At about the midway point of the fourth quarter, with the Seahawks holding a 13-point lead, the Seattle pass rush started to lag a little and the zone defenses started to get a little softer. It was at about this point that Philadelphia quarterback Carson Wentz led the Eagles on a 10-play 66-yard touchdown drive that narrowed both the score and the Seattle statistical dominance a little bit. Still, for most of Seattle’s 26-15 vanquishing of the not-really-ready-for-prime-time Eagles, the contest between Philadelphia’s second-tier receivers and the Seahawk’s vaunted Legion of Boom was every bit the mismatch that most would have predicted.
With no real “primary” receiver to focus on, Seattle started downshifting early into their zone defensive schemes. Before the first quarter was over, elite cornerback Richard Sherman stopped flipping sides of the field and settled into his usual left corner spot against whoever Philadelphia decided to line up against him.
On his way to an unremarkable 23 of 45 passing day that resulted in 218 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions (a 61.2 passer rating day), Wentz – with little help from his receivers – looked very much like the rookie quarterback that he still is. He frequently led defenders to his receivers by staring intently at them. He more than once waited too long before moving on to his next option. He “played fast” a few times, throwing the ball before the receiver was ready. He badly misread a coverage or two.
It’s all part of the growing pains of a rookie quarterback in the NFL.
He also could have been supported better. He had more than a few balls tipped and several other passes dropped – including a heart-breaking drop by Nelson Agholor. With 3:47 left in the second quarter, and the Eagles trailing 16-7, Agholor deked Sherman and broke wide open over the middle at about midfield where Wentz delivered a perfect strike – that bounced off Agholor’s chest.
In the words of Homer Simpson, “D’oh!”
A 7-9 team last season, the improvement in the Eagles this year has been noteworthy – much of it due to the rookie quarterback. Even with the loss – and notwithstanding that they are currently last in their division – I think the Eagles’ playoff chances are still excellent as four of their last six are at home. Still, in games like this, you can see that this team is still a notch or two below the elite teams in the league.
The most intriguing number from this game came from the Seattle offense. Entering the game with the thirtieth ranked running offense (averaging 77.7 yards per game and 3.3 per rush), Seattle finished with 152 yards on the ground and a 5.1 average.
The truth behind the number, though, is that the Seattle running game was less than dominant. Ninety of those yards came on two plays – C.J. Prosise’s 72-yard touchdown sprint in the first; and Thomas Rawls 18-yards jaunt around left end in the second. Seattle’s other 28 running plays accounted for 62 yards (2.2 yards per attempt) – more along the lines of what I expected.
Interestingly enough – since there has been much discussion of the Seattle offensive line this year – the key blocks on both of the long runs were not thrown by offensive linemen, but by receivers.
On the Prosise run, tight end Luke Willson kicked out the linebacker (Brandon Graham), and Doug Baldwin – not overly regarded for his blocking – blew into cornerback Jaylen Watkins at top speed. Prosise needed only to elude cornerback Jalen Mills – who had a one-on-one opportunity to make the tackle but was caught back on his heels.
First-round draft pick Germain Ifedi – starting at right guard – played an impressive game. For the most part, though, that offensive line continues to be mediocre and may yet be this team’s Achilles Heel.
The Mystery of Arizona Continues
In many ways, Arizona’s 30-24 loss in Minnesota was a microcosm of their season.
They came into the game ranked seventh in total offensive yards per game, but only twentieth in scoring. On Sunday, they started three drives in Minnesota territory. Those drives resulted in one touchdown, one punt, and one interception returned for a Minnesota touchdown.
The Vikings drained the last third of the third quarter with an 11-play, 75-yard, 5:06 drive that led to a field goal that pushed Minnesota’s lead to 30-17. That drive was aided appreciably by three personal foul penalties called against the Cardinal defense after the play was over.
In the game’s first half, Arizona out first-downed the Vikings 19-7, out gained them 263-109, ran for 110 yards (this is just the first half!) on 22 rushes (5.0 yards per), and controlled the ball for 20:51 of those first thirty minutes – and went into the locker at halftime trailing 20-17. When Cordarrelle Patterson returned the opening kickoff of the second half 104 yards for another return touchdown, Minnesota pushed their lead to ten points even though Arizona was more than doubling their output in first downs, total yardage, rushing yardage and time of possession. That is hard to do.
Frequently when you watch the Cardinals, you will still see the underpinnings of the team that played in last year’s conference championship game. There is still a great deal of talent in Arizona. They are having a difficult time staying out of their own way.
As to Minnesota, after being fortunate to escape the first half with a lead, the Viking defense put on a clinic in the second half the likes of which you rarely see against a quality offense. After surrendering 110 rushing yards in the first half, Minnesota allowed 25 in the second half – and 11 of those came on a scramble from quarterback Carson Palmer. Running back David Johnson – who ran for 89 yards in that first half – added just 14 rushing yards in the second half. He had had four first half runs that had exceeded ten yards each.
