In a somewhat related matter to clash of the Jims (Harbaugh and Schwartz) or JIMGATE, it was nice to see the 49ers reward my good faith in them in week 6. Another week, another win that defies the norms of winning football in 2011. This week Alex Smith completed just 53.1 percent of his passes, averaged an unbelievably horrific 3.9 YPA, and finished with a 1:1 TD/INT ratio. He was propped up by rushing attack that gained 7 yards a clip and a defense that held the Lions to 2/15 on third down. It’s just remarkable what this team is doing and because they keep repeating it, I feel like it’s sustainable. Well, at least right now, it is. I don’t know what’s going to happen when they make the playoffs, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be there at this stage. BTW, Harbaugh would’ve totally beaten Schwartz’s ass.

Elsewhere in the land of “we don’t have a quarterback” lie the Washington Redskins. For a number of weeks they looked like they were well on their way to becoming one of the year’s surprise teams. They improved their play at the line of scrimmage and their defense has been stifling. But like the 49ers, they have a fatal flaw. They don’t have a quarterback and the Redskins don’t have benefit of playing in a cupcake division (although the NFC East isn’t exactly filled with the elite) or a coach as skillful at hiding the issue. Rex Grossman is well, Rex Grossman. He is what everyone who’s been watching football for more than a couple of seasons knew him to be. He’s an extremely hot and cold turnover machine and now his physical ability has began to diminish. Mainly, it looks like he spent the entire off-season eating powdered donuts. It was only a matter of time before he blew up in his typical fashion and it happened the Sunday before last when he threw 4 interceptions against a struggling Eagles defense. By the end of the game, he was benched and the Redskins moved to John Beck. I can’t honestly state that I had seen a lot of John Beck, but there’s not much to indicate he’s the upgrade this team needs. He had a surprisingly decent game Sunday and if he can keep that up than maybe this is salvageable, but I really doubt that he can. There’s a reason why this guy this couldn’t beat out Rex Grossman and I don’t think it was an incompetent coaching staff. Carolina’s defense has been a sieve (read: bottom 5 in the NFL) allowing a cool 26 points per game and even then the Redskins could only manage 20. True enough, their defense let them down this week, but their offense couldn’t keep pace with the Carolina Newtons anyway. Basically, it’s not even November and it looks like we’re putting another season in the books for the Redskins. 

Back in the land of teams that appear to still be relevant in 2011, Falcons @ Lions and Chargers @ Jets were two of the more intriguing matchups of week 7. That was the case because these were measuring stick games. I have personally been down on the Falcons because I think Matt Ryan is just a middling QB at best and I don’t think the supporting cast is good enough to cover that up. That didn’t matter Sunday. Ryan didn’t have an outstanding game, but his team picked him up and I feel like that’s the formula for the Falcons. Their defense held the Lions to 1/12 on 3rd downs and just 16 points in total. They were also able to salt a lot of the game away with Michael Turner. He didn’t have a good game as you would imagine when you look at the boxscore, but it’s always a good indicator when a team can get their RB 27 carries in a win. It almost looked like the 49ers against the Lions last week. And speaking of the Lions, at what point do you kind of start getting afraid for them? For the second consecutive week, they couldn’t put 20 on the board, Matthew Stafford had a sub 6 YPA, and they were absolutely horrendous on 3rd down. Those are really not promising trends. Luckily for them, the lowly Broncos are next on their slate, but if they struggle there you pretty 

much have to start second guessing how good this Lions team is.

 As far as the Jets/Chargers game went, it was another one of those games that the Jets found away to win. They were losing the entire game, but figured out how to come through in the fourth, where they scored 10 unanswered. It has become par for the course for the Jets to win games like this, so it’s not in the least bit surprising that they did. One of the main issues I took from this is the play of Phillip Rivers this year. Supposedly, Rivers is an upper tier QB and is something of a sacred cow media wise at this point. He’s simply not played up to the lofty standards that his play has set for him in the past and that media perception of him his. Thus far, he has 7.9 YPA, which is far from bad, but it’s not in the elite offensive tier you have come to expect Rivers to reside in. Even more importantly is that he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns. It could be that this is getting lost in the Chargers’ record, which is good, but Rivers and the Chargers have looked lackadaisical and lost to every good team they’ve played. Going through the motions seems to happen to the Chargers far too often, but it’s never really seemed to hit Rivers as well. It’s really hard gauge whether we’re starting to see him slip as a player or if it’s just his effort. I don’t rule out an injury either, but I don’t really see why the Chargers would be running him out there injured at this stage in the season. In total, this game said a lot about where the Jets and Chargers are. The Jets despite some turbulence look like the Jets team we have come to know over the past couple of seasons. The same thing holds true for the Chargers and in the Chargers case, that’s not a good sign. It bodes even worse for them that Phillip Rivers is has not played to his standards. I’d actually be shocked if the Chargers aren’t playing in the postseason, but I ‘m sure my opinion was the same last season, until they didn’t. 

Looking ahead to week 8, there’s a pretty grim slate of games. There’s about a handful that I’m geeked for though. The obvious is Dallas @ Philadelphia, which I feel is a measuring stick game in the NFC East. If Philadelphia
loses this game, their season is hanging by a thread. 2-5 with games @ Dallas, @ NYG, vs NE, and vs CHI left. You have to think it’s as must win for the Eagles as it can get in week 8. If Dallas can win, they deal a possibly fatal blow to the team that went into the season as the favorites. They don’t have a true signature win yet this season, having come up short in week 6 against New England despite a good effort. A win here and you can start dreaming on them making the postseason. A loss and you’re back to questioning if they’re really good or not. So, the implications are pretty big on both sides.

 The other two I’m looking forward to are New England @ Pittsburgh and San Diego @ Kansas City. NE/PIT is another one of those measuring stick games, but more shaded towards Pittsburgh. Both are teams you probably envisioned being in the postseason at the beginning of the year and they both looked poised to make it. Pittsburgh’s road to this point has been rockier though and that’s why this seems like it’s bigger for them. The Patriots have been a bugaboo for the Steelers for a while now and it’d put a stamp on Pittsburgh’s season to this point to win this game. I mean, I would certainly feel a lot more confident in them, if they do. SD/KC is interesting largely for what I saying about the Chargers above. KC has seemingly arisen from the grave over the past weeks, but I just don’t believe they’re a better team than the Chargers. The games aren’t played on paper though and the Chargers have to find it within themselves to do what they should and put this Chiefs team back in their place. If they can’t, it’s just going to be hard to keep dreaming on this Chargers team. With that I’m going to bid you guys adieu. 

Heel Out

-Ryan Johnson


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