Fooch's Note: I decided to go with three individuals for a variety of national coverage. We'll have a preview at the end of the week, a recap at the beginning of the week, and then a mid-week feature article on some aspect of the NFL. I've selected two of the writers and will be determining the third shortly (for those who submitted).
Hello Niners Nation. My name is Josh and I will be helping out with the national coverage around here. I have been a 49er fan all of my 23 years, and my favorite memories would have to be Ricky Watters' 51 yard touchdown catch in the 1994 Super Bowl and Terrell Owen's catch against Green Bay in the 1998 playoffs. Those are both great moments in San Francisco football history, but my business with you today is the future, specifically a preview of this week's action in the NFL. Please enjoy the post and feel free to leave any comments or criticisms you may have. I know you will!
Sunday 1PM EST
Coming into Week 6, Cincinnati is in first place in the AFC North. The resurgence of Cedric Benson has been a major key to their success. Benson is currently leading the league with 487 rushing yards, and his 99 DYAR (Defensive-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) ranks him second among all running backs with at least 40 rushes this season. On the other side of the ball, Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph has had an interception in each of the last three games. If he makes it four straight games with an interception, Joseph will become the first player to do so since Deltha O'Neal did it in 2005. Cincinnati is riding high at 4-1, but they could be in for a letdown after two close games against division opponents in the past two weeks.
The 2-3 Texans have had an up and down year so far, and they will need to improve their run defense if they want to get back to .500 this week. Houston's Rush Defense DVOA is 2.1%, 23rd in the league, and they could have a tough time slowing down the league's leading rusher. On offense, Matt Schaub is third in the league with 1,418 Passing Yards. Among quarterbacks with a minimum of 50 passes, Schaub is ranked eighth in DYAR with 416. While the Texan's offensive line has done fine in passing situations, according to Football Outsiders they rank 30th in run-blocking. Houston's running backs have been stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage 26% of the time this year, and they are only averaging 3.21 yards per carry. Gary Kubiak will need to emphasize the passing attack to give his team the best chance to win in Week 6.
The Lions have lost two in a row since their Week 2 victory, and face another tough matchup this week. Matthew Stafford is still nursing a knee injury, so we may see Daunte Culpepper starting for the second straight week. Culpepper posted a respectable 83.4 quarterback rating in last week's start against Pittsburgh, but the Lions have hinted that Stafford could get the nod even if he is not 100% by Sunday. While Stafford's participation has been limited in practice this week, wide receiver Calvin Johnson has not been able to practice at all with his thigh injury. If Stafford and Johnson do not play it will be a big loss for an offense ranked 29th in Pass Offense DVOA. Detroit will need all the offense they can get, because they will have trouble slowing down the Packers' Aaron Rodgers. The Lions' pass defense is ranked 31st in DVOA, and their depleted secondary suffered another loss when cornerback Eric King was placed on injured reserve this week.
Green Bay is coming off a bye and looking to rebound from a tough loss at Minnesota in Week 4. The Packers currently lead the league in sacks allowed with 20. The struggles on their offensive line have led them to re-sign veteran tackle Mark Tauscher. Although it does not look like he will be ready to start against Detroit, Tauscher could end up as the starting right tackle if the Packers continue to struggle in pass protection. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has contributed to Green Bay's problems by holding the ball too long at times, but he has performed well overall in his second year as an NFL starter. Rodgers' 241 DYAR ranks him 14th among qualifying quarterbacks. The Packer's offense has a lot of potential, and if they can get on a roll against Detroit this game could get out of hand quickly.
The rest of my Week 6 preview will be after the jump.
