With just two weeks left in the regular season the team sit down for another look back at the week and a look forward at what’s to come.
As well as looking back at the best (and worst) performances of the week our team will look at two teams expected to be in the playoffs, yet still hoping for help, and the reasons for their recent upturn in results. They also question whether the Packers’ shock loss to the Chiefs could actually be a good thing.
To finish off the team look at a side of things often over looked at this time of year, handing out awards to their best offensive and defensive linemen and choosing the player they are most disappointed to see on IR.
1) Best performance of the week?
Neil: When you only rush the passer 17 times you shouldn’t expect to get four sacks and a hit…… unless you’re John Abraham of course; the most productive pass rusher we’ve seen since we began charting games at PFF.
Ben: Just because I think it needs to be mentioned I’m going to flip the script on this question this week and go for my worst performance of the week. The combined efforts of the Detroit & Oakland secondary’s on Sunday are as bad as I think I have ever seen. Calvin Johnson’s heroics stole the show and diverted the attention from some terrible play on the back end from both teams.
Sam: I’m a big fan of single, stand-out plays for this question. My entry didn’t even have a particularly good game, but on one play he was fantastic. Chris Snee got hung out to dry by Kevin Boothe when the Redskins ran a stunt and Boothe ignored it, so Snee decided to just block both guys himself, one on each shoulder. He got away with hooking one of the Redskins with his arm and he went backwards as you might expect, but he bought Eli enough time to get the pass away. Great job.
Khaled: I haven’t really seen how good Drew Brees was in detail, but I got a chance to watch Pat Angerer play extremely well. Here’s a guy who has some great stats but generally underwhelms, but really put in a fine performance against the Titans.
Nathan: There were some great ones, but I’ll go with Aldon Smith’s amazing game rushing on Ben Roethlisberger. Anytime you can bring a quarterback down seven times, you’re doing something right.
2) With the Eagles and Chargers each somehow still alive for division crowns, what’s stood out most as keys in their late-season runs?
Neil: Being the cynic I am I’d probably say a perfect storm of other teams failing to win games they should have. Both the Raiders and Giants (or indeed Cowboys) should have had those divisions wrapped up by now.
Ben: For San Diego I think it’s a combination of two things, everyone getting healthy and the pressure being off of them. As their slide continued they were still getting heat for choking away the division but with Tim Tebow’s emergence the pressure was off and with Floyd, Jackson and Gates all returning to health they got things back together. For the Eagles their late season run is yet to come in my opinion. I won’t count them out yet but in all honesty they’ve had one game against the Jets where everything came together for them, the first time we’ve seen that, and one quarter where they put away the Dolphins. The Eagles have been kept alive by the bumblings of New York and Dallas, so we’ll see if they can mount a run to capitalize over the next two weeks.
Sam: O-line play. Moreso for the Chargers than the Eagles. They went from arguably the worse OT in football to a guy with the talent to be one of the best, and he has yet to allow pressure of any kind in three games and Philip Rivers is suddenly much improved. Coincidence? The Eagles’ line is much improved too, but they’ve also started to come together in different areas also. Still a big ask for them.
Khaled: I’ll be surprised if people don’t mention Jared Gaithers’ introduction coinciding with Philip Rivers return to form. Rivers looks able to beat teams vertically again – I think he missed something like 2 completions when he attempted balls longer than 10 yards as he went at the Ravens secondary.
Nathan: The Chargers have had much better play from Philip Rivers like we are used to seeing from him. For the Eagles, it has been the defense in general putting things together. They are finally playing with a lead, which is what their defense is built to do.
3) You’ll hear that the Packers’ loss may actually be a good thing for their Super Bowl quest, relieving one source of pressure. You buy that? Is the loss a good thing for Green Bay and will it factor into their chase for another title?
Neil: No. It gives teams clues as to how to beat them and proves they are vulnerable. I don’t ever think losing is a good thing unless the performance was great and you simply got beaten by bad luck. That certainly wasn’t the case here.
