Network Notebook: NFL Week Two Notes

RETURN TD'S ALMOST DISAPPEAR IN WEEK TWO OF THE NFL

You remember that lateral in the St. Louis/NY Giants game Monday Night that was returned for a touchdown? That was the only non-offensive touchdown of the evening in a 28-16 win for the G-men. Without it the other team covers! More interestingly though, it was the only non-offensive touchdown OF THE WHOLE WEEK!

This after a season opening weekend that saw an astonishing 14 non-offensive touchdowns. Back in Week One, there were kickoff return TD's even though this was the year kickoffs weren't going to be returned any more because of a rules change. There were punt return TD's (one won a game for Arizona over Carolina...Ted Ginn of San Francisco had both a kickoff return AND a punt return TD!). There were interception return TD's. There were fumble return TD's. The New York Jets even blocked a punt against Dallas and returned it for a TD.

This past Sunday? Nada. Bubkus. Not a single return TD of any type through 15 games.

Why is that important? It means that the Week Two scores are much more unpolluted than normal. There are fewer goofy final scores that were warped by fluke points. Nobody created the illusion of offense with the help of kick returns or pick-sixes from their defenses. There were still some turnover extremes that helped create illusions. But, for the most part, what you saw on the scoreboard was a pretty good reflection of the differences between teams on that day.

It's our job to make sure you're seeing what's REALLY happening on the field of play...so let's go game by game and clear up whatever needs to be cleared up. We'll take them in rotation order in case you want to make notes in your schedules.

  • New Orleans was a lot better than Chicago in its 30-13 win on Sunday. They dominated every category that matters. It was a clean blowout. That's a great sign for the Saints, who are looking to get back in the championship picture this year. Bad news for Jay Cutler, because he STILL can't be counted on to play well when it matters. Cutler was just 19-45-0-186 passing. That's way too many incomplete passes indoors on a fast track.

  • Detroit's a lot better than Kansas City right now. But, they were helped by a 6-1 turnover edge and key injuries to the Chiefs. Don't put the Lions in the title chase just yet. They're good...but not 48-3 good. We thought it was interesting that the Kansas City defense basically gave up in the second half for the second week in a row. They refuse to defend short fields, and barely tackle once the game is out of hand. Kansas City has been outscored 49-0 in second halves thus far. They've been outscored 75-0 on non-Drive Points (those scored on 59 yards or less or on returns). Odd to see a team throw in the towel like that two weeks in a row in this league, particularly at the start of a season.

  • The New York Jets weren't nearly as good as their 32-3 final score makes it sound against Jacksonville. Total yardage was just 283-203. Mark Sanchez threw two more interceptions, and led the offense to just 25% on third downs. We should say that the defense was terrific. The Jets defense was as good as that score, holding the Jags to 3.8 yards-per-play while forcing four turnovers. The offense was a big problem. Sanchez needs to bring playoff intensity to the regular season.

  • Not much to say about Oakland/Buffalo. It was a true shootout, with both defenses looking tired in the fourth quarter. Buffalo was ahead at the 60-minute mark. It might have been Oakland at the 62-minute mark, going back and forth through eternity. Both teams are better than many expected, though neither has played a league power yet. Maybe we're looking at 6-10 teams who played soft schedules. Maybe somebody here has a chance to become relevant.

  • Arizona/Washington was another nip and tuck game, but on a smaller scale. Neither team impressed on third downs. Both lost the ball twice. Washington was much better on the ground, but Arizona was much better in yards-per-play. Very similar to Oakland/Buffalo in that we may be looking at a couple of 6-10 type teams who have dodged powerful opponents on the early schedule. Both are playing like they care now, which might provide at edge at value prices in the coming weeks.

  • Probably the biggest surprise of the day was how Tennessee absolutely manhandled Baltimore. The 26-13 final score wasn't a fluke. Tennessee dominated every stat up and down the boxscore. Maybe the Ravens were flat off their big win over Pittsburgh. The Ravens team we saw Sunday has no chance to do anything in the playoffs. Joe Flacco still has a tendency to turn invisible when he's most needed. That kind of quarterback doesn't win championships.

  • Seattle is playing the most passive defense in the league. They haven't forced a turnover through two weeks. Only 13 opposing passes have fallen incomplete. They've managed just two sacks. All that, and their quarterback on offense is Tavaris Jackson! This team is just awful right now, and that 24-0 loss at Pittsburgh was as clean as it gets. The Steelers just ran out the clock with a big second half lead or it could have been a lot worse.

