My Post Week 5 Thoughts
Here are my thoughts on what's going on around the league. Its like my football manifesto.
The Houston Texans Anointed NFLs Best AFC Team Prematurely
Everyone and their mother is raving about the Houston Texans. Their great defense and their balanced offense has been the recipe for success in the NFL since the game was invented. I love the Texans, and I love what they have done with this team... both offensively and defensively. But I would be stunned if they made it to the Super Bowl. Obviously the division is wrapped up, and they may boast the best record in the NFL (let alone the AFC) once the season ends, but I have my concerns.
For a 5-0 team, this isn't a dominant team. So far they have played the Miami Dolphins (2-3), Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4), Denver Broncos (2-3), Tennessee Titans (1-4) and the New York Jets (2-3). The Texans should be 5-0 after that soft schedule. They've done nothing that they aren't supposed to do. They are going to finish this season playing only (4) playoff caliber teams. Chicago, New England, Green Bay and Baltimore. But what do they lack?
This offense isn't as good as people think.
Andre Johnson. Is Johnson still among the Top 3 WRs in the game? I'm not sure if the guy is Top 10 anymore. Johnson seems like he's lost a step. He sure as hell isn't the same player he was in 2010. He hasn't had a good game since week 1 of the season where he caught 8 passes for 119 yards and 1 TD.
In the (4) weeks since then, he's caught just 9 passes for 164 yards and 1 TD. He's simply not the same player he was two years ago. He is getting up their age and coming off a couple different hamstring injuries last season, but against the Jets he was completely shut down by Antonio Cromartie. He also loafed on a route that resulted in Cromartie undercutting the throw and intercepting the pass. For a guy who's not on the field as much as he used to be, loafing around is unacceptable. When the playoffs come around, big time WRs need to produce against the elite defenses and top tier CBs. Cromartie, for as much flack as he gets, is still a top tier CB. And if this is the kind of result we should expect in the postseason from Johnson, the Texans may be missing a much needed dimension to that offense. He showed up last postseason, but he needs to step up his play for this offense to be the kind of balanced offense everyone is raving about.
The Offensive Line. The right side of the offensive line isn't what it used to be. And the lose of Eric Winston isn't easily replaceable. This running game has struggled a bit as of late. Antoine Caldwell and Derek Newton on the right side isn't exactly dominant anymore. Duane Brown and Chris Meyers are still two of the best in the business at their respective positions, but I don't think this offensive line is the same as it used to be. There has been a lack of big plays in the running game.
The Texans are putting more pressure on Arian Foster than ever before. He's also not producing quite like he used to be. And I think that's attributed to a couple things. Teams are focused on stopping the run first and foremost, and the offensive line isn't quite the same. This isn't also a dominant passing offense that is going to force safeties deep. Foster has, quietly, struggled to average over 100 yards rushing per game. Foster is still one of the best RBs in the NFL, but he's only averaged over 4.0 yards per carry twice in his first five starts this season. That's kind of surprising when you consider the defenses he's played against. Foster is also on pace for over 400 carries this season. That's a lot of touches for a RB. This type of wear and tear may have a long term effect on Foster' career.
Matt Schaub. Where do I begin with Matt Schaub? Is he good? Yes, he is, but I saw an interesting stat during the MNF telecast. It had a stat for most 20+ yard gains off the play action pass. Schaub was #1 by a wide margin (112 since 2007), and he was ranked ahead of the elite QBs in the NFL over that time period (Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees). I think this stat shows exactly what I think about him. He is a product of that system just as much as any QB in the NFL. He relies on the play action pass. That whole offense does. Schaub struggles as a pure drop back passer, finding the mismatches and dicing up a defense. For all the yards and TDs he's thrown for, he resembles more and more of a game manger type as the season / years go along. When it comes to Schaub against Roethlisberger in the playoffs, I'm taking Big Ben. Because when you have two good teams matched up, it usually comes down to the team with the better QB. I simply don't think Schaub is the type of guy that is going to lead his team late in the 4th QT on a game winning drive to take a team to the Super Bowl. He is still an unproven commodity in the NFL when it comes to the playoffs. One thing I will say that I've learned more this year about him... He's a lot tougher than I thought.
