In preparation for Wednesday night's Greg Cosell podcast, here are a few AFC notes I made while putting the subjects and questions together for our talk with the best game-tape junkie in the business. These are nowhere near as detailed as Greg's breakdowns on the NFL Films Blog or over at FantasyGuru.com, but they do give an idea of what we've been seeing on our end, and what the topics of conversation will be this week.
Baltimore Ravens — Joe Flacco's inconsistency remains a real problem — he has very limited pocket presence and he still struggles to make consistent completions when he doesn't have a clean pocket. But the real concern for the Ravens against the Chargers had to be the secondary; Baltimore's lack of pass pressure from the front seemed to acknowledge that without modified blitzes to keep intermediate defenders in passing lanes, Philip Rivers was going to take them apart. Which he did.
Cincinnati Bengals — Andy Dalton is a good quarterback, but there should be no question at all — fellow rookie A.J. Green is absolutely the centerpiece of that offense. He's as uncoverable in one-on-one matchups as Calvin Johnson is now, and as Randy Moss was during his 2007-2008 peak. He's just as much the reason that Cincinnati's draft will go down as one of the NFL's best for 2011.
Cleveland Browns — Does the Browns' offense work better with Seneca Wallace? It appears so. We know that Wallace has a better deep arm than Colt McCoy does, and you could see a difference in rushing lanes, as well as the ability of the offense to gain crucial yardage on sideline patterns — McCoy is more of a roll-and-throw passer.
Pittsburgh Steelers — It shouldn't be a surprise that the Steelers were unable to get a lot of traction in the running game against the 49ers — San Francisco's defense is set up to stop that. And Ben Roethlisberger's ankle injury prevented that extra half-yard on his throws that would have facilitated more completions. But one cause for concern is that the 49ers' offensive line usually struggles with blitzes, and they really didn't that much against Dick LeBeau's array of pass rushes.
Buffalo Bills — With running back Fred Jackson out for the season, Bills head coach Chan Gailey seems to have abandoned many of the rushing concepts you'd expect — especially in the red zone. I don't think I've seen an NFL team run this many straight spread formations inside the opposing 10-yard line. And I think that's why C.J. Spiller has finally been able to succeed; with those new ideas, he's more a hybrid thread and less the pure running back people have expected him to be.
Miami Dolphins — Reggie Bush's maturation as a pure running back is a very interesting development for this offense — the Saints always wanted him to make plays inside the guards, and he was better at that at times than people thought, but he really does look like a different type of player in Miami. Question is, as they improve their offense, do they take him back to that slot/motion role that used to drive defenses crazy in New Orleans?
New England Patriots — People talk about the Pats' less than stellar pass defense, but the vulnerabilities Denver brought up in their run fronts will be studied by other teams and used against them in the playoffs. It was especially surprising to see Denver's interior linemen create sealed edges for all of the Broncos' rushers. Teams will now know that you can explode against that defense with motion in the run game … if they didn't already.
New York Jets — The Jets' defense used to be one of the most gap-sound in the NFL, but against the Eagles, they were far too influenced by first motion, first read, and zone slides. Alarming to see a Rex Ryan defense play without gap discipline like this. Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy had them on a string all day. On the good side, Mark Sanchez has shown definite development in the last month — he's less frenetic, he's keeping his eyes downfield more consistently, and he's not abandoning the picture at the first sign of pressure.
Houston Texans — T.J. Yates didn't have a good game against the Carolina Panthers, but there's still a lot to like about the kid — he's got excellent pocket presence, a quick release, and he can move out of short area pressure very well. He just needs to work on seeing the field at the NFL level; he's telegraphing a lot of his throws as many rookies do.
Indianapolis Colts — The whole "Peyton Manning should be the MVP because the Colts are so bad without him" argument ignores how the Colts have atrophied in a personnel sense over the last few years — that's what happens when you fall short on high draft picks. That said, their defense took advantage of a battered Titans offense last Sunday, and their run game showed some improvement against a defense that is all too "regular" too much of the time.
Jacksonville Jaguars — Blaine Gabbert has shown slight improvement in the last couple of weeks, but we're talking about a very low bar here. I have had people tell me whose opinions I respect that Gabbert's mechanics may prevent him from ever becoming a functional NFL quarterback. I'm not ready to take that step in judgment, but there's a lot of work to do there, and he's working in an offense he's never worked in before. Going from spread to power/play action/heavy personnel it a major adjustment.
Tennessee Titans — Future franchise quarterback Jake Locker shows an expanded version of the player he was at Washington — very uncomfortable in the pocket, and amazingly dynamic outside the tackles as a pure passer. I don't know that I've seen a quarterback more different inside and outside the pocket since Vince Young. Damien Williams is a decent intermediate target, but the Titans are still obviously dealing with a few receiver issues. Their defense alternates between complete vanilla and a few interesting looks after the snap, but I think they're going to need to be more multiple to take the next step — they don't have the talent back to front to be an execution defense.
Denver Broncos — I was surprised to see that the Broncos didn't challenge the Patriots with more man coverage last Sunday, especially after the Pats had shown vulnerability to it in the past, and the Broncos did it almost exclusively late in their recent win over the San Diego Chargers. Without that press coverage to disrupt route timing, New England was able to exploit its ultimate advantage … it simply has too many targets for any defense to play straight up. But its lack of a speed-burner predicates success in press coverage.
Kansas City Chiefs — We can talk all day about how the loss of Greg Jennings affected Green Bay's offense in the Packers' first loss of the season (and we will), but let's not ignore the job Kansas City's pass defense did in forcing Aaron Rodgers to read his receivers longer than he wanted to and bail more often than he should have. The perennially underrated cornerback tandem of Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr are locking It down, even without franchise safety Eric Berry on the field.
Oakland Raiders — Oakland's pass defense over the last three weeks has been a very strange amalgam of bad coverage concepts. It seems to be based on linebackers dropping and setting in zones, while safeties who can't cover deep (Tyvon Branch) do, and cornerbacks with the ability to trail in man coverage (Stanford Routt) are being asked to face up against receivers who require help over the top
San Diego Chargers — San Diego's recent success is based on a few things — Ryan Mathews' increased production makes things easier for Philip Rivers, Rivers' mechanics have definitely improved, and Antwan Barnes is playing out of his mind right now. If the defense can keep up the pass pressure and maintain a positive turnover ratio, the Chargers aren't entirely out of the picture.