The Playbook: Previewing Ravens-Texans, Falcons-Dolphins, other Week 3 games
(All stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus unless otherwise indicated.)
• We’ll start with a scary stat from Paul Pabst, producer of the always-excellent Dan Patrick Show:
Chargers have not had a rushing TD since week 5 of 2012. 339 rushing attempts without a TD (longest streak since 1991)—
Paul Pabst (@PaulPabst) September 19, 2013
• It means a lot for Andrew Luck to have a great running back, and this is why the Trent Richardson trade is such a big short-term win for the Colts. Luck was far, far better when running play-action than not in his rookie season. With play-action, he completed 65 passes in 102 attempts (a 63.7 percent completion rate) with 9.23 yards per attempt, six touchdowns and two interceptions.
Without play-action? 274 completions in 525 attempts (a 52.2 percent completion rate), a 6.25 yards-per-attempt average, 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The 11.5 percent increase in completion rate with play-action was by far the largest in the NFL last season — Ben Roethlisberger was second with a 9.5 percent uptick.
• Yes, Robert Griffin III isn’t playing as well as he did last season, but his receivers … c’mon, guys. Throw the dude a lifeline. RGIII has 100 dropbacks through two games, and his targets have dropped 10 of his passes. Receiver Josh Morgan and tight end Fred Davis are the primary culprits with two drops each.
• In a league where you see more three- and four-receiver sets than ever, slot defenders are basically starters. And no slot defender has been more effective than Denver’s Chris Harris. He’s been targeted 14 times from the slot, and he’s picked off two passes to his eight catches allowed. Opposing quarterbacks have a 36.3 rating when they go after Harris in the slot. Harris was also one of the NFL’s best slot defenders in 2012, allowing a 60 passer rating on 51 targets.
• Ndamukong Suh is the king of “almost” this season. He has no quarterback sacks through two games, but he leads all defensive tackles with 12 QB hurries, and only Miami’s Jared Odrick has more quarterbacks hits than Suh’s three. Odrick, by the way, has no sacks either. – DF
• Matchup to Watch: Julian Edelman vs. Darrelle Revis. Edelman has inherited the role of Tom Brady’s go-to guy. That’s a pretty decent indication that Revis will draw the slot receiver as his primary assignment, but Bucs coach Greg Schiano has not been as quick to book guests into Revis Island as Rex Ryan was.
In fact, a report surfaced this week that Revis was unhappy with his role in the defense — one that often asks him to play zone rather than his preferred man-to-man.
If Schiano opts to go with the man-defense route Sunday, Edelman will have a tough time getting open and Brady may be in for a difficult afternoon.
• This week’s sleeper: Joique Bell, Detroit. Though RGIII’s injury has been the main talking point in D.C. so far, Washington’s porous defense has been as much (possibly more) of a problem. That bodes well for the Lions.
It may bode especially well for Bell, who has assumed the No. 2 RB job behind Reggie Bush and stepped into a full-time role with Bush sidelined in the second half against Arizona last week. Bell already has 10 catches for 108 yards this season, on top of 56 yards rushing. Stafford will not hesitate to get him the football in space against a Washington D that has had tackling troubles.
• Pressure’s on …: Eli Manning, Giants. The Giants are in a bit of a danger zone already, after opening with losses to Dallas and Denver. A third straight defeat, against Cam Newton and currently winless Carolina, might be too much for New York to overcome. To stop their skid, the Giants need Manning to be far better than the turnover-prone mess he’s been thus far (his seven INTs lead the league).
• Rookie spotlight: Tavon Austin, St. Louis. The burner from West Virginia continues to get more and more comfortable in this Rams’ attack, and QB Sam Bradford has started looking for him. Case in point: Austin’s two TDs last Sunday in Atlanta.
St. Louis has yet to fully unleash him, though, as Austin’s 7.3 yards-per-catch average tells. Might the Rams give Austin more of a chance to make plays against a rather up-and-down Dallas defense?
• Washington. Though the defending NFC champs scurried back from 3-6 to win 10 games last season, the schedule does not look like it will allow such a turnaround in 2013. So losing to Detroit on Sunday might bury Washington too deep. It definitely would not cease the calls for Kirk Cousins to spell Griffin at QB. – CB
• Minnesota. If the Vikings can’t land in the win column against a Browns team that is clearly playing for 2014, Minnesota GM Rick Spielman might wonder if it’s time for him to put a quarterback at the top of his draft list, as well. Then again, the way Christian Ponder’s been playing, that may already be a done deal. – DF