  • It looks like Cam Newton's passing stats are benefitting from what the league learned from the Vince Young experience. When Young first joined the NFL, defenses didn't believe he could drive the field...so they didn't bother taking away his scramble options. They just flew at him and dared him to run. He did...and had astonishing success. Eventually, defenses shadowed him differently and forced him to pass. Young had no chance at success that way. But, Cam Newton is showing that he can hit wide open receivers against a flat footed defense that's watching to see if he's going to take off. That's at the heart of his humongous passing yardage so far. It would be great if ESPN spent some more time talking about that instead of raving that Newton's doing something John Elway couldn't do or whatever. NFL defenses will adjust soon. Newton may be great enough to adjust himself. Let's be careful overreacting. The numbers ARE impressive. But, defenses are "giving" him more than is realized during this two-way learning process.

  • This is two weeks in a row where Donovan McNabb has been horrible in the second half. The Vikings were outscored by San Diego 17-0 in Week One, then 24-3 in Week Two. That's 41-3 over a "full game" of second half action! Might be something for you to think about in Vegas if you're into first half and second half betting. Great comeback for Josh Freeman and Tampa Bay. They earned a win when it looked like the game was over. The Bucs couldn't afford to start the season 0-2. The Vikings are 0-2, and can't possibly have confidence in McNabb at the moment.

  • A few lessons from Cleveland-Indianapolis. Colt McCoy is dangerous when rolling out to his right so he can get some oomph behind his throws. He's not dangerous at any other time. In fact, he hurts the offense significantly at any other time! That's not a problem against somebody like the Colts, who may already be tanking to try and win the Andrew Luck sweepstakes (he's a great match for that franchise's brainy play, and Peyton Manning's days my be more numbered than people realize). It's hard to tell because Indy has so little high impact talent outside of Manning. Whether they're trying hard or not, the Colts sure couldn't scare anybody at the moment.

  • Dallas-San Francisco had one of the few misleading scores of the day. Dallas was much more dominant than the 27-24 final score would have suggested. And, that was with Tony Romo missing a few series because of his rib injury. Total yardage was 472-206. If you take out the big overtime play, it's still a statistical rout. Drive Point scoring (60 yards or more) was 14-7 for Dallas in regulation. Passing yardage was a 427-132 slaughter, which is still a monstrous edge when you erase the completion that set up the game winning field goal. The 49ers aren't as good as the scoreboard has made them look thus far in two home games.

  • What happened to all the talk about how Chad Henne was improving in the offseason. Miami was 12-30-1-153 passing Sunday vs. the Houston Texans' defense. In context, that's just miserable. Well, that's miserable vs. anybody...but even the bad offenses should pass on Houston. Maybe the Texans' defense is getting good enough to make the team a threat in the playoffs. We need to see what happens against better offenses than Indianapolis and Miami.

  • If you got cute and bet the Under in San Diego/New England, that wild fourth quarter had to ruin your Sunday supper. Philip Rivers and Tom Brady finally exploded in the final stanza, launching their teams to 372 and 410 passing yards respectively. Difference-maker was in the turnover category. New England won that 4-0. Supposedly last year's +28 turnover differential was going to be impossible to repeat. The Pats are at +4 through two games. Maybe not! San Diego is at -5 through two games, casting doubt again about whether or not they can play up to their perceived talent level.

  • Cincinnati was just 1 of 11 on third down tries under rookie Andy Dalton. They almost won anyway! He's making some plays. But, you have to move the chains to give yourself the best shot at winning every week. Denver's win will shut up Tebow Nation for awhile. It's amazing that so many fans would be so vocal about a guy who obviously isn't qualified yet to play at this level. He's a bulldog...but he's not an NFL quarterback until he can throw accurate passes more than five yards downfield.

  • Philadelphia/Atlanta was a war that could have gone either way at the end even though Michael Vick was out of the game. Both teams should have reasons for concern. Vick was mistake-prone before his injury. He's right at the level that's going to win a division before crushing everyone's hopes in the playoffs with miscue after miscue. Atlanta was outplayed much of the night, losing yards-per-play 6.7 to 5.2. The Falcons could easily be 0-2. And, that Week One loss to the Bears looks even worse now.

  • Sluggish Monday Night for both St. Louis and the NY Giants. The G-Men gained just 4.3 yards-per-play and could only convert 33% of their third down tries. Eli Manning couldn't reach 200 passing yards on almost 30 attempts. And, he threw another interception. St. Louis moved the ball better, but kept shooting themselves in the foot and settling for field goals. We already mentioned that a defensive TD turned a St. Louis and Under Vegas combination into Giants and Over (or a push at some closers). Be careful lauding Sam Bradford for his 300-yard passing game. That came on a very high 46 attempts, and he could only convert 29% of his third down tries. Still a lot of mystery in this league around 6-10 type teams who might be better or might be worse. A more varied schedule coming up will shed light on that.

That wraps up our look at this past weekend's NFL. We hope you use what you learned today to assist in your handicapping efforts this weekend. Back to the colleges tomorrow to preview NC State/Cincinnati in ESPN's Thursday Night TV game. Don't forget that we have BIG JUICY WINNERS in baseball for you Wednesday to help you build your bankroll for all of this weekend's football. There are some day games so take care of business EARLY!

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