Injuries and unusual penalties ruled the NFL headlines in Week 7.
The league’s IR welcomed a few more Pro Bowlers to its already crowded list, and football fans everywhere were vexed by the call that essentially handed the Jets an overtime win against the Patriots. But there was more to the NFL’s Week 7 then might meet the eye.
The Giants finally won a game, leaving the Jaguars and Buccaneers as the NFL’s only remaining winless teams. The Chiefs pulled out another nailbiter to remain unbeaten, continuing to negate the notion that they’re just a Cinderella story. Peyton Manning returned to a rousing reception in Indianapolis, and Andrew Luck proved Jim Irsay made the right decision, sending his predecessor back to Denver with a gut-wrenching loss.
Case Keenum impressed in his NFL debut for the Texans. Geno Smith has the Jets firmly in the playoff picture — somehow. The Panthers and Chargers are quietly creeping around in the postseason picture, too, though without as much as a passing glance from most. Meanwhile, the Ravens and Texans continue to fall deeper into mediocrity, and the Steelers and Falcons desperately strive to get back into the race.
With so many storylines to keep track of and only so much time to process it all, let’s take a quick trek through Week 7 and check in on all the leftovers from the week that was.
**Editor’s Note: Each week, I’ll break down 10 thoughts from around the NFL in the NESN.com “First and 10.” That being said, here are 10 more thoughts from around the NFL after another week of football.
1. RG3 needs to run more – Robert Griffin III is finally starting to look like the playmaker who captivated the NFL as a rookie last season. He struggled with accuracy and mobility issues for the first few weeks, but it seems he’s getting back to 100 percent and that means he needs to run more. Griffin is at his best when he establishes himself on the ground, and the Redskins benefit from it as well.
Griffin’s best on-field success comes when he runs the ball at least seven times in a game. When getting seven carries or more, Griffin averages 6.85 yards per carry an the Redskins’ offense averages 29.8 points per game. In comparison, when running fewer than seven times, Griffin still averages a respectable 5.9 yards per carry but the Washington offense scores just 21.2 points per game. The more carries also seems to lead to more wins for the Skins. Washington is 7-5 in games when Griffin rushes seven-plus times, while they are just 4-5 in the other games over the last two seasons. If the Redskins hope to pull off a major turnaround and actually return to the playoffs, they may want to let Griffin run free.
2. Brady is historically inaccurate – Tom Brady completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes in the Patriots’ loss at the Meadowlands on Sunday, which marked his third game under 50 percent this season and his first season with three such performances. Much of that blame for his career-worst 55.4 completion percentage tends to be put on his young receivers receivers, who have combined for 25 drops this season, but Brady is far more culpable than you might believe. Brady has now been off-target (overthrown or underthrown passes) on 71 of his 127 incompletions this season, including a personal-worst 12 — tops in any NFL game this season — on Sunday. He’s on pace for 162 off-target completions in 2013, which would far surpass the 126 he posted last year. The Patriots better hope that he’s finally hit rock bottom with his accuracy woes and that things will only get better from here.
3. Haden Island may be next – Joe Haden deserves his own island — even if only a small one. The Browns fourth-year cornerback has been getting the Darrelle Revis treatment this season, as opposing quarterbacks have been doing their best to avoid his side of the field. Haden mans the opposing team’s top receiver each week, and he just continues to lock them down.
Through seven games, Haden has allowed just one touchdown this season — last week to Jordy Nelson in Green Bay — and he has yet to allow any receiver eclipse the 100-yard mark either. Aside from Nelson, who managed just five catches and 42 yards, Haden has also limited Mike Wallace (one catch, 15 yards), A.J. Green ( seven catches, 51 yards) and Calvin Johnson (three catches, 25 yards) to a combined 11 catches, 91 yards and no scores in games against each of the Pro Bowlers. You can’t expect much better than that.
