Second Read: A look back at Week 3
“Second Read” rewinds the tape after each NFL weekend to determine why the games played out the way that they did … and what it all may mean for the rest of the season.
The Houston Texans may be the most balanced team in the NFL, and you can apply that statement to just about any aspect of their game — including their passing attack, which saw eight different players haul in passes against Denver on Sunday. We know Andre Johnson, Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels are capable of being targets for Matt Schaub, but the complementary pieces stepped up in Week 3.
Among that group was tight end Garrett Graham, who made two catches for 39 yards Sunday. No one’s going to confuse Daniels and Graham for Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Still, the more weapons that Schaub has to throw to down the seams, the more defenses have to cheat away from guys like Johnson, Lester Jean and Keshawn Martin.
Sunday might be just the start of what’s to come for Houston’s offense.
Some more observations from Week 3:
1. The Giants’ O-line might be better without David Diehl: Maybe the Panthers’ defense is substantially worse than Dallas’ or Tampa Bay’s, the Giants’ first two opponents. But there’s no denying that the New York offensive line looked much more cohesive with Sean Locklear at RT and Will Beatty at LT. Diehl allowed 13 sacks and 61 (!) hurries last season while playing left tackle, according to Pro Football Focus. If Beatty can stay healthy, Diehl might not have a starting spot waiting or him when he gets back.
2. Brandon Weeden is struggling with his secondary reads: The Browns’ rookie QB threw 16 incompletions against Buffalo and, by my count, at least eight of those plus one of his two interceptions came when he had to come off his primary target. Not all of those were his fault — the Browns had two or three awful drops — but Weeden struggled to make plays when his No. 1 option fell through.
3. Justin Houston abused Zach Strief: Strief, the Saints’ right tackle, has developed into one of his team’s more reliable linemen. But he was no match for the speed Kansas City brought off the edges of its 3-4 look, especially from Justin Houston. Houston had three sacks Sunday, including one for a critical safety in which he just blew past a hesitant Strief to take down Drew Brees.
4. Indianapolis (still) has major issues at RB: Donald Brown had about the most underwhelming 62-yard rushing day ever on Sunday, averaging 3.4 yards and never taking a carry longer than nine yards. The offensive line hasn’t opened up many holes, but neither Brown nor Vick Ballard have been able to take advantage when they are there.
5. What happened to Detroit’s D-line?: Jake Locker is a mobile quarterback, so he naturally creates some issues for opposing defense. But the Lions’ front four was virtually non-existent against the pass Sunday, especially off the edge with Cliff Avril, Kyle Vanden Bosch and, to a lesser extent, Willie Young. Given Detroit’s issues in the secondary, this team does not have a prayer without a more consistent push from the defensive line.
6. Jets’ struggles aren’t all on the offensive line: Mark Sanchez detractors will not be surprised by that statement. The Jets’ O-line is far from a dominant unit, but part of New York’s problems Sunday came from Sanchez being indecisive in the pocket. And he was so, most of the time, because none of his receivers could get open. The Jets managed to get a win anyway, but this offense is going to have to fight for any big plays in 2012.
7. Miami’s defensive strategy was sound: More on Sanchez’s struggles. The Dolphins limited him for at least the first three quarters by using a variety of looks on defense. The most effective: On numerous occasions, Miami lined up six or seven guys along the line, then dropped out into a zone blitz. Atlanta used a similar tactic during Peyton Manning’s nightmarish first half in Week 2. When the Dolphins went with that strategy, Sanchez often looked confused and rushed.
8. Dallas’ communication issues are officially a problem: The Cowboys were flagged for six false starts on Sunday … at home. Blame it on new center Ryan Cook if you want, but that doesn’t explain how QB Tony Romo had multiple misfires with his receivers — Kevin Ogletree cut a route short on one incompletion, then Miles Austin did the same near the end zone.
9. Atlanta’s pass rush is legit: Philip Rivers has made a career out of awkward throws, but even he could not get settled in Sunday. Why? Credit Atlanta’s defense for constantly collapsing the pocket, forcing Rivers to throw off his back foot.
10. Stephen Paea deserves a game ball: Speaking of defensive lines … The Bears took it to St. Louis on Sunday, starting from the inside-out, thanks to DT Stephen Paea. He had four hurries and a sack and dominated the Rams’ interior blockers, including veteran Harvey Dahl, who just looked overwhelmed against the Bears’ pressure.
11. Brandon Gibson has to be better for the Rams: If Sam Bradford is going to continue to look for Gibson in key spots, then Gibson has to start making it worth his while. He could not hold on to a key 4th-and-1 and missed a big-gainer earlier in the game too. Gibson has the ability to get open, but unless he starts finishing more plays, that’s only worth so much.
12. Cincinnati did well to speed up RGIII … and the Redskins responded: Washington managed just 10 points in the first half Sunday, mainly because Cincinnati was able to both keep Robert Griffin III in the pocket and prevent him from having too much time there. Washington countered by going to more designed runs — using a triple-option out of the pistol and the shotgun zone-read — which helped to free Griffin up to do his thing.
13. Ryan Mathews, Ryan Williams appear good to go: Williams’ day, an Arizona win over Philadelphia, turned out infinitely better than Mathews’ — the Chargers were pasted by Atlanta. Williams has three games under his belt now, but Sunday was the first that he really carried the load. And he looked great doing it, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. Mathews, meanwhile, showed no ill effects from his collarbone injury, lowering his shoulder and taking on tackles multiple times. His lone hiccup: A fumble deep in Atlanta territory.
14. It’s time to worry about Pittsburgh’s D: Getting Troy Polamalu (and eventually James Harrison) back will help, of course, but the Steelers did nothing to disrupt Carson Palmer on Sunday. The Raiders had ample time on just about every passing attempt, so unless Pittsburgh can start creating more havoc along the line, it may not matter who’s in the secondary.
15. Randall Cobb needs more touches: Lost in all the Packers-Seahawks Hail Mary hullabaloo was the fact that Seattle turned in one of the more dominant single-half defensive performances in recent memory, sacking Aaron Rodgers eight times in the first two quarters. The Packers countered in the second half by running Cedric Benson and turning to a quick-hit passing attack. Cobb, though, finished with just two touches — one being a 20-yard run around the left edge. The Packers have a boatload of weapons, but Cobb is a definite game-breaker and someone who can trip defensive sets with his versatility. He might be the key to unlocking Green Bay’s still-missing offensive potential.