Schrager's Week 5 Cheat Sheet: Cowboys & Texans battle; Saints try to save season
This was it.
After 33 straight years of coaching football on the college and professional level, Bruce Arians was finally done.
It was January 2011 and Arians had just finished his eighth year working with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’d won one ring as a wide receivers coach and another as an offensive coordinator, and he’d been to a third Super Bowl in which his Steelers came up just short against the Packers.
But this was it.
His contract was up, and though the Steelers had insisted he “retired,” Arians has since joked that the truth of the matter was that he was “re-fired.” His time in the Steel City was done, and now, assuming suitors wouldn’t be knocking his door down, he was ready to see what else was out there.
And that’s when the phone rang.
It was Chuck Pagano, the recently announced new head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and he wanted Arians — a guy he’d known for years — to join him as the offensive coordinator on his staff.
Arians gave Pagano the time: He’d have a top pick in the draft, a fresh start, a new general manager willing to spend multiple picks on Arians’ offense.
Yeah, the laid-back life in Georgia and thoughts of fishing and golfing all day would have to wait. Arians was sucked right back in to the only profession he’d known for 33 years, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Three years later, Arians has an NFL Coach of the Year award and a gig as the head coach of one of just two undefeated teams in the league. And even with his masterful performance in 2012 and an unlikely 10-win campaign in 2013, it’s the job he’s doing in 2014 that could be the best work he’s ever done.
Arizona is 3-0 and has done it with a lineup far different than the one it expected to have back in July. Quarterback Carson Palmer has been out for the past three weeks, but the team hasn’t missed a beat. Drew Stanton has led Arizona to wins over NFC contenders San Francisco and New York.
Darnell Dockett, the heart and soul of the Cardinals defensive line, is out for the year with an injury suffered in the preseason. John Abraham, the veteran pass rusher whose 133 ½ career sacks are the most of any active player, suffered a concussion in Week 1 and was placed on the season-ending IR last week.
Want more? Sure, we’ve got more. How about Daryl Washington, arguably the team’s best overall player? The linebacker was suspended for at least a year for violating the league’s substance abuse policy in the offseason. Fellow LB Karlos Dansby – the team’s defensive MVP from a year ago – departed via free agency to Cleveland.
The list goes on.
But if you know anything about Arians, he isn’t about excuses. And he’s certainly not one to throw in the towel.
Every one of the team’s 66 points has been scored by a player who’d never produced a point for the Cardinals before this year. All 23 points Arizona scored in its last game – a Week 3 win over the 49ers – came from rookies.
Back in 2012, the Cardinals started the year 4-0 before losing 11 of their final 12 games of the season. The fan base is cautiously optimistic.
Just how far this team can go is anybody’s guess. Under Arians, anything is possible.
Now, on to the games.
CHEAT SHEET WEEK 5 TRIVIA QUESTION OF THE WEEK
Which active NFL player is the only one in league history to record three interceptions in one game versus Peyton Manning?
(Answer at bottom)
THROWBACK JERSEY OF THE WEEK
Each week, we’ll direct you to a throwback jersey worth purchasing. In honor of his start last week for the Tennessee Titans, here’s the Charlie Whitehurst Seahawks throwback you’ve long been clamoring for.
Peter Schrager podcast
This week’s guest is former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik. Dominik details just how close the Buccaneers were to hiring Chip Kelly as their coach in 2012 (“The deal was done”), explains why it’s going to take more than just money to lure Jon Gruden out of retirement in Oakland and offers his analysis on college quarterbacks Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, and Sean Mannion.
Now, on to the picks.
I was solid, though not spectacular, last week. Nailed the Giants, 49ers, Packers, Cowboys, and Ravens but didn’t see the Texans, Buccaneers, or Vikings responding the way that they did. Roll with me this week. Feeling confident!
Week 4 record: 9-4
Overall season record: 37-24
Minnesota at Green Bay: The Packers have scored 30-plus points in five of their last seven regular-season games against Minnesota, averaging 33.7 over that span. Add in a dinged up rookie quarterback on four days’ rest, a Lambeau crowd at night and a sizzling Aaron Rodgers, and it’s hard to pick against Green Bay. Rodgers, days after telling everyone to R-E-L-A-X, was flawless in the Pack’s 38-17 win in Chicago. Green Bay scored on its first six possessions and racked up 358 yards of offense. I loved Norv Turner’s game plan for Teddy Bridgewater last week, and the rookie got a win in his first career start versus one of the league’s best in Matt Ryan. I just don’t see him going on the road and doing the same to Rodgers. Not yet, at least.
The pick: Packers 33, Vikings 17
Chicago at Carolina: The long-running joke in NFL circles was that the Panthers had more running backs than they could actually use in a game. No one is laughing now. DeAngelo Williams has already been ruled out for Sunday, Mike Tolbert is out, Fozzy Whitaker and Jonathan Stewart are both banged up, and the next guys on the depth chart are undrafted rookie free agent Darrin Reaves and recent waiver wire signing Chris Ogbonnaya. Add in injuries to linebacker Thomas Davis, Cam Newton battling a bad ankle and sore ribs, the Greg Hardy situation and now Frank Alexander’s 10-game suspension and the Panthers are up against it, to say the least.