The Defense. If Cushing is done for the season that immediately becomes a huge blow to the defense. I think the Texans are susceptible to giving up big yards on the ground. A lot of times they create huge running lanes by having 5 DL one gap up the field. They can take themselves out of the play. It's still a very good defense, but stoutness against the run is something that I still question.
JJ Watt is about as great a player as there is in this league. Both offensively and defensively. I cannot sing his praises enough. I don't think anyone else has a chance at Defensive Player of the Year. The scheme is going to allow him to rush the passer. A potential 16+ sack season from the 34 DE position while playing great run defense? The tipped passes at the line of scrimmage (which have already resulted in numerous INTs)? Watt is playing lights out. I don't think another player has been playing better than him. QBs included. This is about as dominant as it gets.
Right When I Thought The 43 Defense Was Getting Phased Out of the NFL...
34 defenses have been steadily increasing in numbers year after year. And the best defenses are usually the 34 defenses by years end. But teams like the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks are making me question, again, which system is better?
I still think I would take a 34 defense, but what Seattle and Chicago are doing is nothing short of impressive. How many teams are going to have 3 of their 4 starting players in their secondary over 6'3''? How many 43 teams have a 330 pound DE rushing the passer off the edge? With a perfect complimentary piece on the other side? Or DTs that can stop the run and collapse the pocket?
How many teams have a Julius Peppers type DE that they can kick inside on passing downs? And have the type of pass rushing talent to put outside like Shea McClellin or Corey Wootton? Or an emerging star in the middle like Henry Melton? To go along with the ageless linebackers that go by their last name only? Urlacher and Briggs?
I think Seattle has the best defense in the NFL right now. A lot of that I attribute to the secondary. I think Brandon Browner has become by favorite defensive back in the NFL. I think he's one of the elite CBs in the game. You don't appreciate the physicality of a CB like Browner until you watch Dominique Rogers-Cromartie or Chris Gamble in back-to-back games, and then have the pleasure of watching Browner come up and lay a 230 pound RB to the ground like he was a strong safety. Both of the other two CBs I mentioned jog in front of the ball carrier until someone else tackles him. Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Richard Shurman make up the best secondary in the NFL. And I'm not sure if it's even close anymore.
The Decline of The QB?
Last year was dubbed "The Year of the QB" by ESPN, and QBs didn't disappoint as numerous QBs shattered passing records. But this year? What the hell as happened to Aaron Rodgers? Passer rating of a mere 97? Only averaging 261 yards passing per game? Taking the amount of sacks he has? The lack of scoring by his offense?
The struggles are apparent for casual fans to recognize. This offense isn't the same as it was last year. Rodgers has faced (3) of the best defenses in the NFL in the first (3) weeks (Seattle, 49ers, Bears). And he struggled against those teams, as most QBs have / would. He only threw 3 TDs in those three games against 2 INTs. The Packers have yet to score 30 points in a game. Through 5 games, they have yet to put 30 on someone. And they just played the Saints. That should tell there's something there.
So what is wrong? To tell you the truth... there seems to be a lot of things going wrong all at the same time. The WRs and TEs don't look that good. Simply put. They don't look good. They aren't getting a ton of separation. Rodgers doesn't have much time in the pocket, but when he does... he's just not seeing the open guy like he has in the past. The running game is average at best, but with Cedric Benson now going down with an injury for a good chunk of the season... what do they turn to? Alex Green?
This, simply put, is not a prolific offense. Not like it used to be. I think the losses of Greg Jennings and Scott Wells have been sorely felt. I don't expect the Packers to play much better than what they have already shown thus far. Aaron Rodgers is still an elite player, but that offense has come down to reality, and he's not having a career year to make up for everyone else. I don't think any of Rodgers' pieces are as good as advertised, maybe with the exception of Randall Cobb. Something is wrong in Green Bay.
JerMichael Finley? I'm still waiting on him to prove that he's an elite player. Dropped passes and bone head plays do nothing but discourage me from ever thinking he's going to become an elite TE. He's simply not a great player, and I don't think he ever will be. It should have happened by now. He's a piece in this offense, and when the offense is clicking, Finley becomes a real good player. But too often when Finley should establish himself as a go-to-guy, the disappearing act renders itself. There might be close to 10 TEs I might take over Finley if I sat down and thought about it.
