Sometimes it takes six weeks to see some of the trends in the NFL game. True to form, a couple of things are starting to become clear.
Don't expect to win week after playing Seattle
All you have to do is watch the Seahawks and you can recognize they play physical football. What is interesting is that win, lose or draw, the team that plays them loses the next week.
I noticed how lethargic the Colts looked on Monday night in their loss to the Chargers. San Diego was running right through the defense and the Colts never got in sync. I went back and looked at every team that Seattle faced and looked at how they played the following week. All six teams lost the following week.
Carolina lost to Buffalo, San Francisco lost to Indianapolis, Jacksonville lost to Indianapolis, Houston lost to San Francisco and Indianapolis lost to San Diego. What was striking about the losses was the points scored and points given up. The six teams only generated a combined total of 45 points the week after their Seattle encounter (7.5 points per team) and they gave up 23.5 points per team.
Tennessee lost to Seattle last week and now host the 49ers. It looks like it could be seven in a row.
The New England no-huddle is off the shelf
Last year the Patriots were one of the finest no-huddle teams in the NFL. They ran 348 snaps of no-huddle averaging 5.6 yards per play and scored 12 touchdowns. Their run game benefited the most and was a driving force as to why New England led the NFL in rushing touchdowns with 25 and averaged 136.5 yards rushing a game at 4.1 per carry.
Prior to Week 6 this season the Patriots' no-huddle offense was virtually nonexistent with just 17 snaps in five games. Three no-huddle plays a game is a lot different than the 22 plays per game they averaged last year.
A big reason for the fall-off was the inexperienced receivers just learning how to play in the Patriots system, but the learning is over and the Patriots' no-huddle is back.
Tom Brady used his no-huddle 45 times against the Saints, including on the game-winning touchdown to rookie undrafted wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. The Patriots also ran the ball 17 times from the no-huddle at 4.0 a carry and had a rushing touchdown. The Patriots' best weapon in 2012 is back in the arsenal for the rest of 2013.
Smart coaches find their way back from problems
Have you noticed recently that when teams get in trouble the smart play is to energize the running game? A number of teams have fallen into a slump through a desire to throw the ball more than run it and when things don't go well they instinctively head back to the ground attack to right the ship.
On Monday night the Chargers threw out the 22-runs-a-game formula that was part of their three losses and used the formula that got them wins over Dallas and Philadelphia to beat the Colts. San Diego ran the ball 37 times for 147 yards and looked more like Seattle's offense than its own.
The Harbaugh brothers both employed a heavy run game to get back on course. San Francisco went 1-2 to start the season and in their two straight losses ran the ball just 43 times. Since then they have won three straight games on the legs of Frank Gore and the other backs. Coach Jim Harbaugh has called for the Niners to run the ball 114 times for 545 yards in their three-game winning streak.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh had a tough defeat in Buffalo when the Ravens ran the ball just nine times. They came back with a 40-run- call effort to beat the Dolphins but slipped back to a 22-carry day last week and lost.
Finally, have you noticed the Rams have crawled back to 3-3 by running the ball? In their current two-game winning streak they have run the ball 61 times for 242 yards after running it 49 times for 122 yards in their three-game losing streak.
Injured Reserve is at crisis stage
I keep a check on injured reserve decisions every week because they can be devastating to a team. Look at Atlanta, for example. The Falcons have nine players on IR and the Patriots have 10.
In my opinion it is time to do away with the injured reserve system. Keep in mind the present system has been tweaked a little since this version of IR was developed with the first CBA back in the early 1990s, but it is still based on a punitive concept.
There were people in the NFL that felt certain teams stashed players (the origin of the taxi squad), and to prevent it injured reserve knocked the player out for the year. The salary cap cures the problem of hiding players since everyone counts under the cap.
What we need now is a fluid system so when a player is injured he becomes inactive but can return whenever he is healthy enough to play. Owners are paying big bucks to players and they don't want to keep writing checks to guys that can play but are on injured reserve and can't return. If someone cheats and the league catches them take their first-round pick away. There won't be any cheating, trust me. But here's the reality of 2013 and it isn't good.
It's only the end of Week 6 and already 192 players are on injured reserve as compared to 101 last year at this time. At this rate we could see more than 400 on IR by the end of the season. All but six the 32 teams have more players on injured reserve than they did last year at this time.
The new tweak introduced a year ago that permits one player per team to return from injured reserve is a nice gesture but only a start. It's time to make it so that all IR players are handled that way. Let's face it: Players signed after the season starts are all on week to week salaries and if they are brought in to replace an injured player they are easily released the day the starter returns from injury.
If the average salary for a player on injured reserve is a low $500,000 -- and I'm being conservative -- that means owners are shelling out $96 million already to guys on IR this year. That's nuts!
There's little doubt in my mind a decent number of players on injured reserve could have returned during the season if the present system was abolished, to say nothing of the coaches who need all the good players they can find. A fan emailed me this week and said, "It's not fair to the fans that pay big bucks to go to the games and can't see the best players the club can put on the field."