Both of these teams are coming off blow-out losses in Week 5. The Rams turned the ball over four times in a 38-10 loss to the Vikings, and they are hoping the return of quarterback Mark Bulger to the starting lineup will lead to more ball security. Backup Kyle Boller threw five interceptions filling in for the injured Bulger the past two weeks. No matter who is playing quarterback though, the Rams offense always runs through running back Steven Jackson. Jackson is off to another strong start, in this his 6th year in the league. Among qualifying backs he ranks 10th in DYAR with 68, but he does not have a touchdown this season. Jacksonville's defense has been good against the run, ranking 10th in Rush Defense DVOA, but they will have their hands full with number 39. The Rams are on the road and will run the ball to keep their defense off the field, but if they get behind they will have a hard time coming back.
The Jaguars lost at Seattle 41-0 last week. Jacksonville has had trouble getting pressure on the quarterback all year, and the Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck made them pay in Week 5. The Jaguars have only registered four sacks this season, and will need to improve their pass rush this week. Getting pressure on the Rams' Mark Bulger would help improve their pass defense, currently ranked 28th in DVOA. On offense the Jaguars are similar to the St. Louis in that they emphasize the run. This season they are averaging 4.6 yards per attempt, 6th in the league. Wide receiver Tory Holt will be facing his former team for the first time after spending 10 years as a member of the Rams. The future hall of famer currently leads his team with 306 receiving yards, but has yet to score a touchdown. Jacksonville's offense has not been lighting up the score board, they're only averaging 19.4 points per game, but at least they have been holding on to the football. While St. Louis has posted a deplorable -7 turnover ratio, the Jaguars have a +2 turnover ratio at this point in the season.
Baltimore is fresh off of two tough losses. The Ravens are 3-2, and a loss in Minnesota could drop them to .500 and 3rd place in the division going into their bye week. That being said, Baltimore still ranks 7th in offensive and 5th in defensive DVOA. Meanwhile, the undefeated Vikings rank 12th in offensive and 7th in defensive DVOA. So despite the disparity in the two teams' records, they are still evenly matched. The Raven's success on offense has been made possible by a running game ranked 3rd in DVOA. Ray Rice leads the team with 364 yards, and is averaging 5.8 yards per carry. Second year quarterback Joe Flacco has continued his development and become a good compliment to Baltimore's three headed backfield. Flacco is currently 6th in the league with 1,289 passing yards. The Vikings have been better against the run then against the pass, so don't be surprised if the Ravens end up relying on their young quarterback to get them a much needed win on the road.
For the Vikings, this has been a dream season so far. They signed a real quarterback and now they're 5-0. No fuss, plenty of drama, and lots of winning. For me, the most impressive unit on this team is the defensive line. Jared Allen can be very irritating when he's not playing for your team, but he has been a stud this year. Allen and the rest of Minnesota's defense have racked up a league leading 18 sacks thus far. I fully expect the Vikings to try to get to Flacco early and often to try and rattle the young quarterback. If the pass rush doesn't get to him though, he has the ability to take advantage of Minnesota's suspect secondary. On the other side of the ball, the Vikings almost always look to get Adrian Peterson going no matter who they are playing, and why wouldn't they? Peterson is second in rushing yards with 481 and at the tender age of 24, is already considered by many to be the best pure runner in the league. While Minnesota is the slight favorite in this match up due to their home field advantage, nobody expects them to go undefeated and the Ravens are talented enough to hand them their first loss of the season this week.
This week's biggest game features two of the game's stars, quarterbacks Drew Brees and Eli Manning. Despite playing with a painful foot injury, Manning has elevated his game and turned himself into an elite quarterback. His brother Peyton currently leads all quarterbacks with 744 DYAR, but Eli ranks fourth with 495. It is a good thing too, because the running game that has given the Giants so much success in recent years has failed to produce this season. New York is currently 17th in run offense DVOA. It seems odd, but the Giants have been below average rushing the football. If starter Brandon Jacobs continues to struggle this week, he could be benched in favor of back up Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw leads the team in rush yards despite receiving 42 fewer carries, and is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. Nothing has changed with New York's defense, which is still led by its star studded line. Defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck are a powerful 1-2 punch on the outside and have combined for 7.5 sacks.