Palmer as a passer was only 9 for 19 for just 45 yards. Moreover, he was sacked four times in the second half for 43 yards of losses, so – counting the Palmer scramble, Arizona called 24 passing plays in the third and fourth quarters that totaled 13 yards. For the second half, 29 offensive plays yielded 27 yards (an average of 0.9 yards per play) and 5 first downs. In the first half they had amassed 19 first downs and averaged 6.4 yards per play. If you were ever looking for a statistical picture of domination, this would be it.
A final note on the Minnesota-Arizona game.
Both of the Vikings first two touchdowns were initially denied by the officials. Adam Thielen was originally ruled out of bounds on his 16-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, and Matt Asiata was originally ruled down at the one although he did actually push the ball over the line before going down. This has come to be so common a sight, now, in football games that it is less than noteworthy – an official blows a call, but replay sets things right. These were calls that – not that many years ago – would have been ruled incorrectly and would have stayed that way as there wasn’t – at the time – any way to redress the wrong.
Replay has become a vital contributor to the game – in spite of the carping of its critics in the early going. The next big step for replay, now, is to remove the silly coach’s challenge and run the entire game the way they run the last two minutes. If the replay official sees something that looks a little uncertain, he initiates a review. Come on, NFL. It’s time.
Baltimore Competes, but Dallas Prevails
Speaking of vastly different halves, Dallas and Baltimore went into the locker rooms tied at ten after the first two quarters. Ranked number one in overall defense (by yards allowed), number one against the run, number three in points allowed, and number five in passing yards allowed, the Baltimore defense had contained the potent Dallas offense as well as could be hoped for through thirty minutes. Dallas had just 45 rushing yards on 10 attempts (still 4.5 yards per attempt) and quarterback Dak Prescott was a good-but-not-phenomenal 13 for 21 for 155 yards and a touchdown (still an excellent 100.3 passer rating).
Now there is 8:56 left in the third quarter. The Cowboys have a first-and-ten on Baltimore’s 17-yard line. Prescott, after initially dropping a low snap, recovered the ball, composed himself, and threw incomplete for Gavin Escobar in the end zone.
It would be Prescott’s only incompletion of the entire second half. Three plays later, he would throw a jump-ball into the end zone that Dez Bryant would pull down for the score that would give the Cowboys a 17-10 lead. They would never look back.
For the second half of the game, Prescott completed 14 of 15 passes (93.3%) for 146 yards and two more touchdowns. His second half passer rating was a sparkling 146.8. Remember, this was against the league’s number one defense.
The vaunted Cowboy running game never did explode, but they did grind. Twenty second-half rushes accounted for 73 yards (3.7 per) and helped Dallas control the ball for 20:09 of the second half. They converted 4 of 5 third-downs in the half to keep the Baltimore offense on the sideline in a 27-17 conquest.
For their part, the Ravens got away from the running game that had worked very well for them in the first thirty minutes (13 rushes for 86 yards). Baltimore called passes on 22 of their final 24 plays.
The Bucs Also Rise?
Tampa Bay was 11 for 16 (69%) on third down as they upset Kansas City. They were 1 for 4 in the red zone and 10 for 12 outside the red zone. They won by kicking 4 field goals and scoring one touchdown.
Buccaneer quarterback Jameis Winston targeted wide receiver Mike Evans 8 times in the first half. They connected only twice for gains of 31 and 23 yards. In the second half, Winston and Evans connected on 4 of 5 targets for a total of 51 yards, none longer than14 yards. After a 12 for 22 first half (54.5%) in which he threw for 203 yards (16.92 per reception), Winston completed 12 of 17 (70.6%) in the second half, albeit for only 128 yards (10.67 per reception). His first half passer rating was 86.0. In the second half, that rose to 111.9.
The confrontation between the league’s twentieth rated running attack (Kansas City’s at 99.7 yards per game) and the league’s twenty-fifth rated run defense (Tampa Bay’s at 118.3 yards per game) went decisively to the Buccaneer defense that held KC to 82 yards on 21 rushing attempts (3.9 per rush).
The Patriots Find Another Weapon
With Rob Gronkowski missing last week’s game with a punctured lung, the unheralded Malcolm Mitchell made the Gronkowski play-of-the-day. He capped his 4-catch, 98-yard day with a 56-yard touchdown that pushed the New England Patriots to a 30-17 victory in San Francisco.
Mitchell – a fourth-round pick out of Georgia – had only seven catches on the season before the Patriots kind of took the wrappings off this week. Just what Tom Brady needs – yet another target.