Last week I talked about the trend that offenses have been on top. I cited the Pittsburgh Steelers as the exception against the rule. Today, their defense turned up again to bludgeon the life out of the Cleveland Browns. Another much vaunted defense that had been quiet this season - the Tampa Bay Buccaneers - was rampant yesterday against the Green Bay Packers. I’ll explore the theme of defenses being to the fore, as we will see others emerge in the weeks ahead.
Game of the Day - Green Bay Packers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What was billed as Aaron Rodgers versus Tom Brady turned into a brutally one-sided matchup, with Tampa’s defense dismantling the Packers offense. The Buccaneers won 38-10, and scored 38 unanswered points after Green Bay had taken an early first quarter lead.
The game turned on two Rodgers first half interceptions. Up until that point, the Packers had been in control. Rodgers looked like he was forcing the ball to Adams, which in turn led the Packers offense to be out of sync. After the first quarter, the offense ceases to be a factor in the game. Green Bay’s inability to stop Tom Brady and the Tampa running game was almost predictable, once the offense folded.
With the running established and his defense stopping Green Bay at will, Tom Brady was able to pick apart the Packers defense.
Todd Bowles’ Buccaneers defense swarmed Aaron Rodgers and had the Packers offense in a vice grip. Bowles dialed up a superb package of blitzes and coverage, which befuddled the Packers. He has brilliantly coached up a young Bucs secondary. The Buccaneers discipline will have pleased head coach Bruce Arians. They were the most penalized in football coming into this game. Tampa conceded no penalties yesterday.
Packers fans might be inclined to believe this is what their team does against superior teams. It happened twice in a painful manner against the San Francisco 49ers last season, and it occurred again yesterday. Tom Brady had all day to make his throws. The Packers pass rush was ineffective. Pressure is mounting on defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. The front office might decide with a heavyweight candidate in Wade Phillips, unemployed and available this season, that there is merit in moving on from Pettine. The Packers offense lost All Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari to injury. Not much went right for Green Bay. This was a serious wake up call for the Packers; or as Aaron Rodgers said afterwards, “We needed a kick in the ass.” The Packers struggled against good teams last season and dispatched the mediocre and bad ones. There’s plenty of good teams ahead and no let up with an early bye. A resurgent 49ers loom large in the first week in November. Week 5 Highlights
MVP of the Week: The Pittsburgh Steelers defense. Their front seven obliterated Cleveland’s offensive line and led to Browns benching quarterback Baker Mayfield. The Steelers third down defense was clinical. Losing Devin Bush to a torn ACL will be a big blow. Mayfield was playing with a chest injury but a national media referendum on his fitness to play quarterback seems destined to rumble on. Elsewhere for the Steelers, Chase Claypool continues to play like a precocious rookie and is the Steelers best passing threat. They need to continue to throw him the ball. The Steelers (5-0) remained unbeaten while Cleveland (4-2) squandered a chance to take at least a share of first in the AFC North. Baltimore and Pittsburgh will clash soon.
Hail to the King: Aided by his offensive line who mauled the Houston Texans, Derrick Henry ran for over 200-yards for the third time since 2018. It was the Tennessee Titans second game in five days, after the COVID-19 delay, which featured Henry’s epic stiff arm (hand off for U.K. and Irish readers) on Josh Norman.
Bradywatch: As I wrote last week, Brady lost his head in the Bears game and ripped into some of the younger players on his own team. Yesterday, he was more assured. When his defense was on top, and the run game established, it was the perfect time for him to re-establish his love affair with Rob Gronkowski. Brady and Gronk went to number three overall on the quarterback to catcher touchdown board in NFL history. They refuse to leave the stage.
Cincinnati Joe: The Bengals will be devastated that they gave up a 21-0 lead and lost. Burrow was picked off to end the Bengals’ final drive. According to NFL Research, Burrow is now the fifth QB in the Super Bowl era with 1,500-plus pass yards and multiple rush TDs in his first six career games.
NFC West: Arizona plays tonight. Seattle has the week off, and will be delighted to the Packers loss. The 49ers showed signs of life after a crucial division win over the Rams.
Stat of the Week: Quarterback Joe Flacco took a sack for a 28-yard loss. Most people who play football 25 years of their life would struggle to do that. But he plays for the New York Jets - there is an explanation.
Quote of the Day: “Every media member in existence spent the week googling 1994 current events to talk about the Browns being 4-1, and then we see (Case) Keenum.” Former Patriots and Eagle defensive player, Chris Long, having a chuckle at all the hype surrounding Cleveland building up to the Steelers game, only for their starting quarterback to be benched.
Sometimes, when there’s stark evidence that offense is dictating terms to all, in the Kansas City Chiefs era, we can be guilty of losing track of one of pro football’s first principles: defense wins championships.
Defenses from Pittsburgh to Tampa Bay, and even last year's best defense San Francisco stuck their head above the parapet this weekend to remind us not to sleep on them.