The improved play of New Orleans' defense has contributed to the team's strong start. Their league leading 10 interceptions have helped the Saints achieve a +7 turnover ratio, and they were ranked 1st in defense DVOA last week. An upgraded secondary has combined with a rejuvenated power running game to make New Orleans an early Super Bowl contender. Mike Bell, Reggie Bush, and Pierre Thomas have each had over 30 carries for the Saints and they are averaging 5.1, 4.1, and 6.4 yards per carry respectively. Together they are averaging 166 rushing yards per game. If the Giants decide to "stack the box" and focus on stopping New Orleans' run game, the Saints are more than capable of exposing New York's pass defense through the air. Quarterback Drew Brees ranks 3rd in DVOA, and he has a talented receiving corps at his disposal including: tight end Jeremy Shockey, wide receiver Marques Colston, and running back Reggie Bush. Despite being undefeated and playing at home, New Orleans is only favored by three points so this should be a close game.
Cleveland comes into this match up as 14 point underdogs. They are 1-4 but at least they aren't the Rams, and they're coming off their first win of the season so they should be up and ready to play for this game. The defense was dominant last week against Buffalo, but overall they are giving up 380 yards per game and they have had trouble stopping the run as evidenced by their 16% run defense DVOA, the second worst in the league. At quarterback, Head Coach Eric Mangini has decided to stick with Derek Anderson, even though he has only thrown one touchdown to five interceptions. Anderson's 39.0 Quarterback rating has not been helped much by the poor play of his offensive line, which has given up 14 sacks. As a team, the Browns are only averaging 3.62 yards rushing. Cleveland will need a big play by Joshua Cribbs on special teams and one or more Steeler turnovers to steal an upset victory.
The defending champions have gotten off to a sluggish start, but they still have enough talent to win this game handily. Ben Rothlisberger has evolved from a scrambler into an effective pocket passer. He is second among all quarterbacks with 578 DYAR and has posted a quarterback rating of 102.6. Rothlisberger's favorite target has been wide receiver Hines Ward, who is fourth in the league with 440 receiving yards. They should have plenty of success against the Browns' pass defense. Running back Rashard Mendenhall has solidified his spot as Pittsburgh's primary runner in lieu of the injured Willie Parker. Mendenhall has averaged over five yards per carry and scored three touchdowns in the last two games. The Steelers' defense has performed well against the run, but struggled at times against the pass. Pittsburgh's secondary will receive a big boost if pro bowl safety Troy Polamalu can return from the knee injury he suffered before the start of the season. They definitely have some holes, and they almost lost to the Lions last week, but if the Steelers are going to be a playoff team this is a game they should win at home.
The Panthers are only 1-3, but they got a little bit of momentum last week when they collected their first win of the season against Washington. Now they have a chance to get on a roll against the winless Buccaneers. Carolina has been largely unable to move the ball through the air, but running back DeAngelo Williams could be ready for a breakout game. Williams ran for 1,515 yards last year, but has not gotten it going yet this season. What better time than against a Buccaneer defense giving up 152.6 rushing yards per game? In addition to running the ball better, the Panthers will need to improve on ball security. They currently have a -9 turnover ratio.
Tampa Bay is still searching for that first win under rookie Head Coach Raheem Morris. The Buccaneers have not been able to stop anybody on defense, and while they would like to establish the run it has been impossible because they keep falling behind. Consequently Tampa is averaging the third fewest rush attempts per game, 22.4. Still, you can expect a healthy dose of Cadillac Williams and Derrick Ward early on in the game. Josh Johnson has not been very effective at the quarterback position, and you would think they would like to be able to rely on their run game.
