30-27 but it was mainly because of the defense only allowing 3 second half points.  We will see what Flacco is made of Sunday.  The last time inPittsburgh he cost the Ravens a trip to the AFC Championship with his ineffective play and two turnovers despite a two touchdown halftime lead.
  4. The Jaguars pass offense is anemic.  Blaine Gabbart has the worst completion percentage in the NFL since 2001.  He is only completing 45.7% of his passes; however it’s not all on his shoulders.  He simply doesn’t have quality receivers.  Mike Thomas is the leading receiver with 31 catches for 333 yards.  The other Jags receivers are: Jason Hill, Chastin West, Jarett Dillard, Kasim Osgood, and Mike Sims-Walker.  Pro Bowl TE Marcedes Lewis has just 15 catches for 174 yards on the season.  A rookie quarterback, coupled with no name receivers who can’t get open, and a Pro Bowl TE that is easy to game plan for because there are no other threats on offense equals what?  A team that is 2-6, a passing offense that is last in the league (123.6 yards per game), and a team that scores just 12.2 points per game, which is also last in the league.
  5. Olindo Mare can’t miss that field goal.  You can honestly look at every one ofCarolina’s games and point out multiple opportunities they’ve had to win every game.  Cam Newton was brilliant again despite two fumbles.  He was 22-35 for 290 yards and 3 touchdowns.  He led the Panthers down the field and almost to their third win of the season.  A good run byNewton that would have gotten the Panthers to the Vikings 3 yard line was negated by a questionable holding penalty on WR Steve Smith.  The drive then stalled butNewton still gave Olindo Mare the opportunity to make a 31 yard field goal.  Mare missed it and the Panthers suffered another loss.  The rest of the league and especially the NFC South better get the Panthers now because this team will get better with time.  Still Mare has to be taken to task for missing that field goal.  He is a veteran kicker who makes those kicks in his sleep so he will bounce back.
  6. Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford are becoming the most feared combination in the NFL.  They should both make the Pro Bowl this year if they stay healthy.  Johnson is hard to stop because he is so big and fast.  If you play good coverage on himStafford will throw it up and Johnson will out jump most cornerbacks.  When he blows past you ifStafford throws a ball out in front of him he can run it down.  Once he catches the ball he is hard to bring down because he is so big and strong.  Johnson also makesStafford’s job much easier.  He opens it up for other receivers so if Johnson is coveredStafford can look elsewhere and feel comfortable.  Although he won’t win it, Johnson has to be at least an MVP candidate.  He has 47 catches for 804 yards and 11 touchdowns.  On pace for 94 catches, 1,608 yards, and 22 touchdowns.
  7. The 49ers are an old school team.  They have the traditional formula for success in the NFL.  Before it became a pass happy, quarterback protecting, no-hitting league, NFL champions were built on three principles.  Running the ball, playing physical defense predicated on stopping the run, and not making mistakes.  The 49ers do all of those things very well.  On Sunday the 49ers ran the ball well (174 yards rushing), played great defense (2.9 yards per rush, 10 points, and 290 total yards allowed), and didn’t make any mistakes (0 turnovers).  This team is built to last late into January.
  8. Frank Gore is a work horse.  Gore reworked his contract before the season and is proving the 49ers made a good decision.  Gore had 31 carries for 134 yards and 1 touchdown.  He has now rushed for over 100 yards in four straight games for the first time in his career.  Gore has 1,511 carries for 7,089 yards and 80 touchdowns in his career.  A very solid career in which Gore has proven that he is a work horse.  Gore is quietly having one of his best and definitely his most effective season of his career.
  9. Philip Rivers’ curious year.  Rivers is having a very curious season.  He was projected to have another solid year but he has been very erratic.  The lockout looks to be a contributing factor but there maybe more to this story.  On Monday night he had three turnovers, the last one came with under a minute to play when the Chargers were just trying to kneel the ball in the middle of the field to setup a potential game-winning field goal attempt for Nick Novak.  Rivers fumbled the snap; the Chiefs recovered and ended up winning the game in overtime 23-20.  Rivers has 7 touchdown passes on the season compared to 11 interceptions (also 3 fumbles lost).  So Rivers has produced 7 touchdowns and 14 turnovers.  He has turned the ball over at least twice in every game this season but one (againstMiami he had no turnovers).  He is the main reason they lost the game last night (Marcus McNeil also had 6 penalties).  If Rivers doesn’t cut down on the turnovers the Chargers are no better than a .500 team.
  10. Hard to believe the Eagles lost 4 straight games.  They finally lived up to the billing on Sunday night with the whole nation watching.  The Eagles beat the Cowboys into submission.  Rex Ryan had some choice words for the Eagles during training camp.  He didn’t feel all the “Dream Team” talk was warranted, and thought the Cowboys deserved some praise.  Unfortunately for Ryan, his defense could not back up his bold prediction.  They were gashed for 495 total yards on Sunday night.  The number one rushing defense coming into Sunday night’s game, they gave up 239 yards rushing.  The Eagles defense held to Cowboys to just 12 first downs and 267 total yards.  They sacked Tony Romo 4 times.  If the Eagles play like they did Sunday night, nobody (includingGreen Bay) wants to see them in January.

Jason King is a contributing writer at Taking It to the House and can be reached at jdk2032@yahoo.com

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