Week 6 in the NFL is borderline desperation time for a few teams, and teams can be dangerous when backed into a corner. This week also will serve to verify or debunk several interesting trends.
1. Will scoring continue to slow down? During the first four weeks, scoring was at an all-time high for any four-week period, just over 47 points per game. Last week the average scoring dropped to 36.5 points. Defensive coaches had four games of tape to develop a plan and it showed up in the slowdown. Does that continue? Will offenses counter by breaking tendencies in their game plans? If offenses stay predictable, advantage to the defenses. Defensive players around the league told me their scouting reports, right down to formations and down and distance tendencies, held up last week.
2. No QBs benched yet: Coaches have been reluctant to bench staring quarterbacks, with good reason. That decision undermines offseason and summer camp battles won by that starter. Injuries have put off a few decisions, but sooner or later a QB will come out due to poor performance. Or a backup seeing time in place of an injured starter will play well enough for the starter to lose his job. Titans coach Mike Munchak said Jake Locker will return to the starting lineup when healthy -- even though Matt Hasselbeck led the team to a win over the Steelers. Starting this weekend, keep an eye on the Jets, Cardinals, Seahawks and Chiefs for potential changes. A week from now you can add the Jaguars to the list. Typically, the first step a coach thinking about a change entertains is the backup providing a "spark," with the starter returning the next week. The Chiefs are starting backup Brady Quinn because Matt Cassel is injured. As a starter, Quinn is 2-5 and has thrown a TD pass in only one of those games.
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3. Please protect the QB: Kevin Kolb of the Cardinals has taken the worst beating of any QB the past two weeks -- sacked 17 times and hit another 30. It's amazing he's still standing. He's not alone among the unprotected. Aaron Rodgers is being sacked one of every 10 pass attempts and faces Houston with a defense that already has 15 sacks. Nineteen QBs have been sacked at least 10 times. Luckily for Drew Brees, Blaine Gabbert, Cam Newton and Jay Cutler, they are off this week. But a few others are facing defenses that get after quarterbacks. Chargers QB Philip Rivers was sacked five times last week against a weak Saints pass rush and already has taken 15 sacks. He faces Denver and its 14 sacks. Andy Dalton, already sacked 15 times, leads the Bengals into Cleveland -- and the Browns have 13 sacks. Robert Griffin III is coming off a minor concussion (if there is such a thing) and he has been sacked 11 times. He faces a Vikings rush that has 14 sacks. Finally, Tom Brady has a very good run going but also has been sacked 12 times. He travels to noisy Seattle to face the Seahawks, who have 16 sacks.
4. What's the impact of Brian Cushing's injury? We all saw what happened to the Jets' defense when they lost Darrelle Revis. Now the leader of the Texans' defense, Brian Cushing, is done for the year. He's the defensive captain, leading tackler and a solid pass rusher. Cushing also constantly causes quarterbacks to adjust, checking stunts and fronts while keeping his group in the right call. It will be interesting to see how the Texans handle all the things Rodgers and Co. throw at backup Tim Dobbins. Dobbins has played in 106 NFL games, starting 19. He is tough and plays with passion but Rodgers is going to test him early in coverage, as well trying to confuse him with shifts and motions.
5. Can Pete Carroll figure out fast-paced Pats offense? In the past two weeks the Patriots have unleashed the best "fast-break" run game I've seen. As Broncos coach John Fox said this week: "The Patriots really called 97 plays against us." In the past two games the Patriots have called 94 run plays, gained 498 yards on the ground, scored seven rushing touchdowns and have 16 runs of more than 10 yards. The Seahawks are giving up 66 yards a game on the ground (3.23 ypg), have yielded only two rushing TDs and only two runs of 10 or more yards. Seattle at least has two game tapes to study the Patriots' ground game, and this game could provide some clues as to how to slow them down on the ground.
6. Is this the week we see the other dimension? The Texans' offense has had very little work in critical passing situations -- namely fourth-quarter passing, and when trailing. Matt Schaub has only thrown seven passes when behind and 13 overall in the fourth quarter. The Packers are going to do whatever it takes to take an early lead and force the Texans to play a game they are not accustomed to playing.