Kansas City's Matt Cassell has thrown two touchdowns passes in three straight games, but he will be going up against a Redskins pass defense that is only allowing 171.2 passing yards per game. If Cassell cannot continue his recent success, the Chiefs may be in trouble because they have not had a reliable running game all season long. Running back Larry Johnson is the team's leading rusher with a meager 226 yards. Even more alarming is Johnson's 2.4 yards per carry. Defensively, Kansas City ranks near the bottom of the league in both passing and rushing. The Chiefs have not been able to put pressure on the quarterback, and have only recorded 6 sacks. Former first round pick Glenn Dorsey was drafted to wreak havoc in opponents backfields, but he is still struggling to fulfill his potential in this his second season. Dorsey has yet to record a sack this year, but a breakout game from him could give Kansas City the lift they need to notch their first win.
Redskins coach Jim Zorn is once again under fire in Washington after a disappointing 2-3 start. Their defense has played well, especially against the run, but the offense needs to match their production. Zorn was brought in to groom quarterback Jason Campbell and craft an innovative offense with him as Washington's centerpiece. So far the results haven't materialized, but expect Zorn to stick to his guns and keep trying to move the ball through the air. Wide Receiver Santana Moss has had an up and down year, but he could have a big game against the Chiefs. Kansas City has allowed 130 yards receiving to a receiver in each of the last three weeks. If Washington is going to have success throwing the ball though, they need to improve their offensive line play. The Redskins are banged up in the trenches, and they have not performed well as a unit even when healthy.
Sunday 4:05 - 4:15PM EST
Philadelphia follows their 33-14 win against Tampa Bay with a date against the Raiders. This game could turn into Sunday's biggest blowout. Donovan McNabb returned from injury and did not show much rust en route to posting a 157.2 quarterback rating. McNabb and backup Kevin Colb have combined for 260.5 passing yards per game, that's 8th in the NFL. Despite the success in the passing game, Philadelphia has struggled rushing the football. Bryan Westbrook has battled injuries and is still looking for his first big game of the season. But, the Eagles' offense as a whole is averaging 31.8 points per game. Philadelphia is favored by 14 in large part due to the dominance of their defense. Football Outsiders ranks the Eagles 3rd in pass defense and 8th in rush defense DVOA.
It's safe to say that Oakland has the worst offense in the league right now. If you look at their pass offense DVOA, you will see that they are last in the league with a DVOA of -54.4%. The next worst passing offense belongs to Cleveland, who has a DVOA of -27.4% (Remember that a value of zero is average). The Eagles have 9 interceptions this season, and they will take advantage of Jamarcus Russell and his 47.1 quarterback rating. If the Raiders attempt to emphasize the run in this game, it is unlikely that they will have much better success. Oakland has averaged just 3.3 yards per carry.
Arizona heads to the great Northwest for a pivotal NFC West match up. If the Cardinals get a win at Qwest Field they will pull even with the 49ers in the division at 3-2. Arizona has won four of the last five meetings, but Seattle is always tough to beat at home. The Cardinals have had no success running the ball this season. Arizona is averaging just 18.2 attempts per game and their averaging just 3.1 yards per attempt. While they have not had much success running the ball, they have had success stopping the run. The defending NFC champions have not allowed over 66 yards rushing to a running back all year.
The return of Matt Hasselbeck seemed to energize the entire Seattle team last week. Hasselbeck threw four touchdown passes in his first start since he was injured against the San Francisco 49ers. The Seahawks have only allowed 8 points a game at home this year, and they pitched a shutout last week against Jacksonville. Seattle comes into this game at 2-3, but they have the best point differential in the NFC West at +33. They rank 5th in points allowed and 12th in points scored, so the Seahawks should be able to win this game at home.
Tennessee is still trying for its first win of the season after reaching the playoffs last year. The odds makers don't think this is the week for Tennessee, they're 9 point underdogs. It will be interesting to see if quarterback Vince Young sees more playing time if this game turns on the Titans. Tennessee's season is already slipping away and they cannot afford to lose too many more games. One bright spot has been rookie wide receiver Kenny Britt, who is leading the team in receiving yards. Britt is averaging 15.2 yards per catch, and he could find some success against a New England defense ranked 21st in pass defense DVOA. The Titans should also be able to run the ball against the Patriots, they are averaging 5.3 yards per carry that's the second best in the league.
