The Fine Fifteen: Goodbye Colts, Hello Jets, and the Champs Move to the Top
After the Jets’ stunner in Indianapolis on Monday night, it’s officially time to worry about the 0-2 Colts. But the crazy thing is, the gift that is the AFC South may give them the life they’ve tried to snuff out over the last nine days. Next three games: at Tennessee, Jacksonville at home, at Houston.
Indy has a lot in common with the Eagles right now. The offensive line is getting the quarterback abused and ensuring that the running game stays untracked. The worst thing? Andrew Luck is not playing smart, with six turnovers in two games and a habit of forcing plays that the smartest young quarterback in football just shouldn’t exhibit.
Luck and the Colts haven’t scored in the first 40 minutes of either loss so far. The Colts trailed Buffalo 24-0 and the Jets 10-0 into the third quarter, and in the combined 12 full drives in the first 40 minutes of the two games, the Colts turned it over four times and punted six (the other two were Adam Vinatieri missed field goals). Mostly, strong front sevens have ravaged the Indy offensive line. Now the Colts have a short week to prepare for a mystery team in Tennessee. If the AFC South wasn’t so bad, I’d call it a must game for the Colts, but you know and I know a team with a good quarterback in an awful division can recover from an 0-3 start.
The Jets Have Arrived
I remember last year, when then-Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles played four safeties on lots of the defensive snaps, two of them as box linebackers after losing both inside ‘backers in the off-season. Bowles did a tremendous job of mixing and matching Tony Jefferson, Tyrann Mathieu, Deone Bucannon and Rashad Johnson. He told me last year that he learned how to play with what you’ve got from Bill Parcells, one of his mentors in the coaching business. “Bill had an idea from the first guy on the roster to the last guy on the roster about how he would play them if they had to play,” Bowles said. “I learned a great deal from him about using all my pieces.”
That showed Monday night, against Luck. Nine defensive backs contributed. The star of the secondary, Darrelle Revis, came up with an interception and two fumble recoveries, and another free-agent signee, Marcus Gilchrist (from the Chargers) had four tackles and a pick. The front seven helped, with 10 quarterback sacks or hits of Luck. The Jets aren’t going to blow people out—offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s way is not to be big and explosive, but rather to move efficiently and avoid the big turnover—but their defense looks like it will keep them in games enough to make them a playoff contender in what is, after two weeks, a shaky AFC field.
The Monday-nighter shook up Week Two of the Fine Fifteen a bit.
The Fine Fifteen
1. New England (2-0). No team track-meets a Rex Ryan team the way the Patriots did. And New England has 11 sacks after two games. The Patriots have been controlling on both sides of the ball, despite the mirage of 53 points allowed. It doesn’t feel like a generous defense. At all.
2. Green Bay (2-0). If such a historic Super Bowl, Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara in February, features Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, America’s Darlings versus the Evil Empire, well, it might be easier to do the TV rating by how many Americans are not watching than by how many who are.
3. Denver (2-0). Yes, the Broncos won a thriller at Arrowhead by scoring 14 points in the final minutes, a game they had no business winning. And yes, I had them No. 1 last week, and how can a team win a very hard road game and be unbeaten and drop two spots in such a prestigious ranking as this one? Well, it’s early, and I try to not lock myself into a ranking if I think the ability of that team merits a different place in these standings. Frankly, Peyton Manning worries me. But really, we don’t know much after two weeks. Too early.
4. Arizona (2-0). Carson Palmer is 15-2 in his last 17 starts. He should be encased in a lead shield for games and travel to and from the football facility in Tempe in a bulletproof Popemobile.
5. Kansas City (1-1). Get some of those Lester Hayes gloves, Jamaal Charles. The stickum kind.
6. Cincinnati (2-0).
7. Seattle (0-2). Hate to quote myself (then why do it, idiot?), but in my Monday column I gave my reasons why Seattle has a good chance to turn this around, with or without Kam Chancellor. The schedule is the biggest one. Seattle has played, arguably, its two toughest games to start the season—at St. Louis, at Green Bay. Now the Seahawks have home games with 0-2 Chicago and 0-2 Detroit.
• IN DEFENSE OF KAM CHANCELLOR: Seattle’s star safety was sorely missed in the opener as he sat locked in a contract dispute with the defending NFC champs. Robert Klemko on why his holdout deserves more consideration than angry fans are willing to give it.
8. N.Y. Jets (2-0). A ranking I never expected just 10 days ago. But the Jets are legit, as long as the quarterback doesn’t get careless.
9. Atlanta (2-0). Falcons catch a pretty big break in the next two weeks. They go to Dallas Sunday, and face Brendon Weeden instead of Tony Romo. Then they host Houston, and Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer will play quarterback (unless Dan Pastorini makes a comeback). Even Arthur Blank couldn’t have dreamed of sweeping the first quarter of the season, but it’s possible now.
10. Carolina (2-0). The first two foes, Jacksonville and Houston, have helped, but the fact is Carolina’s defense is stingy, and any team that allows three touchdowns in two games is doing a lot right.
11. Dallas (2-0). No clue where to put them. Just a hard thing to rank a team without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant for the next two months, and without the leading rusher in the NFL last year forever. I’d probably have the Cowboys lower if I didn’t trust Rod Marinelli to coax a couple of winning performances out of a young defense.
• FILM ROOM WITH JASON WITTEN: Andy Benoit kicks off his film-study series with the Jason Witten. As the Cowboys prepare for the Eagles on Sunday, Witten breaks down film for us as we take a look at their Week 15 matchup from last season.
12. Washington (1-1). I buy the Jay Gruden Way right now: run great, don’t ask your quarterback to do too much, and try to hit the opposing quarterback a lot. Washington is averaging 171.5 rush yards per game, and Kirk Cousins is completing 76% of his passes, and the rest of the division is crumbling, and all of a sudden, this team has a chance to be playing meaningful football late in the season with Robert Griffin III inactive. Football’s a funny game.
13. San Diego (1-1). Not going to kill the Chargers for a road loss to a good team in Cincinnati.
14. Pittsburgh (1-1). I’m all for blowing the horn for the new guys, Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree and (new/old) DeAngelo Williams. But Ben Roethlisberger is such an ideal triggerman and distributor for this explosive (32.0 points, 458.5 yards per game) offense.
15. Minnesota (1-1). Throwing darts here. Not sure if Vikes are worthy. But at least they handed the ball to the right guy Sunday instead of keeping it away from Adrian Peterson, as they did in Week 1.
Also Receiving Votes (not really, there is only one voter)
16. Baltimore (0-2). Fifty-six points allowed. Unexpected, to say the least.
17. Buffalo (1-1). Enough with the dumb penalties. Please.
18. St. Louis (1-1). I’ll be very interested to see Aaron Donald chasing Ben Roethlisberger Sunday.
19. Miami (1-1). Dolphins 37, Foes 33. It’s that close, and that unexciting.
20. Detroit (0-2). Matthew Stafford’s probably too beat up to make this a playoff season.