I’ll start off by saying I’ve intended to do this weekly as an ongoing log of my thoughts, but as of late I’ve run into busy patches. As a result, this has basically turned into a biweekly thing. It’s not by design, that’s just how it’s been happening. Hopefully, I can get back with you good people next week. Anyway, I’m back with a few observations from the last week or so of football.
I noted this in an earlier entry, but Cam Newton is simply one of the most impressive rookie QBs I’ve ever seen. We’re in the fifth week of his career, and I now feel pretty comfortable in thinking he’s going to be a star in the NFL. We knew from the start that he had all of the tools to be successful in the NFL, but he’s applying them in games already. He has the arm, the athleticism and the ability to beat you with both of them. It just seems all too easy for him. The man is single-handedly taking a team that was seemingly historic in its badness offensively, making them entertaining and on some level threatening. This week, he was able to lead the Panthers to a near victory against the Saints. In fact, the Panthers had a four-point lead in the fourth quarter. In total, the Panthers scored 27 points. The Saints are not a particularly good defensive team, but with largely the same personnel sans Newton, the Panthers averaged a league worst 12.3 points per game in 2010. For the 2011 season, Carolina is averaging 23.2 points per game. They’re obviously not the best offense in the league or anything, they’re middling actually, but that’s a huge improvement. Now it might not be unwise to attribute it completely to Newton, but he’s definitely the biggest difference between the seasons. If you wanted to argue that it’s pretty much all Newton, go ahead. Newton has accounted for 5 of their 6 rushing touchdowns, all of their passing TDs and 12 of their total of 13. It goes without saying that’s a pretty high ratio of TDs scored for a team by one player. When it’s all said and done, Carolina fans may be glad Andrew Luck spurned their advances for another year of coeds and continued education. A quarterback who is showing week by week that he’s on track to be one of the most dominant individual players in football fell right into their laps.
A recurring theme of my write-ups has been the awful level of competition in the NFC West. That might not be completely true anymore. The Rams had a bye this week, but they are still winless and look to remain that way for a while longer. They’re somewhat a victim of schedule seemingly tailor made to screw them over, but nobody can really say they haven’t looked like an awful team this year. The Seahawks are something of an enigma (I would like to see where this Charlie Whitehurst thing goes mainly), but definitely not a good team The Cardinals suck basically. This whole Kevin Kolb thing is not really working out and that’s what could’ve separated them from the rest of the division. Without any heavy analysis of him, he only has a 77.2 quarterback rating with Larry Fitzgerald to chuck the ball to. So that leaves three teams that are little more than doormats right now and you’re probably saying how has the division changed, but there’s a big elephant in the room.
The San Francisco 49ers look like a legitimately good team. Five weeks in and I can only really point to one game they probably shouldn’t have walked out victorious in (vs Philadelphia) and they won it anyway. Many have picked the 49ers to take control of this mess over the last couple of years and this seems to be the year they’ll finally do it. They are fatally flawed in having Alex Smith quarterback the team in an era that is driven by who is behind center for you, but thus far they’ve been able to hide him with defense and rushing. To illustrate just how well they’ve been able to hide him. Smith is averaging less than 200 yards per game and they are still winning. This is the year 2011 when at least a couple of 400 yard games from quarterbacks per week has been come the norm, but somehow the 49ers are winning with a guy who isn’t cracking 200 a game. It’s a testament to the coaching staff in San Francisco. It’s long been suspected that all the team needed was a quarterback, but maybe all they needed was the right coach. A quarterback would surely help their cause, but the fact that they’re getting it done without one is really scary and they’re past the point with Smith that should be married to him. That means you can realistically expect the 49ers to move to get better at that spot in the near future. Right now, if I’m a rival NFC West fan, I’d really be wary of what’s happening in San Francisco. Hell, as a Dallas fan, who cut his football teeth hating the 49ers and still just a bit bitter towards them, it’s concerning.
On the opposite side looking to be on their way up are the Atlanta Falcons. If not for the Eagles, they might’ve been the offseason’s most ballyhooed team and right now they’re 2-3 coming off a bad loss to the Packers team they “loaded up” for. They clearly thought they were only a player or so away last season, but right now that assessment looks pretty wrong headed. They mainly thought the addition of Julio Jones would take their offense to the next level.
That was a lot of weight to put on a rookie WR, but Jones hasn’t embarrassed himself. He’s injured now, but pre-injury he was outperforming Roddy White. The problems with the Falcons offense appear to run deeper than just a WR to complement White. Their offensive line has not played well and most importantly; Matt Ryan has not played well. Ryan isn’t an Alex Smith, but he’s not exactly a plus quarterback. The biggest problem I can identify is that he just doesn’t throw the ball downfield. He has a YPA of 6.6. That puts him in the company of the likes of Tarvaris Jackson, 2011’s ghost of Donovan McNabb, Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez and Matt Cassel. In the cases of quarterbacks like Jackson, McNabb, Sanchez and Cassel, we are pretty sure they’re mediocre to bad players at this point. McCoy and Bradford are just second year players with limited to no weapons around them, so I’m not as quick to criticize them. Ryan would almost have to be in the first group. He’s been in the league since 2008 now and the Falcons have done all they could to provide him with targets. For all of their efforts, he’s still not producing at a level they need him to. I would go as far as to say, they will be a bridesmaid at best as long as he’s playing like this. Their best-case scenario is probably being the NFC’s version of the Jets. Except the Falcons don’t have nearly that quality of defense or that level of offensive line play (although the Jets’ OL play has dropped off this year), so they wouldn’t make it that far.
That about wraps this up for the week. Aside from the Cowboys/Patriots game, I’m looking forward to San Francisco/Detroit (Maybe a playoff preview?), Philadelphia/Washington (Philly can’t really start 1-5?), and Indianapolis/Cincinnati (if the Colts can’t win here, when do they? I guess there’s always Jacksonville, but this is getting bad).