Tom Brady missed almost all of last season with a knee injury and while Brady has been inconsistent at times this year, overall his statistics show that he is still performing at an elite level. He actually ranks third with 540 DYAR. Expect Tom Brady to have success against Tennessee's defense, which is predicated on stopping the run. New England should take to the air early and often as only Arizona averages more pass attempts per game. The Titans pass rush has been lackluster which should give Tom Brady plenty of time to see the field and spread the ball around. The Patriots are only averaging 20.8 points per game this year, but they have a good opportunity to improve on that mark against Tennessee. New England has a +2 turnover differential and if they can continue that success they should be in line for a victory.
Buffalo is a team that is still trying to find its identity. They are coming off three straight losses and desperately need a win to keep pace in the AFC East. Most likely they will turn to their ground game which is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Teams have had some success running against the Jets so look for Buffalo to try and exploit that. Quarterback Trent Edwards has not shown the ability to take risks in the passing game, preferring to utilize his check downs rather than take a chance down the field. If he is not able to stretch the field against the Jets secondary, New York will be able to commit more people to pressuring the quarterback and stopping the run.
Overall the Jets are only giving up 17.6 points per game, but they were unable to stop the Dolphins' rushing attack last week. They will have to do better if they want to get a win against the Bills. On offense they have the third most rush attempts in the league, and we should see more of the same since Buffalo is giving up 4.7 yards per carry. Quarterback Mark Sanchez will continue to try and manage the game to put the Jets in a position to win in the fourth quarter. Even though New York is coming off a tough loss, they are still favored in this game by 9.5 points.
Sunday 8:20PM EST
The Bears will most likely try to run the ball with Matt Forte, to try and take advantage of a Falcon's defense that has allowed nearly 5 yards per rush attempt. Jay Cutler has learned to take advantage of the fewer opportunities afforded to him in the Bears' offense. Cutler is only averaging 27.5 pass attempts per game, but he has thrown for five touchdowns and rushed for another. He has had a quarterback rating of over 100 in the last three games, but will he be able to play with confidence and win a game in the Georgia Dome?
This game could turn into a shootout if the Bears are not careful. Matt Ryan is having a career year, currently ranking second in DVOA, behind only Peyton Manning. The Falcons signal caller has two premier receiving threats in wide out Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez. Together with running back Michael Turner, Atlanta has a potent offense that can score a lot of points against the Bears. The Falcons currently rank 7th with a +39 point differential. Both their offense and their defense are ranked in the top 10 in scoring, making Atlanta a complete football team capable of going 4-1 this week against Chicago.
Monday 8:30PM EST
Free Agent acquisition Brain Dawkins has helped lead the Denver Broncos defensive revival, and the unit is now ranked 4th in defensive DVOA. The Broncos have done a great job of getting pressure on the quarterback. Linebacker Elvis Dumervil leads the team with 8 sacks. Denver is second in the league with 16 total sacks. After serving a two game suspension, Brandon Marshall has returned in a big way in the last three games. Marshall has 24 receptions for 283 yards and 4 touchdowns in three starts this season. Look for rookie Knowshon Moreno to have a big game against the San Diego run defense, which is ranked 32nd against the run. A league high 30.5% of the running plays against the Chargers has resulted in first downs.
The Chargers' Phillip Rivers will be trying to protect his perfect 4-0 record on Monday Night Football against the Broncos this week. River has been outstanding this year, throwing for over 1,200 yards in four games. But San Diego is looking for a big game from one of its other franchise players, Shawne Merriman. Merriman has been uncharacteristically quiet this season and has not recorded a sack. The Chargers' running game has also failed to get on track. They are averaging 2.7 yards per carry and 53.8 yards per game. They will most likely have to continue to rely on the passing game against the fifth ranked rush defense.