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NFL: Dolphins Conquer In London

football

We are through week four of the NFL regular season, and a clearer picture of where teams are is beginning to develop. Most teams are now through a quarter of their schedule and there have been some typical surprises. The Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans have started impressively, while the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots have struggled to find the form that sent them to the playoffs in 2013. Will these trends continue for the rest of the season? Let’s examine the action here and see if we can find anything to look out for going forward.

Miami Dolphins at Oakland Raiders (38-14)

A blowout win for the Miami Dolphins in London, in a game they dominated from first to last. Ryan Tannehill shrugged off the pressure that was on him after his tepid start to the season, throwing 23/31 for 278 yards and two touchdowns, albeit with his customary interception in there too. If he can maintain that kind of form, his job is safe. It certainly helped that he had plenty of options, completing passes to nine different players, while a dominant run game helped to take the pressure off the quarterback. There are tougher games ahead down the schedule for the Dolphins, but their defense put up a much better showing in this one, and it’s never easy to play a game on a different continent. The Dolphins are back to an even record, and now have their bye week to prepare themselves for battles against the NFC North.

It appears the Oakland Raiders were just the tonic needed to get the Dolphins back on track, succumbing to their opponents without a whole lot of fuss. It was a long trip for the Raiders, which couldn’t have helped them in the lead up, but they never really got started in London. To record zero sacks against a quarterback who has taken an average of nearly three per game in his career is a pretty damning statistic. Presumably the Raiders would like to run the ball more often, but between Maurice Jones-Drew being so banged up and them falling behind early and often, they wind up chasing games. Derek Carr continues to fight, but he needs more help around him. Oakland look to be vying for the first overall draft selection yet again, as well as looking for a new head coach.

Carolina Panthers at Baltimore Ravens (10-38)

There was no way Steve Smith was losing this one, was there? Nonetheless, it was a big win for the Baltimore Ravens, who move to 3-1. Joe Flacco’s numbers were very good, but this was all about Smith’s desire to take down his old team. He managed to collect a tipped ball around midfield and take it home for a touchdown, his first of two on the day. The Ravens have also found a capable duo in the backfield, with Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro making sizeable yardage. The defense is also doing its fair share, only allowing an average of fifteen points per game so far. If they can maintain that stinginess, the Ravens will be right in the mix for the AFC North honours.

The Carolina Panthers have taken consecutive shellackings from AFC North sides, bringing their season record from unbeaten to merely breaking even. The Panthers have injury problems with their four most reliable runners, and limiting that aspect of the offense leaves them hamstrung. Cam Newton yet again failed to finish the game, which will be a lingering concern for Ron Rivera. The famed Panther front seven was unable to put the frighteners on Joe Flacco, failing to register a single sack. Those areas are basis of the Panthers offense and defense, and it is hard to see them having a winning season with no pass rush and no run game. They are also staring down a brutal run of games, none of which will be ideal for trying to find their form.

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears (38-17)

The Green Bay Packers won their fifth straight game at Soldier Field, which is a remarkable run in this long-running rivalry. It looked like a shootout from the off, with neither defense looking capable of making a stop. Aaron Rodgers was awesome throughout, but it was the tenacious battling of their defense that swung this one. They made two key first half plays, holding the offense to a field goal on their second drive, before doing everything they could to keep Martellus Bennett out of the end zone on the final play of the first half, with Sam Shields body position blocking the camera, forcing the officials to say he was stopped short. Add two Jay Cutler interceptions in the second half, one from a tipped ball, and Green Bay never looked back, as Rodgers continued to play flawless football.

Jay Cutler undoubtedly blinked first in his battle with Aaron Rodgers, and the Chicago Bears paid the price for it. Although the miscommunication with Brandon Marshall on the second pick ultimately falls at the quarteback’s feet, it was the Bears defenses failure to take the ball away, or even stop the Packers drives, when it needed to that was the real problem. They face a long road back from the bottom of the NFC North, and it will be even harder with Alshon Jeffrey and Brandon Marshall continuing to battle nagging injuries.

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (17-41)

The Indianapolis Colts have a tremendous advantage in playing in a weak division, as their past two blowout victories have propelled them back to 2-2. Andrew Luck put up just shy of four hundred yards, with Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton both gaining over a hundred yards through the air. Trent Richardson continues his struggles with running the ball though, and that may well come back to haunt them against better opposition. The next few weeks will give us a better idea of where this Colts side are, as they face a run of games against strong teams.

Positives that the Tennessee Titans can take with them from this one? Delanie Walker is playing pretty well at tight-end. That might be it. The Titans are now 1-3, and Jake Locker is back to sitting out games. This was pretty dismal, with the defense neither applying enough pressure nor covering well enough to hang with Andrew Luck’s offense at home. Their next three games are against Cleveland, Jacksonville and Washington, and if they don’t win at least a couple of those games then it’s time to start looking forward to 2015 for Titans fans.

Philadelphia Eagles at San Francisco Forty-Niners (21-26)

Could this be the win that turns around the San Francisco Forty-Niners season? Struggling coming into this one, they gave up big points early on, only to locate their smothering defense somewhere along the way. This was a return to the style of football the Niners have played in recent years, with Frank Gore running the ball hard and the defense making big plays all over the field. They won easily up front, caused Nick Foles endless grief and stopped LeSean McCoy from making any kind of serious gains from the backfield. It begs the question, why did Jim Harbaugh ever want to get away from running the football? It’s particularly curious when you remember that the defense has been deprived of some key players, for various reasons. But it’s hardly a coincidence that in the first game of the year that Gore got more than twenty carries, the Niners turned in their most complete performance.  Colin Kaepernick still has to play smarter though; he made a couple of unnecessary pre-snap mistakes because he wasn’t aware of the clock, burning a potentially vital timeout.

It’s actually quite difficult to score touchdowns from a punt block, punt return and interception and still not win a game, but that’s exactly what the Philadelphia Eagles managed on Sunday. Not only did they not win, their fabled offense failed to register a single score, with those special teams and defensive scores all they managed on the day. In mitigation, their offensive line was operating with the bare bones available, which certainly gave San Francisco the upper hand. With Nick Foles under constant pressure and LeSean McCoy subdued, Philly really needed to find another way to get it done, but couldn’t. There aren’t many teams who will hold Chip Kelly’s offense scoreless in his NFL career, let alone this season.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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