Almost five weeks in and a trend has emerged. This is a year where the offense is so far ahead of the defense. Players and teams - it appears - are putting up explosive offensive numbers.
Star quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson are setting the tone. The Pittsburgh Steelers aside, defenses have been hurt by the lack of time together in pads in the offseason. More offensive players are coming into the league from college football NFL-ready than ever before. More teams are attacking and going for it on fourth down. I expect as we get into the business end of November and December, that the Steelers will have more competition for their defensive perch. COVID-19 continues to keep the league on its toes and refuses to allow the NFL to think too long about who’s going to show up in December. The Tennessee Titans saga rumbles on and is testing the league. As it stands, the Titans hope to play the Buffalo Bills on Tuesday. The Patriots-Broncos game from tonight has been postponed. As the crisis capacity planners intended, the schedule's flexibility is going to have to extend beyond leaning on the bye week. This would mean forcing games into weeks beyond the Week 17 of the regular season, and fulfilling the season before the playoffs. Game of the Day - Indianapolis Colts @ Cleveland Browns The Cleveland Browns dispatched a game, yet limited Indianapolis Colts outfit 32-23, to move to 4-1 for the first time since Bill Belichick was their head coach in 1994.
In his first season as head coach, Kevin Stefanski has transformed Cleveland on the field. Having lost lead running back Nick Chubb last weekend, the Browns leaned on quarterback Baker Mayfield and the passing game. Evoking elements of the Air Raid passing scheme pioneered in college, Mayfield’s pinpoint passing, throwing the ball into tight windows led to some outrageous catches for Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. On a critical note, I would like to see these guys start to consistently rack up more yards each week. When the competition gets stiffer, Cleveland will need a genuine number one receiver to step up, especially since Chubb won’t be returning soon to carry the offense on the ground. The game was a setback for the Colts defense, touted as one of the best in the league. They marshalled Browns running back Kareem Hunt reasonably well, but still gave up 385 yards of total offense. The Colts badly missed injured linebacker Darius Leonard. The Browns defense led by Myles Garrett pressured Colts quarterback Philip Rivers all day. For his part, Rivers was at fault for his pair of interceptions, one of which was returned for a Browns touchdown. The little cameo of him and veteran receiver T.Y. Hilton having an exchange of words after the pick six typified the Colts day on offense. Cleveland now tees up a fascinating match-up next weekend against AFC North division rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are also in dominant form.
Week 5 Highlights
MVP of the Week: Alex Smith. No one comes close. I devoted a column in the summer to his story. Now his remarkable comeback from a battlefield injury is complete. Yesterday he was on the field for Washington at quarterback and savored the hits and the throws. Smith described to Washington Post reporter Nicki Jhabvala his return to football: "Very surreal at first. To have it happen as fast as it did was almost a blessing. ... Just no thinking and going and playing."
All the Right Moves: The Atlanta Falcons fired head coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff after a 0-5 start. It is a sad end for Quinn and Dimitroff who oversaw the franchise when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead against the Patriots at the Super Bowl in 2017. It is a result that has at times overshadowed and tortured Atlanta. A new partnership will steer the team in 2021.
Upset of the Day: The Las Vegas Raiders for their epic 40-32 win over the Super Bowl champions and NFL standard bearers Kansas City Chiefs. No one saw it coming.
Bradywatch: Tom Brady had a very 2020 moment and forgot a down on the game winning drive attempt, as the Bucs went down 20-19 on the road to the Chicago Bears. Most people have never seen Brady lose track of downs like that let alone in a game winning situation. On a miserable night, he was hit hard repeatedly by the Bears defense. Tampa’s offense never got going. Brady ended it by running down the tunnel and leaving opposing quarterback Nick Foles at center field waiting to shake his hand. Not a very honorable scar, Tommy.
Cincinnati Joe: It was a rough day for Joe Burrow against a snarling, brutish Baltimore Ravens defense, and he was sacked seven times.
NFC West: The San Francisco 49ers were humbled at home by the Miami Dolphins. In the toughest division in the NFL, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan has his work cut out in the coming weeks. The Cardinals got back to winning ways, while the Rams motor on. In a manner only they can, the Seahawks snuck a thriller over the Vikings.
Stat of the Week: 18 is the number of consecutive games the Baltimore Ravens defense has forced at least one turnover. It is the NFL’s longest streak.
Beauty and Futility
One of the quarterbacks on track for a historic passing season was Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. He underwent surgery after Sunday’s game for a compound right ankle fracture. As we celebrate Alex Smith’s inspiration, there’s a fresh conveyor belt of injuries to nurse on this Monday morning.
Sunday offered yet another reminder of the offensive trend I alluded to up top. It was said repeatedly after the Super Bowl that everyone in the NFL was put on notice. The argument went - if you want to compete and keep up with the Kansas City Chiefs, you have to score plenty of points. That especially applied to the AFC West and the teams that would face Kansas City twice. The Las Vegas Raiders caught the Chiefs off guard yesterday and surprised themselves by scoring 40 points. It might be the blueprint others embrace.