Schrager’s Week 7 Cheat Sheet: Lions D feasting on foes
We live in an era of superlatives.
A guy goes to one of those food trucks, eats a grilled cheese sandwich, and immediately needs to tweet, Instagram, and hash tag that the sandwich was "the greatest ever". There’s an indie band out in Brooklyn that plays a show for an audience of 20, and it’s written up by the music websites as "The Greatest Show You Weren’t At". John Oliver says something — anywhere, about anything — and it’s not only smart, but it’s the most brilliant thing ever done in the worlds of social commentary, television, and life.
Hyperbole is all the rage. And when it comes to the NFL, things are no different. The Cowboys’ rushing attack is off to an impressive start, but is it the greatest ever? Let’s check back in November. Julius Thomas is off to a fast first few months, but is this the greatest season ever by a tight end? Slow down.
Heading to Minnesota for last week’s Vikings-Lions game, an NFC scout texted me: "Wait until you see that Lions defensive line. It’s one of the best I’ve seen on film."
This wasn’t some novice throwing around a compliment. This was a guy who’s seen a lot of defensive lines. The Lions? I knew they had big names, and I knew they had big numbers, but this is a defense I’ve seen roasted time and time again over the years. The best he’s seen on film? C’mon. Enough, already.
And then I saw this unit up close and in person last week. No hyperbole. They’re dominant.
This Detroit Lions defensive line is not only the league’s best unit, but it also could be a historic one. Truly massive, young, and only getting better and better each week — they are the real deal. Better than the fancy band and the food truck sandwich. They’re no joke.
I spoke with Teryl Austin, Detroit’s defensive coordinator, last week and he said there was some hesitation from the players when he started installing the defense during OTAs. It was a lot of looks and information at once. But come training camp, it all started to click. And if you go player by player, name by name, the star-studded defensive line finally — after years of patient waiting — is coming together.
Ndamukong Suh may not have the big sack numbers he once had, but he’s got to be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s the unit’s leader. He moves; they follow. The consummate professional, Suh’s one of those "first guys to work, last ones to leave" guys and treats every game like it’s the biggest one of the year.
Watching him on Sunday and then again on film this week, there are no snaps taken off. That effort rubs off on his teammates. Nick Fairley, a guy who was demoted back in August and then took it upon himself to lose 20 pounds, is having his best year as a pro. Ziggy Ansah, the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Week after his 2.5-sack performance in Minnesota, is growing into one of the sport’s best pass rushers each week before our very eyes.
And then there’s the support staff. George Johnson and Daryl Tapp are in the rotation and making plays whenever called upon. Big man Jason Jones is the perfect complement to Ansah coming off the other edge. Every Lions game I watch, I see 10-year veteran C.J. Mosley showing up. The wildest part about the Lions defensive line’s success is that one of their rotational guys from years prior, Willie Young, is the current NFL sack leader out in Chicago.
They’re a huge part of the No. 1-ranked defense in the league and they’re a joy to watch.
Are they the best ever? Well, I’m not big on Instagram and don’t do much with hash tags, but in an era of hyperbole, exaggeration and great hype, the Lions defensive line exceeded all my expectations.
Now, on to the games.
Week 7 NFL Cheat Sheet Trivia Question of the Week:
Bears rookie Kyle Fuller is the first NFL player with three interceptions and three forced fumbles in the first six games of a season since which legendary NFL safety did it in 1999?
(Answer is at the bottom.)
THROWBACK JERSEY OF THE WEEK
Each week, we’ll direct you to a throwback jersey worth purchasing. In honor of his outstanding performance last weekend vs. Pittsburgh, here’s that Brian Hoyer red Patriots throwback you’ve been clamoring for.
Now, on to the picks.
Week 6 Record: 10-4-1
Overall Record: 58-32-1
New York Jets at New England Patriots:
The Pick: Patriots 27, Jets 13
Atlanta at Baltimore: Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, the top two quarterbacks selected in the 2008 Draft, always will be the storyline when these teams play, but I’m looking at the different directions these defenses are going. Atlanta’s gets worse and worse, while Baltimore’s just continues to improve. I can watch rookie C.J. Mosley on film for as long as I can in one sitting and it’s delightful. Atlanta’s linebackers? No thanks. The Falcons gave up eight plays for a combined 231 yards against the Bears on Sunday. Look for Steve Smith to notch a few in this one.