Jordy Nelson? You are not a #1 WR even though he tricked everyone into thinking you were at the end of last season. I don't know what else to say about him. He's good in spurts, and then he gets shutdown. He simply cannot be relied on in pressure situations against the opposing teams best DB. He's not going to win. James Jones does what he does whether the Packers have a running game or if their best weapons are on the field. He's just a good, solid player. But, he's not a consistent threat. None of these guys are. Greg Jennings injury is proving what kind of impact he has on this offense. He makes every WR and TE around him better. He is the go-to-guy in crunch time. Opposing teams know it. They game plan around him, and that has freed up someone else in the past. Whether it be Nelson, Jones, Finley or Cobb.
Of course I'm talking about the Packers offense like the sky is falling, but when you've become accustomed to the kind of offense Green Bay has had for the past two years... the sky is falling. They scored less than 30 points 5 times all last season. They've already matched that total.
The Joe Flacco Conundrum and the Baltimore Raves; A Model of Consistency.
I've always said that the Ravens play down to their competition, especially the week following a big game (like a Steelers or Patriots game). But going into Kansas City, I would have never thought they would have played for their lives in a 9-6 shitfest of awfulness. To go 13/27 (48%) for 187 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT and to get sacked 4 times? Against a team who is now 27th in the league in scoring defense? And they're only ranked that well because the Ravens only scored 9 points against them? Seriously? What the **** is wrong with this picture?
If Flacco wants to sit in front of a camera and do interviews proclaiming that he's an elite QB and that he belongs with Brady and Manning and blah blah blah, then beat teams like the ******* Chiefs soundly, would ya? I can't stand this guy and I've always been a lot harder on him than most people, but we're five weeks into the season, and he's had a mildly difficult schedule (and that's being nice since he's played one defense that resembles anything close to a Top 10 caliber defense). And he still has a passer rating under 90. In one week he looks like he's ready to be called elite, and then the next? Its whatever, we can just piss this game away. It's only Kansas City.
In the last four weeks... the Ravens have played every game down to the wire. At some point, just beat someone. Just beat them down. Take their lunch money and act like you're the class of the AFC. Week 1 when everyone's pumped up and the adrenaline is going it happened... but take that into week 5 for once. This should have been a no contest. The game against the Browns, on a short week, should have looked worse than it was.
There is a shift in Baltimore gradually taking place. The defense is declining, and its declining fast. More rapidly than I think even the front office had anticipated. The loss of Terrell Suggs has been crucial. Anytime you remove a DPOY from a defense, that is going to be felt. But the aging process of Ray Lewis? That has finally taken place. Two years ago, Lewis was still playing at a high level. He was still among the best ILBs in the game. But now? He's not even close. The lack of speed is showing. He's no longer a sideline-to-sideline threat. He's not that physical force in the middle that he used to be. He has, for the first time in his career, taken two steps back. Retirement is lurking. More than ever for Ray Lewis. Couple that with the much less severe decline of Ed Reed, and you have a defense that is fading. And fading fast.
This is not a team that is I expect to play at an elite level in the playoffs. I don't know if they can maintain the type of intensity on defense, week to week in the playoffs that they once did. That means Joe Flacco is going to have to carry this offense to the Super Bowl. This is an average defense. A great offense? All the pieces are there. The scheme. The RB. The offensive line and the wide receivers. Who knows.
Now It's Time To Talk About the Minnesota Vikings...
That about does it.
Next Topic: The Pittsburgh Steelers
After a rough start to the season the Steelers bounced back with a must win game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Steelers have been plagued by injuries so far this year. To who? Oh, just Troy Polamalu, James Harrison, Rashard Mendenhall and David DeCastro. No big deal, right? Its not like they lost their best player: Ben Roethlisberger.
How they have looked as good as they have at certain times with the loss of key personnel this season? It is beyond me. It's not like the Steelers are an incredible drafting team. They do alright. They usually hit home runs in Round 1 and pick a solid player or two after that. But this team is ranked 5th in the NFL is total yards allowed on defense. And they just got James Harrison back against the Eagles. To then lose LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu... again.
