Six teams are 0-3 as we head to the end of September. That number by itself is not surprising. Last year, only Cleveland and the Sean Payton-less Saints failed to have a win by this point, but that was an unusual year. The surprising thing is the identity of most of the teams. Yes, there is Jacksonville, who are dreadful and are going to be a double digit underdog in almost every game (though they will continue to silence the crowds). Tampa Bay isn’t, I suppose, a huge surprise, as leaks of dysfunction have come out.
After that, though, the remaining four teams feature two of last season’s playoff teams (Minnesota and Washington) and two of the teams held up as bastions of consistency and success in recent years (Pittsburgh and the New York Giants). Mike Shanahan, Mike Tomlin, and Tom Coughlin account for half of the Super Bowl rings among active coaches, yet their three teams look among the most dysfunctional in the early part of the season.
I already examined the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Washington Redskins in the two previous installments. Everything comes in threes, so I suppose it is the New York Giants’ turn. Eventually, yes, we will write the post-mortem on these teams and move on to some good football. (Below is the non-catch by Aldrick Robinson that could have swung the game for Washington).
Last week, I noted that the Giants were bounce back candidates because they were -8 in turnovers, a notoriously fickle category which is descriptive but not particularly predictive. In the games against the Cowboys and Broncos, the Giants were able to move the ball, at least through the air. The running game has been a consistent problem throughout the season. In this one, though, New York managed only 90 total yards. The final tally may show that the Giants had more turnovers. In this one, though, the Giants had the early opportunities after a Panther touched a punt, and a Cam Newton interception. All of the Giants turnovers came in the second half, already down by at least 24 points. The Giants simply could do nothing on offense.
Carolina came into this game with a wounded secondary. How do you protect it? Your defensive line whips its matchups, allowing you to play coverage while still getting early pressure on Eli Manning. This one was all about the Panthers front destroying the Giants offensive line. Nothing fancy here, like last week when the Packers threw a variety of blitzes at Griffin.
Eli Manning has been very good at avoiding sacks in his career. He has never taken more than 30 in one season, and you have to go back to 2009 to find the last time he was sacked five times in a game. The seven he absorbed in this game were one less than the most he has taken twice in his career. If you, then, guess that Manning was under immediate pressure, you would be right. The chart to the right summarizes how much time he had from snap to sack.
That understates it in some cases, because he was often forced to adjust his eyes within 2 seconds. The Lotulelei sack, for example, came after he had to step up because the outside pressure. The Giants tackles, Will Beatty and Justin Pugh, were simply handled over and over again by Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson. Manning was sacked on three consecutive plays from scrimmage in the first quarter, and four of five plays, spanning three different possessions. The only non-sack was one where Manning had to throw it away with immediate pressure.
Here is a lovely sack montage showing how little time Manning had.
After the six sacks in the first half, Eli got rid of the ball as quickly as possible; it wasn’t that the protection got better. The first completed first down pass of the day to Cruz came when the ball was released in 1.1 seconds. The first good protection I saw was in the third quarter, on a pass Eli hit Brandon Myers down the middle. Manning’s interception was a function of trying to get the ball out at two seconds, on a short route to Cruz jumped by the DB. In the end, the Panthers shut down Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks (0 catches for Nicks, 3 for Cruz) with their defensive line consistently winning with four rushers. The Giants suffered their worst defeat in the Tom Coughlin era, and it would probably be more encouraging if they were out-schemed, rather than just bludgeoned up front.
Breaking: Having Good Players on Offense Helps the Quarterback, but Good Defense Can Make Us Forget
Colin Kaepernick has gone 26 for 55 for 277 yards, and 4 interceptions over the last two blowout losses for San Francisco. There was some ridiculousness comparing Kaepernick to Alex Smith (3-0 with Kansas City), but Kaepernick is basically playing with nothing. We knew Michael Crabtree was out. In the first game, the Packers couldn’t cover Anquan Boldin, but that was not an issue for Seattle. Add in the loss of Vernon Davis for this game, and no player other than Boldin had more than two catches.
A bigger concern is the offensive line that was supposed to be a strength. Taking out Kaepernick’s own runs, San Francisco is averaging 3.26 yards a carry this year.
Meanwhile, New England is 3-0. This will no doubt lead people to say that Tom Brady can get it done with anyone, just like in 2006. He can, if New England is top two in points allowed, just like in 2006. That’s where they stand now, allowing only 34 points in three games going against two rookie quarterbacks and Tampa Bay. As a result, Tom Brady averaging 5. 5 yards a pass and completing less than 60% of his passes is a non-story. Gronkowski should be back. Amendola will be back. Things should be better, and they will need to be, because the opponents are more difficult offensively in the coming weeks.
Of the sixty-one teams that have started 3-0 since 2002, only three others have averaged less than 6.0 yards per pass attempt in those three games: Baltimore in 2006 with Steve McNair (5.8 ypa), Jacksonville in 2004 with Byron Leftwich (5.4 yap) and Carolina in 2003 with Rodney Peete and Jake Delhomme (5.1 ypa).
OTHER NFL CONTENT ON THE BIG LEAD
The Ronnie Lott Award Goes to: Rashad Johnson of the Cardinals
Some Touchdown Celebrations are better than others: Joseph Fauria gets points for going with ‘N Sync. Mike Tolbert Got Funky in the End Zone After Scoring a Touchdown. As for Jordan Todman, yeah, not cool, man.
Philip Rivers, not quite the worst day ever: First, Rivers Got an Unsportsmanlike Penalty For Yelling at Officials After a Touchdown Was Nullified. Then, he went with the kick on the game’s final play.