The Pick: Ravens 34, Falcons 23
Tennessee at Washington: At halftime of the Eagles-Redskins game a few weeks back, Washington fans were ready to anoint Kirk Cousins as the QB of the future and kick Robert Griffin III to the curb. Well, Cousins hasn’t won a game since the Jaguars victory, has been atrocious in the second half of contests, and the offense continues to struggle in big spots. In Arizona on Sunday, the Redskins dropped from a 34 percent success rate on third downs to 32 percent, which now ranks them second-to-last in the league in that category. My, how things change. Now, instead of Cousins being the guy, the "When is RG3 coming back?" talk is at a fever pitch. I like the way Tennessee bounced back from the Cleveland collapse last week. I’m taking them on the road on Sunday.
The Pick: Titans 20, Redskins 16
Seattle at St. Louis: "What’s wrong with the Seahawks?!" Nothing. Take a deep breath, everyone. This is what happens when you’re the defending Super Bowl champions. Every game is the other team’s biggest game on the schedule. Seattle didn’t look good on Sunday, and actually looked even sloppier the Monday night before, but they’ll be OK. Look for Percy Harvin to have one of those "Whoa, Percy Harvin is everywhere"-type games on Sunday and for the Seahawks to get back on track. (UPDATE: Looks like Seattle gave up on getting a big game from Harvin. He was traded to the Jets on Friday.) All I read about last summer was how dominant Robert Quinn and the St. Louis pass rush was. Six weeks into the season, they have one sack — and it was an Aaron Donald one — ranking them last in the league. That’s not on Austin Davis. When the supposed strength of your team isn’t carrying its weight, that’s a major issue.
The Pick: Seahawks 27, Rams 16
Cleveland at Jacksonville: Perhaps the most impressive thing about Brian Hoyer’s big 2014 season is his deep ball. Hoyer leads the NFL with an average of 13.6 yards per completion this season and is tied for third in the NFL with six completions of 40-plus yards. He’s doing all this without the services of Josh Gordon, one of the truly lethal deep-ball threats in the NFL. Hoyer’s contract situation isn’t going to go away anytime soon. If the Browns can keep everything going as it’s been and not let the barrage of inquiries on what they’re doing long-term at the quarterback position pollute things, they’re going to be in the playoff hunt. Cleveland’s for real.
The Pick: Browns 24, Jaguars 20
Cincinnati at Indianapolis: After losing their first two games, the Colts keep on winning, and are doing so behind a talented offense and an opportunistic defense. Everyone focused on Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton’s performances last week, and deservedly so, but it was the Colts defense that caused two huge turnovers to seal the game on the Texans’ final two possessions. Greg Manusky’s D shut down a high-powered Ravens offense the week before. This could be a potential wild card or divisional round matchup come January. If this one — or that one — is in Indy, I’m taking the Colts.
The Pick: Colts 27, Bengals 22
Minnesota at Buffalo: The Vikings could be in for another long afternoon come Sunday. A week after facing a Lions defense that ate them alive with eight sacks, they travel to Buffalo to take on another talented defensive attack. The Bills have already recorded 19 sacks this season, including five by Marcell Dareus, 4.5 by Mario Williams and four by Jerry Hughes. The Vikings offensive line, without guard Brandon Fusco for the foreseeable future, has surrendered 14 sacks over the past two games. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer vs. Bills defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz — a nice old-fashioned defensive battle.
The Pick: Bills 19, Vikings 13
Miami at Chicago: Bears second-year offensive tackle Jordan Mills has had an up-and-down season and on Sunday, he matches up one on one with Cameron Wake, arguably the top pass rusher in the league this season. Wake had 1.5 sacks last week versus the Packers and has been virtually unblockable off the edge this year. The Bears are favored in this one, but I think Miami bounces back from a tough home loss and steals one up in Soldier Field on Sunday.
