Brady, Pats buy enough time
Patriots QB Tom Brady has faced one setback after another following the 2012 season -- with valuable offensive players either leaving the Patriots (Aaron Hernandez, Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Danny Woodhead) or being sidelined for medical reasons (Rob Gronkowski). And even so far this season, running back Shane Vereen and free-agent WR pickup Danny Amendola found their way to the sideline unable to help. For Brady and the Patriots to be 3-0 with seven of their top eight receivers from 2012 out of the mix is remarkable.
A favorable schedule (Bills, Jets and Bucs) has helped buy time to develop the youngsters as legit Brady targets, even if the Patriots have not been able to use their no-huddle the way they did in 2012 (only 16 no-huddle plays in three games). But with Gronkowski and Amendola on the mend and the development of Aaron Dobson, old reliable Julian Edelman and the emergence of undrafted rookie Kenbrell Tompkins (two TD receptions in Sunday's 23-3 win over Tampa Bay), it looks like the Patriots are ready just in time for a rugged stretch -- at Atlanta, at Cincinnati and New Orleans -- the next three games.
And maybe Brady played a part in the youngsters' psychological progress. He was heavily criticized last week for his sideline behavior -- he was visibly frustrated out over sloppy play. But was there a method to his madness? "Tom is just pushing his young players as hard as he can to get them ready, and this week's win over Tampa proved the players can handle the pressure and get better," Dan Marino said Sunday. Brady has done a good job so far, but can't stop pushing these receivers as hard as he can.
RG3 and throwing ... too much
The Redskins called 52 pass plays with Robert Griffin III under center Sunday vs. Detroit -- looking to snap out of an 0-2 start -- and failed. RG3 didn't throw a touchdown pass, which had to be frustrating. As aggravating as that is, the Skins can't keep up this pace. In three games, Griffin has thrown 145 times -- 48.3 attempts per game. Can you imagine Griffin finishing with 773 attempts this season?
Last season, RG3 averaged 28 pass plays called and eight runs per game overall. But after a 3-6 start, Washington went on a six-game winning streak when Griffin averaged 24 pass attempts and seven runs. So the Skins somehow have to get away from all the passing. Part of the answer is better play from the defense. The other part? More carries for Alfred Morris, who averaged 21 carries a game last season, but only 13 carries so far in 2013.
Sacks will start to mount
Passing increases each season, and over the past five years the NFL has averaged 1,124 sacks a season -- 35 sacks per team per season. The slightest increase in sacks per game can have a significant effect on the health of quarterbacks. This past week, four starting left tackles missed games for medical reasons, and that's no good for passers. In the first two weeks, there were 169 sacks -- slightly ahead of the five-year average.
Week 3 saw a significant jump in sacks (92 in the first fifteen games), putting teams on pace to average 44 sacks this season. At that rate, the league total would spike from the 1,124 average to 1,410 (286 more than the five-year average). During Week 3, 11 quarterbacks were sacked 3 or more times. EJ Manuel (8 sacks) and Eli Manning (7) got the worst of it.
0-3 is bad; is 3-0 really great?
The sky is falling for the 0-3 teams (Giants, Redskins, Vikings, Buccaneers, Steelers). They can preach hope all they want, but history says the playoffs and a winning record are out. But what about the 3-0 clubs: Patriots, Dolphins, Chiefs, Bears, Saints and Seahawks?
Well, here's the reality check: Over the past five years there have been 21 teams which made it 3-0. Six of them did not finish with a winning record. If that holds true this season, 29 percent of the undefeated teams will have their bubble burst. Beyond that, a third of those 21 teams failed to make the playoffs. Can you figure out which two of these six teams might slip?
Home dogs are dangerous
Reflecting on what oddsmakers thought of Week 3, there were three "home dogs," and all were AFC North teams. Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh were supposed to lose at home. I talked to players from all three teams and there was no doubt in my mind that it was a motivational factor.
The Bengals and Ravens weren't to be denied, beating the Packers and Texans. The Steelers put up a good fight but made too many mistakes in losing to the Bears. Always take a second look at "home dogs," because they might have some extra motivation.