4. Dez can be as good as Megatron – Speaking of, few receivers are even capable of being as good as Calvin Johnson. Dez Bryant seems to think he can be, and that’s because he can. At 6-foot-2, Bryant will never quite measure up to the 6-foot-5 Johnson, but his production is right up there with Megatron. Maybe he isn’t the freak athlete that Johnson is, but Bryant is as reliable a red zone target as any wide receiver in the NFL at this point. His 18 touchdowns lead the NFL since the start of the 2012 season, and he’s put up numbers comparable to Megatron during the first 50 games of his career — Bryant: 242 catches, 3,440 yards and 33 touchdowns, Johnson: 217 grabs, 3,362 yards and 26 scores. Bryant may never break Johnson’s single-season yardage record, but he will compete to be the top receiver in the game right alongside him.
5. Freeman will get better – Things didn’t look too much better for the Minnesota Vikings in Josh Freeman‘s first game under center. The Vikings managed just 206 yards of total offense on Monday night, and Freeman threw an unconscionable 33 incompletions in the game. The effort didn’t instill much confidence in the Vikings’ future at quarterback, but Freeman will get better as time goes on.
While the 11 overthrows and 37 percent completions on the night aren’t comforting numbers, Freeman did make good decisions for the most part on the night and did a good job of reading the Giants’ defense. His issue, as it has been for most of the season, was accuracy, and that timing should get better with more time in the Vikes’ offense system. I’m not saying he is the answer long term or that he will even be around next season, but I can say with almost certainty that he will be better in weeks to come.
6. The NFL’s most dangerous deep threat is… – It might come as a shock, but Torrey Smith is actually the best deep threat in the NFL today. The Ravens’ receiver leads the NFL with 629 receiving yards through seven games, despite ranking 34th in the league with 31 receptions and having to deal with Joe Flacco as his quarterback. Smith also leads all receivers with 14 catches of 20-plus yards this season. His speed has always been his best asset, and he finally seems to be emerging as a true No. 1 in Baltimore.
7. Robert Mathis can break the sack record – Coming into 2013, Robert Mathis had never managed more than 11.5 sacks in a season. Through seven games this year, Mathis already has 11.5 sacks to his name. Surprisingly, Mathis looks to be playing the best football of his career at age 32 and hasn’t shown any signs of a letdown coming. Michael Strahan’s NFL record 22 1/2 sacks, which he set in 2001, has been challenged in recent years – -most notable by Jared Allen (22 in 2011) and J.J. Watt (20.5 in 2012) — but Mathis appears to be in the best position to finally set a new sack standard. Mario Williams (10), Justin Houston (10) and Tamba Hali (nine) also have a chance.
8. Injuries running rampant – It seems that there have been more injuries to big-time NFL players this season than ever before. In Week 7 alone, Sam Bradford, Reggie Wayne, Doug Martin, Brian Cushing, Leon Hall and potentially Jermichael Finley were hit with season-ending injuries. That group joins an already long list of Pro Bowl and All-Pro level talent on season-ending IR, including Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Julio Jones and Maurkice Pouncey among many others. It seems that just about every team has experienced a significant loss at some point already, and it’s frightening to think that there are still nine weeks left to play.
9. Learn the name — Vontaze Burfict signed with the Bengals as an undrafted free agent just 18 months ago. Now, he’s one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL. Burfict may be a tad overweight and slow in coverage, but he’s also a tackling machine. Burfict leads the league with 74 tackles through seven games and is on pace for 169 for the season. He posted his fourth double-digit sack total in a win over the Lions on Sunday, and he’s quickly becoming one of the best run stuffers in football. Keep an eye on him, especially come playoff time, as he’s a major contributor to the Bengals’ defensive success this season.
10. Cowboys need to stick with DeMarco – There was some talk over the weekend that the Cowboys weren’t sold on DeMarco Murray as a franchise running back. Sure, he’s had his injury issues over the last two seasons, but I don’t think there’s a question about his skills when healthy. Murray has the third highest per-carry average of any running back with more than 50 carries this season at 4.7. He also has three rushing touchdowns and is tied for third on the Cowboys with 24 receptions this season. If the Cowboys aren’t interested in the 25-year-old back, I’m sure there are plenty of other teams that would be more than willing to have that sort of production.