The pick: Bears 27, Panthers 17
Cleveland at Tennessee: This was supposed to be the week, wasn’t it? Cleveland would start Brian Hoyer, it would lose three horrible games to the Steelers, Saints, and Ravens and we’d see Johnny Football suiting up against the Titans in Week 4. Eh, not so fast. Incredibly, the Browns have shut everyone up and done the impossible — made us forget all about Johnny Football. Hoyer has played as well as any quarterback in the league through three games, and the team’s two losses both came on last-second field goals. Consider that the Browns have played this well without Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron or Ben Tate on offense and you’ve got to tip your cap to the Cleveland coaching staff. Look at the Browns’ upcoming slate: Titans, Steelers, Jaguars, Raiders, and Bucs. Laugh now, but there’s a chance we’re talking about the 6-2 Browns come Nov. 6 when they visit Cincinnati. Oh, and Gordon comes back in Week 11.
The pick: Browns 27, Titans 22
St. Louis at Philadelphia: LeSean McCoy is averaging just 19.5 rushing yards in his last two games -- and it has fantasy football owners shrugging, swearing, and making sad emoticons all over the place. Eagles fans have to be a bit concerned, too, and when you throw in the fact he hasn’t had a reception in either of those two games, there’s a bit of panic in the City of Brotherly Love. The truth is, when you have an offensive line as banged up as Philly’s you could have Bo Jackson, Barry Sanders, or Thurman Thomas back there and he wouldn’t run wild. Chip Kelly gets Lane Johnson back this week, and the former top-five pick will start at tackle. That helps. But this one won’t be easy. Not when you have the rag-tag line, a unit that Kelly said got “whooped” last week in San Francisco, going up against Robert Quinn and the Rams’ front seven. I still like Philly even as the defense is carrying it at this point.
The pick: Eagles 24, Rams 23
Atlanta at New York Giants: Speaking of shoddy offensive lines, take a look at Atlanta. Three of the five Week 1 starters are on the injured reserve, and veteran guard Justin Blalock hasn’t practiced this week. Add in the fact that the Falcons defense hasn’t stopped a thing in road games this year and I like New York. The Giants have lost to Atlanta quarterbacks Doug Johnson and Kurt Kittner in the Meadowlands in years past, but they’ve beaten Matt Ryan in a playoff game at MetLife. I’d expect them to get the best of him again on Sunday.
The pick: Giants 33, Falcons 26
Tampa Bay at New Orleans: How unlikely was Tampa’s fourth-quarter comeback over the Steelers in Pittsburgh last week? Consider this: Quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 148 yards in that quarter and 92 of them were to Louis Murphy, who signed on Tuesday; 30 of them were on Russell Shepard’s first two career receptions; 21 of them were to rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who had played in one career game with one career catch before Sunday. Could they beat the Saints, arguably the league’s most disappointing team through four weeks? Of course. Can they beat them in the Superdome? I just don’t see it. New Orleans has won its last three games there by a combined score of 110-37. Regardless of whether they’d say it, the Saints are in win-now mode at this point.
The pick: Saints 31, Buccaneers 23
Houston at Dallas: Consider the job Bill O’Brien has done through four weeks and you have to put him in the Coach of the Year conversation. Ryan Fitzpatrick is his starting quarterback, Jadeveon Clowney has been out with an injury, and J.J. Watt has more touchdowns this year than Arian Foster and Andre Johnson … and the Texans are currently in first place in the AFC South. Okay, now consider the job Jason Garrett has done. He’s in that conversation, too. But how about Jerry Jones, player personnel executive? Yes, you laugh. But look at what Rolando McClain is doing this season. Look at what the Cowboys’ young draft picks are doing. And look at that offensive line. Jerry Jones is known for being an impulsive, irrational draft guy. Well, with fans clamoring for skill position players and dazzling rookie names, the Cowboys have drafted three rocks on the offensive line in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin in the first round. I’m taking the Cowboys, again. Nobody had them being good this year. I said NOBODY. Click here, guys.
The pick: Cowboys 27, Texans 23
Buffalo at Detroit: The Kyle Orton Era in Buffalo is off and running. He met with the media on Wednesday, and this is verbatim from the team’s official transcript.
Q: How do you describe that, of how you are in the huddle? What does that specifically mean to you?
A: That's for me to know; the huddle. That huddle's a prized location. What goes on there stays in there.
Q: Why will you run this offense better than EJ (Manuel)?
A: I'm not saying that I will. I mean that's a loaded question. That's a crap question.
Kyle Orton! A crap question! Love this guy. But I don’t see the Bills beating the Lions on the road. Jim Schwartz is coming back to the Motor City. Detroit, meanwhile, has got quite a pickle on its hands this offseason. Both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are playing great. Both are in contract years. Detroit can worry about that down the line. For now, the Lions are in the NFC North’s driver’s seat, and I don’t see them being displaced any time soon.
