Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Wednesday Morning Thoughts: NFL Week Five

Invest In Depth
To sum up the first five weeks of the NFL season: You need depth. 

One can't help but look around the league Sunday and notice the quality of back-ups given a shot due to injury/poor performance. In Atlanta, Devonta Freeman, who was spending time behind Tevin Coleman the first few weeks, got his shot and took full advantage of it. Freeman, thanks to his speed and electric play-making, has emerged as both a threat in the run/passing game and has been fully engraved into Atlanta's offensive attack, and is a large part of why Atlanta remains undefeated. Devonta is the prime example of showing someone who has fully taken advantage of their opportunity, and it looks as if Freeman won't be slowing down anytime soon, even with Tevin Coleman back and healthy.

The Indianapolis Colts have been fortunate enough to see Matt Hasselback step up in the absence of Andrew Luck, leading the Colts to two straight victories while Luck has been nursing a shoulder injury. These past few wins for Indianapolis have kept the Colts from a dismal 1-4 start, and have also kept their playoff hopes afloat by defeating two division rivals (Jacksonville and Houston) to maintain their dominance in the AFC South. Hasselback, while not playing pretty at times, came in and did exactly what his team needed him to do: Hold the fort down until Luck is healthy.

However, not every team can experience the second-string success Indianapolis has had when it comes to quarterback play. Both Dallas and Pittsburgh has seen their QB out for significant time, and the play of Dallas' Brandon Weeden (Who is now benched for Matt Cassel) and Pittsburgh's Michael Vick (We dare not say bench Vick for Landry Jones) has not been up to par. 

It's fun yet irritating to imagine where both of these ball clubs would be at if Romo/Roethlisberger were both healthy, and all signs likely point to a very successful start for both franchises. Yet the game of football is played on a football field, not in imagination land or on paper. Pittsburgh has seen the better side of success, after watching Vick's roller-coaster play salvage two-out-of-three games and lose one close OT contest. Down in "Jerry's World", Romo's absence has been dearly missed, as Cowboy fans have had to endure Brandon Weeden losing three straight games for Big D.

Whether the play has been good, bad or ugly, a clear message has been sent to all 32 teams:

Secondary players can, and sometimes will, win/lose you games. 

The Last Undefeated Team Standing Will Be...
Nobody expected this team to be undefeated through week five, nobody but themselves. After a disappointing season last year, this team has a great chance to be undefeated going into week ten. Obviously, that team is...

The Atlanta Falcons.

Sorry Cincinnati, and the other four teams (New England, Green Bay, Carolina, Denver) but the only bird-gang that hasn't lost a game yet, has a pretty solid shot, considering all circumstances. 

Atlanta, now equipped with a solidified run game, a surprisingly consistent offensive line, and fielding a better defense than last year's team (that's not saying much but improvement is improvement), have all the stars aligned to make a playoff run, something Falcon's fans haven't tasted since 2012.

Now before everybody rips this part of the article into shreds, consider this:

Denver, while fielding likely the NFL's best defense, will be missing Demarcus Ware for a short period of time due to an back injury. Combine an aging Peyton Manning (Whether you want to admit it or not, he doesn't look the same), and a questionable at best run game (ranks 30th out of 32 teams in run offense) leaves one wondering whether or not this defense can truly carry Denver to where they want to be. In addition, Denver, leaving out a 12 point win against a dismal Detroit Lions team, have squeaked by on a 5.5 point average margin of victory. Eventually, lack of production on offense will catch up with Peyton & company. 

Carolina have too many problems and questions surrounding their football team. With Cam Newton having nobody reliable but Greg Olsen to dump the ball off to, and a rushing offense that ranks in the bottom half of the NFL, Carolina indeed does have it's issues. Defensively, the team is on par with expectations and will welcome back Luke Kuechly after a three game absence to due a concussion. Carolina, mirroring Denver, has a stout defense, but how far can they be carried? Carolina has had an absolute cake-walk of a schedule to start their year off, facing off against Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Houston and New Orleans. This Sunday will bode Carolina's first true test of the 2015 season, as the Panthers travel to Seattle to face a pissed off Seahawks team who let a win slip out of their hands the previous week.

This leaves Cincinnati, Green Bay, and New England. For these three teams, there is nothing but great respect thus far for all three, and said teams have a legitimate shot of running the table as they please (Although we're still waiting on Andy Dalton to come down from his super-performances and return to himself). Atlanta simply is my choice due to how the team is playing, and their upcoming schedule (Saints, Titans, Bucs, 49ers) favors Atlanta more than not. 

Who's on the Hot Seat After Week 5? 

Oh joy, it's that time of year again where we get to speculate who will still have their reigns as head coach going into the following season. We've seen the likes of Rex Ryan, John Fox and Marc Trestman land new gigs as of this year, so who will be putting their house up for sale sooner rather than later? 

Jim Caldwell- Detroit Lions
I truly hate to point out the obvious, with Detroit on a 0-5 start. Caldwell is only in his 2nd year at the helm of Detroit, yet rumors are already swirling about Caldwell jumping ship and being fired. The Lions, who haven't seen a playoff victory since the Barry Sanders era back in 1991, are hungry and down right tired of failing to get over the hump year after year. This Detroit team boasts too much talent/potential on it's roster to be playing such a poor product of football, and starting off 0-5 is not a great way to turn the tide. Given it's Caldwell's second year, his seat at this given point in time will remain just warm... For now.

Chuck Pagano- Indianapolis Colts
If anything were to come out of this situation, it would be Pagano leaving the Colts on his own terms. Pagano, since taking over the reigns in 2012, has lead his Colts to a 11-5 record and playoff birth's all three seasons, reaching the AFC Championship game last year. So how could a consistently successful head coach possibly land on this list? All that glitters is not gold, and that is perhaps the perfect analogy for the 2015 Indianapolis Colts. A winning record and getting back a healthy Andrew Luck should assume all signs are pointing up, because after all, everybody and their mother had picked the Colts to find themselves in the Super Bowl at year's end. 

Yet take a deeper dive into the organization, and you see it's nothing like how the picture is painted. Andrew Luck has been playing awful as of late, even when healthy. The defense ranks near the bottom of the standings, giving up nearly 400 yards and 23 points per game. The sole reason Pagano is on this list is due to his relationship with owner Jim Irsay, who for years have batted heads with each other, and clearly do not like each other/see eye-to-eye on almost nothing. It's nearly surprising Pagano is still with the Colts to be honest. With Chuck refusing to give answers on his contract that expires after this season and everything being turned upside down right now in Indy, it's a 50/50 shot Pagano will find himself in a new place in 2016.

Jay Gruden- Washington Redskins
Although only in his second season coaching in Washington, Jay Gruden might as well not even sit in his "hot seat". Simply put, this organization is a mess. Just picture a building with Washington's logo on it, and imagine it burning. Do not let a 2-3 record fool you, things are not on the upswing for this team. Practically everything, from the horrid quarterback situation to the poor coaching decisions, to even owner Dan Snyder making his organization look just silly with his actions and comments regarding the team name, screams "clean house and rebuild!". 

It's evident that Washington will be searching for a new quarterback after 2015 is done and over with. Teams seem to follow a trend that supports new quarterback = new head coach, and my, doesn't Washington like to build a new trend by coveting another Michigan State quarterback in Conner Cook in next year's draft?

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