Vegas Wiseguy Report: NFC Disappointments

Teddy Covers | Sep 23, 2013 | ARCHIVE

Welcome to Teddy’s unique look at the NFL.  Teddy watches games all day on Sunday, typing furiously on his laptop while giving you the key info that the box scores and game recaps don’t necessarily have.  This week, Teddy took a long, hard look at five NFC teams that have been major disappointments to start the year.

Bucs:

Doug Martin had 144 yards on the ground last week and the Bucs still only scored a single offensive touchdown and lost the game.  Today, with Martin largely contained (longest carry 11 yards), the offense only managed a single field goal and lost the game.  After leading the league in penalties through the first two games, the Bucs were only flagged four times here, but that’s about the only bright spot from this performance.

Injuries are becoming a huge story with this team. They came into this game missing three starters from opening day in their secondary, forced to start a safety who was on their practice squad last week.  Their lone playmaker, WR Vincent Jackson left the game with bruised ribs. His counterpart on the other side, Mike Williams had a clear limp all afternoon. Pro bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy limped off the field too.

The final score shows a blowout, but the game itself hinged on four plays – the Bucs fourth down conversion tries.  Tampa’s offensive line looked solid with a healthy Carl Nicks, but on those fourth down plays, they got beat every time, and went 0-4 on those conversions.  With Rian Lindell missing field goals for the second straight week, I thought coach Schiano made the right decision to go for it on all four occasions.  But their execution was miserable.

Josh Freeman is very comfortable throwing the ball into traffic, letting his receivers make plays on the ball.  But there’s lots of miscommunications between Freeman and his WR's, lots of wrong routes, passes off fingertips, etc.  A ‘chuck it up there’ QB combined with a receiving corps that isn’t making plays on the football leads to the lowest completion percentage for any QB in the NFL through the first three weeks of the season.

 

Falcons:

The scary thing about this loss for the Falcons was that they basically did everything they were trying to do.  They scored on each of their first three series, at one point enjoying a 127-3 total yardage advantage.  Atlanta’s pass rush had been problematic in their first two games, but not today.  Osi Umenyiora was in the backfield repeatedly, notching two of the Falcons five sacks.

The other biggest weakness for Atlanta in their first two games – an inability to run the football – was also solved this week, with Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers combining for 139 yards at just shy of five yards per carry; filling in capably for the injured Stephen Jackson.  That was more than twice as many rushing yards as they had in the first two games combined, and the first time all year that offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter showed a legitimate commitment to the running game.

So how did they lose?  The Falcons dominated the time of possession, won the yardage battle, ran the ball and got pressure on the opposing QB.  But they didn’t finish, and they settled for field goals.  In fact, the Falcons have now outscored their opponents 51-0 in the first quarter of their last five games (including playoffs); but they’ve been outscored 52-17 in the fourth quarter of those same five games. This defense simply hasn’t been able to get the key stop during crunch time when it matters most; unable to get off the field on third down.  And the offense is settling for field goals in the red zone.  Put those two factors together and you’ll get losses like this one.

 

Giants:

This game turned on two plays – a Giants touchdown following a Cam Newton interception that was wiped out on a holding penalty, turning a 10-7 game back to a 10-0 game, and then the subsequent missed 38 yard field goal at the close of that drive.  To say that this team quit following that modest level of adversity is something of an understatement.  It reminded me a lot of their 34-0 loss in Atlanta last December; a loss that eventually was the difference between an NFC East title and missing the playoffs.  This team has not responded well to adversity, and clearly lacks leadership.

It’s hard to find positives from this performance, especially on the heels of their mistake-filled blowout loss at home last week.  Why all the turnovers (an NFL worst 13 giveaways through the first three weeks)?  Simple -- lots of bad down and distance situations because their running game is non-existent.  Lots of Manning throws under pressure because he's not getting enough time to throw.  Their average third down distance on their first six conversion tries was 3rd and 22!  Manning was sacked six times in the first 20 minutes of the game.

This offensive line got absolutely destroyed in every way an OL can be destroyed, a clear unit of weakness right now.  When 15 of your 24 first half plays finish with either zero or negative yardage and you’ve got a two time Super Bowl winner at QB, the OL is the clear culprit.

But the Giants defense isn’t doing their offense any favors.  For the second straight week, this defense allowed touchdowns – not field goals, but touchdowns – on four consecutive drives.  When things start to go south, the defense is hanging their heads and failing to show leadership every bit as much as the offense.  It's time to call the Giants what they are: a winless football team with some major fundamental flaws.

 

Rams:

The Rams went 11-3 ATS as an underdog under Steve Fisher last year, pulling seven outright upsets in that role.  But in 2013, this team has looked completely outclassed on both sides of the football in every game they’ve played.  After not getting sacked in his first two games (and still struggling, looking jumpy and skittish in the pocket), Sam Bradford was under constant pressure here, a woeful performance from this rebuilt offensive line.

There was no running game to speak of, once again – for the third straight week, this team trailed by double digits early.  That helps to explain the 55-12 pass-to-run ratio – that, and the fact that St Louis doesn’t have an NFL caliber starting running back on the roster and their offensive line can’t run block.

The Rams had the most penalties in the NFL last year, and while they only committed five in this game, those penalties seemed to come at the most inopportune times. Tavon Austin’s 84 yard punt return TD – the only positive momentum St Louis had all day – got wiped out on a penalty; one of several on special teams that killed their field position.

I don’t usually use any post-game quotes in these team notes, but I thought these two quotes were worthy of inclusion.  Jeff Fisher: “We didn't run it, we didn't stop the run, we didn't throw it, we didn't stop their passing game. I did not see this coming.”  Sam Bradford: “You like to think that this shouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t happen. You know, maybe this is a good reality check for us.” 

 

49ers:

San Francisco is developing a reputation as a 'dirty' team and the refs are noticing.  Five of their six penalties here resulted in first downs for the Colts.  This was not an elite defense down the stretch last year, even though their full season numbers were excellent.  And they haven't been an elite defense at any point this season, torched in each of their first three games.  Make no mistake about it – this D got absolutely gashed here.  

Indy had 100 rushing yards by their first drive of the 3rd quarter.  The pass rush got to Andrew Luck only once, and Luck had open receivers downfield to throw to all afternoon long.  Alden Smith was clearly distracted following his Friday morning DUI; a complete non-factor here.  Patrick Willis limped off the field and did not return, a potential impact injury.  San Fran had numerous big 'de-cleater' type hits from the stop unit, but just as many fundamental mistakes to go with it.

Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick is clearly going through a sophomore slump, but it’s not all his fault.  Without a healthy Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin was the only receiver getting open downfield.  The rest of the wide receivers on the roster combined to catch a grand total of three passes for 16 yards; a major concern for offensive coordinator Greg Roman moving forward.