The pick: Lions 24, Bills 16
Baltimore at Indianapolis: The Ravens are 3-0 since the second Ray Rice tape was made public, and John Harbaugh’s team played its best football of the year Sunday vs. the Panthers. Andrew Luck has put up big numbers against struggling defenses in back to back weeks, but I don’t see him doing the same to this Ravens D. Elvis Dumervil looked rejuvenated last weekend, and both Terrell Suggs and rookie C.J. Mosley had their best games to date. Indy always had Baltimore’s number when Peyton Manning was under center. Flacco has Luck’s. Give me the Ravens on the road.
The pick: Ravens 33, Colts 24
Pittsburgh at Jacksonville: The comparisons of Blake Bortles to Ben Roethlisberger were made by anyone and everyone I spoke to leading up to last May’s draft. They have more than just body type and escapability in common, though. They share the same agent. Roethlisberger was Bortles’ sounding board during the pre-draft period, and they both starred at mid-major schools. Mentor, meet protégé. Big Ben’s a fan. "He can extend plays, he can throw the ball on the run, he is an impressive young player," Roethlisberger said this week. "I liked him coming out [of UCF]. I thought he was the most [NFL]-ready and the guy that I thought could be the best." Bortles, of course, is realistic about all this. "He's won two Super Bowls," the rookie said this week, "and I've played a game and a half, so I don't know how much comparison is there."
The pick: Steelers 32, Jaguars 23
Arizona at Denver: What’s up with Demaryius Thomas? The budding superstar has just 13 catches and one touchdown this year. His 10.8 yards per catch is well below his career average and he has an uncharacteristic four drops. Knowing him, it’s eating him alive. Knowing this is a contract year for him, I have to imagine he wants to get it going. Love Arizona. I’m just not sure I see it traveling into Denver and beating Peyton Manning.
The pick: Broncos 31, Cardinals 27
Kansas City at San Francisco: Trent Dilfer and Deion Sanders each mentioned the locker room was at ends with its head coach in San Francisco this week. The head coach, however, did not quite agree. When asked about the rumors of tension between 49ers players, Harbaugh told reporters, “Personally, I think that’s a bunch of crap.” Alex Smith is coming back to San Francisco, the Chiefs are red hot, and the 49ers’ offense still doesn’t seem to be clicking. But I like the home team in this one.
The pick: 49ers 26, Chiefs 20
New York Jets at San Diego: Quietly, almost with no national fanfare, the Chargers are off to a 3-1 start and looking like one of the elite teams in the league. In their double-digit wins the last two games, the Chargers confounded young quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Blake Bortles. I don’t see Geno Smith cracking any codes. John Pagano’s D is masterful in putting the clamps on young signal callers, and the bend-but-don’t-break unit is built to stop offenses like New York’s. Weird days in Jets-land. About to get weirder with games against Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady.
The Pick: Chargers 28, Jets 19
Cincinnati at New England: Tom Brady is struggling, the offensive line isn’t what it used to be, and the running game isn’t exactly tearing it up. But I’m far more concerned with the wide receiver situation in New England than anything. The Patriots dressed only three wide receivers last Monday in Kansas City (Matthew Slater dressed but is solely used on special teams), with second-year wideouts Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins both being healthy scratches. Josh Boyce, a draft pick the team liked a lot last year out TCU, didn’t make the team this year. The Pats let Wes Welker walk and signed Danny Amendola. The former is still getting it done. The latter? After signing a five-year, $28 million deal with $10 million guaranteed a season ago, Amendola has a whopping three catches for 16 yards this season. I have real concerns about that New England offense. I don’t think those concerns are quieted against a ferocious Bengals defense on Sunday night. If you thought things were crazy in Foxboro this week, just wait until they drop another nationally televised game — this one at home.
The pick: Bengals 31, Patriots 20
Seattle at Washington: Leaving Arrowhead last Monday, I realized just how hard it is for a team to come on the road and beat a team on Thursday or Monday night. Then I think about what the Giants did to Washington last week and I throw those notions of invincibility out the window. Seattle is not the best team on the road, but this defense should exploit Kirk Cousins and the Washington offensive line.
The pick: Seahawks 37, Redskins 23
Reader email of the week:
I do not like the new Buccaneers uniforms. They look like an Arena League team. Or a CFL team. Ugly. Why do these teams try to get cute and go crazy futuristic? How about just going simple?
Vernon F., Rochester, NY
I actually like the new Tampa Bay uniforms. Of course, they look a lot better when the team is winning in Pittsburgh than when it’s losing by 200 points in Atlanta. I know that the big dogs at Nike worked hand in hand with the Seahawks in the creation of their new uniforms a few years back and I assume Tampa Bay did the same this past offseason. I am not paid by Nike, but I do believe it has a history of success with athletic equipment and such. I do miss the good old Tampa Bay creamsicle uniforms, though. I still have visions of Craig Erickson tossing passes to Lawrence Dawsey and remember thinking, “These eyes have seen no prettier thing.” They still haven’t.
CHEAT SHEET WEEK 5 TRIVIA ANSWER OF THE WEEK
Arizona Cardinals cornerback Antonio Cromartie is the only player in NFL history to record three interceptions in one game against Peyton Manning. He did it in 2007. The two square off again Sunday.