But they're ranked 5th in total yards allowed for one reason and one reason only: Ben Roethlisberger. A lot of talk was made in the off season of Todd Haley and Big Ben. How they weren't on the same page and this and that. Well, if this is Big Ben not on the same page with his offensive coordinator, then I can't wait to see what happens when Haley and Ben Roethlisberger get on the same page. If anyone needs to start garnering MVP talks... it's Ben Roethlisberger. This ball control offense is simply unbelievable. They have controlled the clock without a running game for the first four weeks. All the pressure to produce yardage and long scoring drives... on the shoulders of #7. Penalties up front would kill drives and frustrate even the most elite of QBs, but Big Ben just continues to overcome them. They just continue to dominate on third downs. It is utterly fascinating to watch.
I think you have to watch Roethlisberger a lot to realize just how great of a player he is. When the casual fan watches him in a Super Bowl, and he doesn't set the world on fire, they call him overrated or discredit him or only give exclusive credit to the defense... whatever the case may be. The truth is, this guy is elite and he's as good as they come. Not only does he make everyone around him better, but he makes this defense look better than it actually is.
Rashard Mendenhall though... let's stop all this disgusting praise for Big Ben for just a second and realize how good this guy is. Maybe it's because Isaac Redman just isn't that good, maybe the Eagles just can't stop the run, I don't know, but the difference between the running game through the first three games of the season, and then to compare that to the game in week 5? Astronomical. The Steelers were averaging in the low 2s for yards per rush going into week 5. They were the worst in the NFL. Mendenhall comes in and averages 5.8 yards per carry. It could have been even better, but a 20 yard run was negated due to a holding penalty. Mendenhall has much improved vision and better patience than given credit for. He's got great speed and it shows on the field. He still runs tough between the tackles, but this is a completely different offense when he's on the field. Mendenhall is an excellent RB in this league. And he may emerge as one of the better RBs in football by the end of this year. He is going to prove to be crucial to this offense.
I fully expect the Steelers to do what they usually do. They will overcome a paltry defense (who can't generate an interception to save their lives) that's already riddled with injuries to their best players. They will overcome the offensive line problems, and they will be there when it matters. Late in the season the Steelers will be playing their best football. And this offense will be ready to lead them deep into the playoffs. And I think all the way to the Super Bowl. I don't think there's another QB in the NFL playing better than the one wearing black & gold right now. After 4 weeks I thought Eli Manning was the MVP of the league, but after 4 games, I think its Ben Roethlisberger.
I don't know if there's anything new on the home front to talk about when talking about the Cowboys. I mean, they have talent, no for real, they actually have talent this year, but they still manage, or find a way, to suck. I don't get it. The problems, for the first time in a while, are stemming from the offensive side of the ball. If it isn't one thing it's another.
They seem to lack an identity on offense. I'm not sure what kind of team Jason Garrett is running, but I know Rob Ryan is running that defense. He has his blue prints all over it. Currently the Cowboys are ranked #1 against the pass. Their defense has stepped up. That defense is good enough for the Cowboys to be doing damage. But the offense? Not running the football... Having an offensive line that can't get consistent push... I don't know what the problem is, but it seems to be coaching. It has to be.
I've explained in detail how I feel about Tony Romo before. He is a good QB in this league. Throwing 5 INTs against a Bears team? It could be worse. But I just look at the Cowboys and sit there in amazement. How can Dez Bryant be so talented, yet so pedestrian? For the first few seasons of his career he was completely out of the picture once half time rolled around. Now he's been force fed the ball for 4 QTs and he's making ridiculous blunders that a rookie would make. It's time Dez Bryant caught up with everyone else and learned how to read a defense, make a sight adjustments and run the proper routes, and then... catch the football. It's year three. It's time to start playing up to your talent. And Miles Austin? For huge chunks of the game he's nowhere to be found. Then he hits a couple big plays here and there, and he looks like he's had a productive day. He's looking more and more like #2 WR while Dez Bryant is mentally incapable of being a #1 WR.
