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NFL Week 2: Defense Rules

   by Al McMordie - 09/20/2005

The first full week of the NFL season saw 10 games “underâ€쳌 the total and 5 “over.â€쳌 This Sunday, what did we see? The “undersâ€쳌 ruled again by a 9-3-1 count, including my NFL Total of the Month on Buffalo/Tampa Bay "under". That makes the unders 19-8-1 starting the season. Defense has certainly been a major story thus far in the NFL season. The Colts and Rams have improved, at least as far as points allowed, and the Steelers, Patriots, Bears, Bucs, Bills, Falcons and Eagles appear just as strong defensively as a season ago. Here are some notes about the first two weeks of the NFL campaign.

A big surprise has been the Tampa Bay running game. This was a team that hasn’t been successful at running the football for a long time. Even when they won the Super Bowl three years ago, the one weakness was that it was all QB Brad Johnson, with no help from the ground attack. With a weak offensive line, the Bucs weren’t expected to be much improved this season, especially after having so much shuffling going on with the offensive line in preseason. However, rookie Cadillac Williams has shown to be a valuable weapon. The Bucs are 2-0 SU/ATS and Williams has rushed for over 100 yards in each of those games. Most impressive was Sunday, as he had 128 yards against a terrific Buffalo defense. Having a ground game takes the pressure off QB Brian Griese, a guy who hasn’t always handled pressure well in the past, so the emergence of RB Williams is paying many dividends.

And speaking of running games supporting the offense, the Bears surprised Sunday by dominating the Lions, 38-6. Thomas Jones had 139 yards, a whopping 7 yards per carry! Like Tampa Bay, having a good ground attack takes the pressure off Chicago rookie QB Kyle Orton. In addition, don’t forget the Bears have a new offensive coordinator in Ron Turner. He has promised an aggressive attack throwing the ball down the field more. They only had 149 passing yards Sunday and didn’t move the ball at all in the opener against the Redskins, but sometimes teams need time to get going when a new offensive coordinator takes over. Watch the Bears offense carefully over the next month. Is this a balanced attack that is going to get better? Or was Sunday’s blowout of Detroit an aberration?

In the category of “Why Me?â€쳌 there is San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer. Going back to the final game of last season, has a coach ever suffered through three more consecutive frustrating games? Schottenheimer did a terrible job of play calling in the Chargers stunning playoff loss at home to the Jets, moving the ball easily down the field in overtime, mixing it up, then inexplicably running the ball into the line to settle for a long field goal attempt (with a rookie kicker in miserable weather conditions). The kick missed and the Jets later won the game. Then in the opener last week, San Diego lost at home blowing a fourth quarter lead to the Cowboys. A late drive stalled near the goal line. Then Sunday, the Chargers blew a 14-3 halftime lead at Denver only to lose on a last second field goal. They lose with Antonio Gates, they lose without him. They can’t stop the Jets and Broncos on last second drives, but they can’t punch the ball into the end zone on their late drive.

Finally, looks can be deceiving. The Miami Dolphins pulled out all kinds of trick plays in the opener, a smashing 34-10 win over Denver in Nick Saban’s first game. They rolled up plenty of yardage without much offensive talent. However, you can’t put in trick plays like that every week, and it’s clear Miami came back to earth Sunday getting 235 total yards in a 17-7 loss to the Jets. That is more likely the Miami offense you will see this season, far more so than the 426 yards they put up in the opener.

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