The Pick: Dolphins 27, Bears 24
New Orleans at Detroit: I’m all in on this Lions defense. They’ve been downright dominant since the Carolina loss, come at you from three different levels, and play with a chip on their collective shoulders. Suh, Fairley, and Mosley are all free agents at the end of this year. I’m not sure who gets paid and if any of them are back, but all three have been having career years in 2014. More of the same and a hellish afternoon for Drew Brees is up ahead. Joe Lombardi, the offensive coordinator of the Lions, coached Brees for eight years in New Orleans. I have to think he knows something about the former Super Bowl MVP that other coaches around the league might not.
The Pick: Lions 24, Saints 16
Carolina at Green Bay: It won’t show in the numbers or in the highlights, but Cam Newton’s playing as well as he ever has in his NFL career this year. Consider what he’s doing this season, with a new offensive line (patchwork, at best), four new wide receivers, and nagging ankle and rib injuries, and it’s truly impressive that he’s got this team where they are. The fact this Carolina team is even above .500 with all the injuries, Greg Hardy’s absence, and a tough slate is remarkable. The defense isn’t what it was a season ago, though, and I can’t see the Panthers stopping this Packers offense. One fun storyline to watch is Julius Peppers taking on the Panthers. Earlier this week, he spent time recalling how emotional he was before his first game versus Carolina as a Bear. There’s some real sentiment there. Always cool to see.
The Pick: Packers 34, Panthers 27
Kansas City at San Diego: Guess what? The Chargers are for real. I loved what Branden Oliver said this summer when asked if he was the next Darren Sproles. "I knew 43 was Darren Sproles’ number, but I didn’t think of it like, ‘I’m trying to be like Sproles,’" Oliver told reporters back in August. "That’s the perception that people are getting. I’m just trying to be me. I’m like 15 pounds heavier, physical." And he is. Oliver, Rivers, and the rest of this Chargers team won’t get much national attention, but they’ll keep pace with Denver for that AFC West division lead throughout the 2014 campaign.
The Pick: Chargers 27, Chiefs 23
Arizona at Oakland: The Raiders looked better last week, but they’re still not there just yet. Arizona is another team that just continues to keep humming along, winning games, and doing so without much fanfare. Carson Palmer should be good to go and should be able to dissect this porous Raiders D.
The Pick: Cardinals 31, Raiders 20
New York Giants at Dallas: Rashad Jennings will miss another game on Sunday, as he’s already been ruled out for this one. DeMarco Murray, meanwhile, continues to roll. I’m not sure why a guy like Joseph Randle, making nearly $500,000, would shoplift cologne and underwear, but I’m also not one to judge. I don’t see that situation serving as a distraction and I don’t see this Cowboys resurgence slowing down anytime soon.
The Pick: Cowboys 30, Giants 17
San Francisco at Denver: Could these teams have played any more similar games last week? Denver was a big favorite on the road, fell behind early, pulled away, and sealed it with a pick-six. San Francisco was a big favorite on the road, fell behind early, pulled away, and sealed it with a pick-six. I’m curious to see how the San Francisco linebackers play if (he’s unlikely to go) Patrick Willis doesn’t suit up. This one will be a special game, and Colin Kaepernick will keep up with Peyton Manning, but I have the Broncos defending their home turf.
The Pick: Broncos 33, 49ers 27
Houston at Pittsburgh: I’m not ready to put a nail in the coffin of the 2014 Steelers just yet, but last week’s effort in Cleveland was just not pretty on film. Houston’s offense is starting to click and Arian Foster seems to always show up in big games. I don’t think we’re accustomed to seeing the Steelers get worked at home in big games, but this one has that possibility. With 10 days to prepare, I’m taking the Texans.
The Pick: Texans 34, Steelers 24
Reader email of the Week
Peter, as you continuously pat yourself on the back over your Cowboys playoff prediction, I’d like to note that right below that one, you said the Jets were headed to the postseason, too. You can’t have it both ways.
Shhh….Henry, we don’t speak of that.
Reader email of the Week 2:
Enough with the self-congratulations. You picked the Cowboys to go to the playoffs. Great. You also said Matt Ryan was going to lead the league in passing. Enough, dude.
Shh…Phil, we don’t speak of that either.
Week 7 NFL Cheat Sheet Trivia Answer
Six weeks through the 1999 season, Philadelphia Eagles All-Pro safety Brian Dawkins had three interceptions and three forced fumbles. He finished the ’99 campaign with four interceptions and six forced fumbles.