The Cowboys have problems on offense. And I think it starts with the Head Coach. Until he figures out what kind of offense he wants to run and can run, I think this team continues to sputter to a mediocre season. And the more bad performances that come out of Dallas, the closer and closer this goes to becoming Rob Ryan's team, which, in my opinion, can't happen fast enough. Maybe Rob will be able to hire his brother as defensive coordinator next year...
The Sorry Ass Lions...
We're back to what we've been accustomed to for over a decade out of Detroit. An undisciplined football team that loses games because their special teams is the worst in football. Offensively? They have nothing but the best offensive weapon in football. That's all they have. They have no running game even though they have, at the very least, attempted to run the ball by calling the same running play on first and second downs. All the pressure is on Matthew Stafford to perform. He's supposed to make Titus Young, Nate Burleson, Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew consistent receiving threats in a pass first offense. Those four guys I just mentioned are not that good.
The talent is not there to be that kind of team. It only even resembled that kind of offense last year because Calvin Johnson was so historically dominant. He hasn't caught the amount of TDs he did to start last season. Teams are making other players beat them. And they can't. The Lions, offensively, aren't that good. They're one dimensional and they can't consistently throw the ball with success since they don't have the skill position players to do it. Their special teams are atrocious. They are the worst I have ever seen. The defense has no one in the secondary outside of Chris Houston, who may be the only player in that secondary that could start for another team, may be even make another team.
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley... Where are we? Suh fell off the map last year from his rookie campaign, which was, by all accounts, an absolutely dominating season by any standard. Since then though? Suh has been an average starting DT in a 43 front. Nothing bad, but not what he was supposed to be. He is facing double teams with regularity, but he needs to make more of an impact when he does get one-on-one matchup's. He should be better than this.
I'm calling it right now. Fairley is going to be a bust. He does nothing on the field. He has no technique at all. He's just a waste of a 1st round draft pick. And I can't even act like this / wasn't easily foreseeable.
The Best of The Best... So Far... (And Kind of Off the Top of My Head)
5. Falcons / Patriots
1. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
2. Eli Manning, Giants
3. Matt Ryan, Falcons
4. Tom Brady, Patriots
5. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
1. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
2. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
3. Arian Foster, Texans
4. Adrian Peterson, Vikings
5. CJ Spiller, Bills
WR / TE
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions
2. Brandon Marshall, Bears
3. A.J. Green, Bengals
4. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
5. Vernon Davis, 49ers
1. JJ Watt, Texans
2. Justin Smith, 49ers
3. Jason Pierre-Paul, Giants
4. Haloti Ngata, Ravens
5. Calais Campbell / Darnell Dockett, Cardinals
1. Clay Matthews, Packers
2. DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys
3. Chad Greenway, Vikings
4. Patrick Willis / NaVorro Bowman, 49ers
5. Lawrence Timmons, Steelers
1. Brandon Browner, Sehawks
2. Dashon Goldson, 49ers
3. Tim Jennings, Bears
4. Patrick Peterson, Cardinals
5. Earl Thomas, Sehawks
Aside from Big Ben above Matt Ryan I don't see too many glaring things here.
great read. this is why i love nfldc.
Your rankings are clearly based off of what players are doing now, and if that is the case you cannot have JPP ranked above Ngata. JPP is still one of the elite talents in the league but he hasn't been better than Ngata this year.
Edit-or Calais Campbell. Sorry Fenikz.
Great thread my man. I have comments on 2 thoughts.
1. Ben Roethlisberger
I'm so glad someone else has brought up how good this guy is. He's often not talked about here because he's overlooked by his defense, and he's not putting up dominant numbers, but just watch him play and you appreciate how good he is. His style is unorthodox, but he makes it work.
2. The 3-4 vs the 4-3. I learned that it doesn't matter. The line between the 2 systems is so blurred now, there really isn't much of a difference. It's all about how you attack gaps. You can attack gaps in a 4-3 in the exact same way as another team's 3-4, and vice versa.
The Seahawks defense is a perfect example. They're a 43 front superficially, but they really use a lot of 34 principles in gap assignments. There really isn't many pure 4-3 and 3-4 defenses anymore. All DCs use a little of everything nowadays.
If anything, the 43 front is coming back in a big way. With the spread getting more popular, teams want 4 men on the LOS rushing the passer. Most 34 fronts have a lot of even formations anyway, and a lot of 43 fronts use odd formations as well.
