GOOD, BAD AND UGLY

NFL Week 5 observations

James Connor of the Steelers had a big game against Atlanta. Karl Roser, Steelers team website

Week five of the NFL season was interesting. We saw four starting rookie quarterbacks go undefeated. We’re also seeing teams reveal their true selves, as well as some teams emerge from early season funks. Let’s take a look at how I saw it play out:

The Good

-Browns’ quarterback Baker Mayfield threw for 342 yards on 25 of 43 passing. He’s looking more and more comfortable. I was most impressed with his play after he threw an early interception on their first possession. It didn’t derail his confidence and seemed to focus him.

-Steelers running back James Conner had a career day in their 41-17 win over the Falcons. Conner had a total of 185 yards on 25 touches and two touchdowns. Le’Veon Bell may be coming back in week seven, but Conner is making Bell look expendable.

-The Bengals are 4-1 right now and are a sneaky team to watch out for. They beat the Dolphins 27-17. The most impressive part was the two defensive touchdowns. Who thought they’d be atop the AFC North right now?

The Bad

-The Falcons are now 1-4. Two years removed from an epic Super Bowl collapse, this team was considered a favorite to challenge the Eagles in the NFC this year. Injuries have derailed them defensively, but that offense has enough weapons to start World War 3. 1-4 after five games is unacceptable.

-When the Jags have to rely heavily on quarterback Blake Bortles, bad things happen. Bortles threw four picks and put his team in position to force them to have to throw the ball way more than they wanted to. A 61 to 17 pass to run ratio is not Jag football.

-Although their teams won their starts, rookie quarterbacks Josh Allen of the Bills (10/19 for 82 yards and a pick), Josh Rosen of the Cardinals (10/25 for 170 yards and a touchdown), and Sam Darnold of the Jets (10/22 for 198 yards, three touchdowns and a pick) played awful. Their teams won in spite of their performances. I don’t doubt this crop of rookies will be good, but there will be growing pains.

The Ugly

-Packers kicker Mason Crosby missed four field goals and an extra point in their 31-23 loss to the Lions. He was clearly upset and frustrated with the misses. Cool to see Aaron Rodgers was seen comforting him on the sidelines. The Packers are sticking with the veteran kicker…for now.

-As if the Eagles Super Bowl hangover wasn’t enough - they’re 2-3 on the season so far - starting running back Jay Ajayi is now out for the season with an ACL injury. They use a running back by committee system, but he gets the bulk of the touches.

-The Giants plan on trading or cutting offensive tackle Ereck Flowers. They would like to trade him by 3 p.m. our time Tuesday, which is highly unlikely. The fact that they’re most likely cutting the former number nine overall pick from the 2015 draft shows how bad of a pick he was.

You ever took a picture with a Polaroid camera and shook the picture and/or blew on it and waited to see the reveal? Remember when the image was starting to come into focus and you could make out parts of it, but not the entire image? That’s kind of what this season is at this point. Week 5 is when the picture becomes clearer, but not quite fully visible. As the season progresses, that picture will become crystal clear.

 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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