Ben: I don’t think it affects things for them that greatly because unlike previous squads who have mounted long winning streaks deep into the season they aren’t the top NFL story, in fact they may not even be amongst the top five stories this year, perversely. Tim Tebow is the first, second and third story in every NFL related news program and publication, the pressure never got to the point where the win streak was weighing the Packers down. This loss is a non factor for them, the mounting injury list is what is the big story for them, can they overcome it two years straight?
Sam: I’m not sure it’s actually a good thing but I don’t think it’s a problem either. They lost, it was pretty ugly, but they’re much better than they showed. All that game showed was that they’re human like everybody else too.
Khaled: Losing is never good and the Packers didn’t seem rattled at all by the pressure. Maybe it’s good they can rest players but momentum is a funny thing and right now, the hot team in the NFC may just be the Saints with Drew Brees at the helm.
Nathan: I don’t buy it at all. Prior to this game it looked like the Packers were handling the pressure, and when it comes to playing in the SuperBowl I believe a team has all the pressure in the world to win regardless of a quest for perfection. It could factor into their quest if they continue to lose offensive linemen.
4) If there were Most Valuable O-Lineman / Most Valuable D-Lineman Awards (there should be), who’d get your votes?
Neil: Most Valuable O-Lineman is Jason Peters and D-Lineman is Justin Smith. Unfortunately for Jason the day the Cardinals made the Super Bowl with one of the worst offensive lines ever it showed just how important that position is in comparison to a great QB.
Ben: The Eagles have the best unit in the league but Jason Peters adds such a big extra dimension to what they do on offense that for this season he’d get my vote as the best and most important offensive lineman in the league. On the defensive side I’d be looking at Justin Smith, he’s got talent around him San Francisco but he is what makes that top notch 49er defense work, he demands the offense’s attention in both pass & run game, to both the inside and the outside.
Sam: Well I’ve just made the case for Jared Gaither at left tackle being as important to a team as anybody so let’s stick with him in very limited snaps for most valuable OL. On the D-line I don’t think you can overlook the consistent dominance and importance of Justin Smith to the 49ers.
Khaled: There’s an argument Jared Gaither is giving how big a role he’s played in the Chargers turnaround. That said I’d probably go with Marshal Yanda – I don’t think there’s a better lineman in the NFL right now. On the defensive line I’m going to say Terrell Suggs – the Ravens are pretty much screwed without him.
Nathan: For offensive line, I’ll go with Marshal Yanda of the Ravens because of how good he is at both pass and run blocking. On the defensive line I’ll pick Justin Smith as he’s one of the leaders in getting pressure, as well as stopping the run.
5) This season’s list of players on Injured Reserve includes a ton of big names. Looking back, who are you missing most as we near playoff time?
Neil: It’s Fred Jackson. He was playing better than anyone in the NFL at his position when he was lost and that hurts everyone who loves football.
Ben: He’s only just landed on injured reserve but it’s an easy answer, Peyton Manning. The league has been a poorer place for him not being around running his offense in Indianapolis. An honourable mention would go to Fred Jackson who was on course to an astounding season before injury curtailed it.
Sam: It’s a shame injury robbed us of Kyle Williams this season. Even when he was playing he was hampered badly and we never really got to see the impact of a D-line with him and Dareus on it. It’s also a real shame to see the Colts without Manning (even if the Colts for some reason delayed putting him on I.R. – because they’d be right in the playoff hunt when they could have a shot at bringing him back…?). It’s only a season without him that makes you appreciate just how incredible a player and mind on the field he is.
Khaled: I think I have right of first refusal on Kyle Williams. Horrible that a man I ranked as the third best player in the league last year missed so much of the year.
Nathan: Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs. He was so dominant running the ball last year, and losing him really hurt the Chiefs offense. Not that we can ever know for sure, but the Chiefs could very well be winning the division right now had it not been for the injury. A few others that came to mind were Ovie Mughelli, Kenny Britt and Mario Williams.