Basically, it doesn't matter anymore. It's all the same ****. It's up to the individual DC on how he wants to attack gaps. That's the key message here. How a DC attacks gaps is more important than the front itself. The front itself is just used to mask pressures/disguise coverages. How that front is used depends on the DC's preferences.
I understand that, but the sack numbers are kind of expected from him. Ngata has been an absolute force as usual and looks like he might be playing his best football ever. That is why I would put him above JPP in these rankings because they are meant to reflect the first 5 weeks of this season.
Great effort in doing this write up. I wish you had more NFC but you did a great job. However, I think the rankings arent good I wished they were more accurate.
You should do a write up on the Falcons. I think they are at best the 4th overall team in the NFC.
The Bears, 49ers and Giants would all take Atlanta's lunch money in the playoffs.
This article is a glaring example of why I hate the media. It's a complete smear campaign by a butt hurt columnist who is taking shots at these 2 GMs and Parcells because they don't cater to the media.
Look, no one cares about your job and how coaches can sometimes make it difficult. They don't owe you anything. To ***** about Parcells not understanding that the NFL is "an entertainment business" just shows how far up his own ass this writer is.
His job is to win football games. He doesn't give a **** about the entertainment factor. That's your job.
I just hate how arrogant and shallow the media is, and how they think they're so important to this industry. No one gives a ****. No one cares.
And I hate how much influence they have on public perception. They're the biggest hypocrites in the world. They get to judge everyone in the industry with no accountability of their own. And often times, they have no clue what they're talking about.
Not sure about the Bears or Giants. The Bears offense looked great against the Colts and Jaguars but those are two of the worst defenses in the league. They were terrible against the Packers and Rams and didn't play nearly as good as the final score would lead you to believe at Dallas, they only scored 20 points on offense. If the Bears can create turnovers they are great but Matt Ryan hasn't been turning it over this year. I think Atlanta would beat the Bears right now.
Not sold on the Giants yet, either. They needed an all-time great 4th quarter from Eli to beat the Bucs and didn't blow out the Browns like they should have. The combined record of the teams they have beaten is 2-12. They lost to both the .500 or better teams they faced.
I agree that the 49ers look better, though. They had that hiccup against a surprisingly good Vikings team but have completely dominated in their other four games.
Don't tell Pittsburgh fans how good Big Ben is. He's the reason they lose and not the reason they win. It's pathetic. The dude is a top 5 QB and yet people want him gone.
Same with Mendenhall. All last year people were screaming to bench Mendenhall and to start Redman. Well they did. And he sucked a big fat one.
The defense is troubling, but as long as Big Ben is the QB of the Pittsburgh Steelers, you can NEVER count the team out. Same is said about Brady, Colts Peyton, and Aaron Rodgers.
I thought everyone knew how good Roethlisberger was. ? ******** on the Vikings? Haha, I like that team this year. Can't wait to hear your take on the Panthers. Great read but you've disturbingly left Reggie Wayne out of the top receivers, he's probably #1 so far this year.
Why is Pittsburgh your #2 team? They're 2-2 and have wins against the Jets and the Eagles who're not exactly powerhouses.
That's fair. I am not sold on us either. Again, just like I said pre season its going to come down to injuries and DC. And its true I have zero faith in Fewell and our defense. Our offense specifically Eli is our MVP. Even that side of the ball is hurt. This team is a fragile team and I think Osi and Tuck specifically Tuck are on the downside of their careers.
Its a shame that every regular season our defense is always the issue. Stupid side of the ball!
Steelers as a Super Bowl team is a joke.
They're not even one of the top-10 teams in the NFL this year. That defense is going to be average at best the entire year. The team might not even make the playoffs this year, and they surely won't win their division.
I don't care how good your QB is, if you don't have a solid defense in this league, you can't win a Super Bowl, and you probably won't even make it far into the playoffs.
Aaron Rodgers only won a Super Bowl when his teams' defense was ranked #1 or #2 in the league. Ben himself has only ever played in the Super Bowl when his defense was a top-3 unit (2005,2008,2010).
With the exception of Baltimore and Houston, no one in the AFC last year really had a great defense.
