First Down/Fourth Down: Chip Kelly looking for answers at QB, more from Week 8
Chip Kelly has maintained all along that he could tweak his offense to any style of quarterback. He did not specifically need, he argued, a "running" quarterback or a "passing" quarterback to be successful.
What he does require, however, is a healthy quarterback, and his Eagles roster is rather bereft of that feature at the moment.
Sunday, Kelly turned things back over to a less-than-100-percent Michael Vick, with a concussed Nick Foles unavailable after suffering an injury during a miserable Week 7 showing. Vick was out of sorts from the onset, throwing a pick on Philadelphia's first possession and compiling just 31 yards of offense before leaving the game just prior to halftime.
Barkley, thrown into the ring as an injury replacement for the second straight week, turned the ball over twice and failed to generate any points. Over the past two weeks, Philadelphia's offense has managed all of one field goal -- the TD the Eagles scored in Sunday's 15-7 loss to the Giants came off a New York special teams miscue.
"I think we've had some instability at the quarterback position," Kelly said afterward. "I think we've also got to step up. And it starts with me. I'm the play caller. I'm the guy calling plays. In the last two weeks I haven't done a very good job of it. ... Offensively, we haven't done what we need to do to win two football games and we need to get that fixed."
The middling NFC East (more on that in a bit) has provided an opportunity for the Eagles to leave their troubles behind. At 3-5 (and 0-4 at home), the Eagles are down but far from out -- they currently sit just a game back of the Cowboys in the division race.
The schedule does not ease at all, though, in the coming weeks. Philadelphia travels next week to take on an Oakland team that's better than expected, before heading to Green Bay. If Kelly cannot come up with some answers, at QB and on offense in general, the season could be all but lost by the time he again tries for home win No. 1 in Week 11.
More of the best and worst from Week 8:
First Down: Marvin Jones.
The Cincinnati Bengals' search for a No. 2 receiver to pair with A.J. Green might have ended on Sunday. Jones should have that role locked down for at least the immediate future after a sensational four-touchdown showing in the Bengals' 49-9 demolition of the Jets.
Jones entered the week with four career NFL touchdown receptions, spread over 17 games. He proved a complete menace for the Jets, with rookie Dee Milliner struggling so bad against him that Rex Ryan benched the No. 9 overall pick. Even dating to his college days at Cal, Jones had never had a day even close to this one -- he scored six, four and three TDs over his final three seasons with the Bears, respectively.
His emergence Sunday was just the latest step forward for a Cincinnati team that looks ready to challenge for an AFC crown.
Fourth Down: Pittsburgh's defense of the read-option.
Back at the NFL owners meetings in March, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin sounded rather unimpressed with the emerging read-option attacks seen across the league. "I think it's the flavor of the day," Tomlin said, according to ESPN's Dan Graziano. "We will see if it's the flavor of the year. We'll see if guys are committed to getting their guys hit."
Maybe it makes things easier when no one touches the quarterback. Tomlin's defense was burned Sunday on the first play from scrimmage by Oakland QB Terrelle Pryor, who pulled the ball on a read-option and scampered 93 yards untouched to the end zone. The Steelers never really recovered from that jolt, later falling behind by 18 en route to a 21-18 setback
First Down: Andre Ellington.
Perhaps there is some truth to the declaration by Arizona head coach Bruce Arians that Andre Ellington can handle only 30-32 snaps per game -- Ellington was shaken up on at least one occasion Sunday. But what appears to be absolute fact is that Ellington is the Cardinals' best weapon out of the backfield.
The rookie proved as much against the Falcons, breaking from a pack at the line of scrimmage to house an 80-yard run, as part of a 154-yard rushing day in his team's 27-13 win. With an injured Rashard Mendenhall out of the lineup, Ellington stepped in with the first team. He should stay there for a bit, too, whether or not Mendenhall is able to rejoin his mates in the near future.
Fourth Down: The NFC East.
See above on the Philadelphia Eagles, but they're hardly the only squad scuffling here. In fact, the once 0-6 New York Giants began talking playoffs Sunday following their second straight win -- and they might have a point, given that they're now just two games back of the first-place Cowboys.
Dallas dropped to 4-4 with an epic collapse late in Detroit, while the Eagles and Redskins each dropped their fifth games of the season. (Washington also had to hold its breath as Robert Griffin III limped off the field after grabbing for his left knee in the fourth quarter.)
The Cowboys loss left the NFC East as the lone division in football without a team above .500. In fact, no other first-place team has suffered more than two setbacks so far.
Sunday's early slate was highlighted by Matthew Stafford's and Calvin Johnson's heroics against the Cowboys. The day then ended with Aaron Rodgers turning in an absolute gem on Sunday night. There are plenty of games to be played between now and Green Bay's upcoming trip to Detroit, but it's hard not to look ahead a bit.
The Packers currently sit atop the NFC North at 5-2, with four very manageable games between them and the Thanksgiving showdown (Chicago, sans Jay Cutler, Philadelphia, at the Giants, Minnesota). The Lions, 5-3 and on a Week 9 bye, likewise could be on the verge of a win streak (at Chicago, likely still Cutler-less, at Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay). If both teams can hold serve, the Lions' annual holiday contest could be a colossal moment in the division race.
Fourth Down: Miami's season.
Since losing their first game of the season in Week 4 at New Orleans, the Dolphins have unraveled -- slowly and painfully. Sunday's loss at New England, in a game Miami led 17-3, was the team's fourth straight defeat. The last three have come by a total of 15 points, to Baltimore, Buffalo and now the Patriots.
Miami now faces a quick turnaround before a Halloween night matchup with surging Cincinnati. Another loss there would leave the Dolphins 3-5 ... and contemplating how to further their rebuild in 2014.
First Down: Derrick Johnson.
Each week, there's a different defensive hero for the still-undefeated Chiefs. Sunday, it was linebacker Derrick Johnson, who registered 12 tackles and a pass break-up as his team held on for a 23-17 win over Cleveland. Kansas City may not have the prettiest 8-0 mark in league history, but its formula has been plenty consistent: a little bit of offense mixed with a ton of ferocious defense.
Fourth Down: London.
The MMQB's Peter King reported Sunday night that the NFL "is considering many London options," including one that would send eight games (and a regular rotation of teams) to Wembley Stadium each season.
Maybe then the British NFL fans would get to see some decent games more often. Sunday's trip overseas by San Francisco and Jacksonville was a predictable dud, with the 49ers waxing the winless Jags by 32. Currently, the Jaguars are slated to take one home game per year to London for the next three seasons. Hopefully, they can be a little more competitive in the future.
First Down: Sean Payton in New Orleans.
Granted, the Saints lost their first two home games of 2012, with Payton off the sideline due to suspension. But with Payton calling the shots, New Orleans has been unbeatable recently in front of its fans -- a critical note given that the Saints currently sit atop the entire NFC at 6-1.
Fourth Down: Steven Jackson.
"There weren’t a whole lot of opportunities," Falcons coach Mike Smith said after his team's loss Sunday, pinning the blame for a faltering run game on the line. "Obviously, the statistics will back that at this point in time. ... Today, we did not play the type of football that we need to play to be successful."
Perhaps it's not Steven Jackson's fault that he rushed for just six yards on 11 carries in Week 8. But Jackson's disastrous start to 2013 (25 carries, 83 yards and several games missed to injury) has been part and parcel of the Falcons' 2-5 record. Jackson has not finished below 1,000 yards rushing since his rookie season of 2004. To reach that mark again, he'll need to average 101.9 yards per game over the remainder of the regular season.