And Baltimore really outplayed New England and in the AFCCG last year and probably deserved to play in the Super Bowl. Houston, as we know, lost Matt Schaub so it didn't have a remotely competent offense in the playoffs.
This year, as long as Matt Schaub stays healthy, their defense will be the best in the AFC and I will be *shocked* if anyone but the Texans is playing in the Super Bowl as the AFC representative.
The Texans are just too complete of a team (offense AND defense) for anyone else in the AFC to beat.
Look, the Texans are probably the best team in the NFL so far into the season. However there are about 2 or 3 teams in the AFC who "could" beat them IMO.
Baltimore have the rushing attack and deep passing game to score on Houston. Sure the Texans would score on Baltimore but I wouldn't say the Ravens couldn't beat them.
I don't want to come across as homerish, but if the Pats offense gets rolling they probably aren't going to get beaten in a one off game. They lead the league in total offense, points, points per game, are 3rd in rushing and 6th in passing. Bearing in mind that they had a poor offensive performance against Arizona that is a pretty impressive group of stats.
They also lead the league in turnover differential. The Pats are one of maybe 2 or 3 teams in the league who can score TDs on every possession. Houston aren't one of those teams. Sure the Pats would find it tough against the Houston front, however on any given day I would be ridiculously shocked if the Texans were more than 3 point favourites even at home.
I think Houston certainly has a shot to make it to the Superbowl, but Schaub is going to have to prove he's up to it. Right now I'm still expecting the Pats to come out of the AFC. Brady with a running game, those TEs and Welker is an offense that will put points on the board, even against Houston, and the defense added some quality talent to a unit that were decent enough last year to not prevent them from going to the Superbowl. Still not a great unit, but in a one n done environment they can do enough for Brady to make it work.
I think Baltimore would have trouble scoring more than 17 points against the Texans.
If the Patriots play against the Texans in a playoff game, I think the Texans pass rush will be too much for Brady to handle and the Pats will simply fail t establish any long drives, and then will be forced to go deep to catch up with the Texan's offense, allowing JJ Watt, Broooks Reed, and Connor Barwin to just completely destroy Brady in the pocket.
The Pats are really really good at making bad defenses look absymal. If you can't pressure Brady with only four or less rushers, then he'll simply shred your defense. But if you have the personnel to play man coverage across the board, rush four or less and get pressure, then you can easily stifle the Pats offense and hold them to less than 20 points. Look at all of the games in the past two years in which the Pats were held to 20 points or less:
2011, Week 6 vs. Dallas: Held to 20 points. Dallas played man coverage and allowed DeMarcus Ware and company to pressure Brady in the pocket.
2011, Week 8 vs. Pittsburgh: Held to 17 points. Dick LeBeau played man coverage on every Pats WR and TE, rushed with only 4 on each play, and allowed Lamarr Woodley and company to destroy Brady in the pocket.
2011, Week 9 vs. New York Giants: Held to 20 points. The Giants played man coverage with Antrell Rolle & company on the Pats WRs and TEs, didn't give up any big plays, and rushed their front 4 on each play, allowing Jason Pierre Paul & company to rattle Brady in the pocket.
2011: Super Bowl vs. New York Giants: Held to 17 points. Look at the paragraph above this one: wash,rinse, repeat.
2012: Week 2 vs. Arizona Cardinals: Held to 20 points. The Cardinals played man coverage on the Pats WRs and TEs with their excellent coverage players (Patrick Peterson on WRs and Daryl Washington on TEs), rushed primarily four guys, and allowed beastly linemen Calais Campbell and Darnell Docket to annihilate Brady in the pocket.
If a team has a front seven with several elite pass rushers, and enough man cover guys to cover the Pats WRs and TEs man-to-man, they can almost completely shut down the Pats offense.
The problem is, of course, that few teams have this luxury in the NFL. But there are a few that can do it: the Arizona Cardinals, the New York Giants, the San Francisco 49ers, the Chicago Bears, probably the Seattle Seahawks, and the Houston Texans.
Luckily for the Patriots all of those teams except for one reside in the NFC. However, that last one is the team they will have to go through to reach the Super Bowl again. And they're probably going to have to end up playing the Texans on the road, as well.
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