Better late than never. At least that's my excuse for this week, as I present your weekly How'd They Do post a little later than usual. Sorry about that; what can I say, college got in the way. Either way, this was too exciting a week for me not to recap it. But since it is getting closer to the next big one already, the post will be a little shorter than usual, focusing more on the upcoming weekend than last week.
Still, what a week it was. Our next and last opponents all had exciting games, with some quite unexpected results. Cleveland and New Orleans, who would have thought? Baltimore coming from behind, really? In short, jump in and enjoy the post. I promise, it's worth it!
Pittsburgh's Next Three Opponents
When will we play them? This week (Week 8)
The Game: 17-30 at home against the Cleveland Browns
Out of the ordinary: surrendering 30 points while only giving up 210 yards defensively and controlling the clock for over 35 minutes.
What happened: If you are a Saints fan, disaster happened. The defense was good enough to win the game, but 4 uncharacteristic interceptions by Drew Brees (2 of which were returned for TDs - by the same player), as well as a huge special teams breakdown led to this upset. Seriously, has anybody ever seen such a big hole in the middle of the field during a punt? I am not even sure if the play was called that way, or if the Browns' punter just saw the ocean parting and decided to go for it. This is probably the one game this season that the Saints and especially Brees want to forget. And I don't know about you, but I can't blame him.
Team Temperature: Cooling down again - The Saints really are a temperature roller coaster this year, aren't they?
Next Week's opponent: At Home against the Pittsburgh Steelers
What to look for: Let's take the rush game out of the equation. We know the Saints' third string RB won't do much against us, and in my opinion our running game will be solid (over 100 yards) but not spectacular. That leaves two explosive passing offenses trying to exploit their suspect counterparts. Drew Brees, one of the elite quarterbacks in this league, faces a Steelers secondary that might be better than its rank (24), but certainly isn't among the NFL's best. At the same time, Ben Roethlisberger, averaging a QB rating of over 120 in his two games back, goes up against a secondary without its two starting cornerbacks and with an arguably rusty Darren Sharper - that is, if he is even ready to go. Whoever has the better passing stats will win this game.
Last Game against the Steelers: Nov. 13, 2006 - Pittsburgh 38, New Orleans 31, in Pittsburgh
The Standout last time: Willie Parker: 22 carries, 213 yards, 9.7 y/c, 2 TD.
Prediction: Steelers 28, Saints 24
When will we play them? In two weeks (Week 9)
The Game: 32-39 away against the Atlanta Falcons
Out of the ordinary: Carson Palmer going 36/50 (70% comletions) for 412 yards, 3 TD and no INT, a QB rating of 116.4
What happened: What a crazy game. The Bengals looked awful to start, going into the half down 24-3. All they did was come out with a 22-0 third quarter, in which they regained the lead by a point... Only to fall apart once again. Palmer was right on target for once this season, finding a rhythm especially with rookie Jordan Shipley who recorded his first 100 yard receiving game of the season. But the defense was simply bad. What happened to all the declarations that they should be counted among the elite? Nope, not happening. And it wasn't even only the pass defense, which had to play without a starter - Michael Turner rumbled for 121 and a TD as the Falcons averaged 5.1 yards a carry.
Team Temperature: Getting Chilly in Cinci
Next Week's opponent: At Home against the Miami Dolphins
What to look for: A pass defense without one of its starting CBs as well as its top backup CB, facing off against a pass offense featuring one of the best WR in the league and a rising young Quarterback? Interesting. I give Mike Zimmer enough credit to fix at least some of the defensive problems exhibited by the secondary. But that still leaves open holes in the run game, and Ronnie Brown seems poised to bounce back from a terrible game against the Steelers. Another interesting matchup should be the Dolphin's pass rush against Carson Palmer, who has been prone to turnovers when pressured this season. Let's see if last week was a fluke or whether he is actually starting to turn that trend around.
Last Game against the Dolphins: Dec. 30, 2007 - Cincinnati 38, Miami 25, in Miami
The Standout last time: Carson Palmer: 23/32 (71.9% completions), 316 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT
Prediction: Cincinnati 20, Miami 23
The Name: New England Patriots
When will we play them? In three weeks (Week 9)
The Game: 23-20 away against the San Diego Chargers
Out of the ordinary: Giving up over 35 minutes of possession despite allowing only 38 rushing yards (2.0 y/c)
What happened: The Patriots had this game going away. Until all of a sudden, San Diego remembered that it is more than just the primary sex organ of a female whale, and started a furious comeback. With New England dominating most of the way, San Diego turned on the switch and started scoring like crazy with just 6:30 minutes to go in the game. But despite a furious 17:3 run in that time span (including some huge catches by star TE Antonio Gates and a successful onside kick), the run was too little, too late. A week after a come from behind win against the Ravens, Justin Brady and the gang barely pulled through and held on to the lead.
Team Temperature: 5-1 means warm temperatures on the east coast. Pretty hot as a matter of fact, and I am certainly not speaking about Tom Brady.
Next Week's opponent: At Home against the Minnesota Vikings
What to look for: Who am I kidding? Nobody is looking anywhere but at Pappy Favre's bum ankle, which was fractured and in a protective boot for most of the week. If he is not going to play, don't expect too much spotlight on back up QB Tavaris Jackson. Instead, should that be the case, I predict the longest amount of television time for a player on the sidelines in the history of the league, together with at least 15 mentions of how his consecutive streak of starting games has now ended. But who are we kidding, he will start. Despite everything I have come to dislike about Favre in recent years, even I have to admit that he has heart and is not going to give up easily. Which makes the most interesting match up for me how the Patriot's pass rush will fare against an Oline that has been suspect this year. If the pass rush comes up big, there is no way Favre makes it through the game.
Last Game against Minnesota: Oct. 30, 2006 - New England 37, Minnesota 7, in Minnesota
The Standout last time: Tom "The Bieber" Brady - 29/43 (67.4% completions), 372 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT
Prediction: New England 30, Minnesota 17
Pittsburgh's Last Three Opponents
When did we play them and how did we do? Two weeks ago (Week 6); won 28-10
The Game: 30-17 at home against the New Orleans Saints
Out of the ordinary: Returning two picks for TDs in one season is good. Returning two in one game is great. Returning two as a back up Linebacker against a top 3 quarterback in the league is simply amazing. Good job David Bowens.
What happened: I called it! I called it! I called it! Alright, not exactly. But I did point out last week that if Cleveland continues playing the way it does, it just might spoil the party for New Orleans. And did it ever. Mangini went deep into his playbook for this one, calling exotic blitzes, a fake punt, and even a halfback pass. Impressive. If you score 30 points when your QB passes for less than 100 yards, you know you have done something right - or at least out of the ordinary. And picking off Drew Brees four times, the main reason for Cleveland's win in my opinion, is impressive as well. Now, let's see if they can win playing conventional football as well.
Team Temperature: Warming up - it's not hard to do when you are an iceblock.
Next Week's opponent: Bye Week
What to look for: If the Browns have that many tricks in their bag, let's see what they can do with an extra week to prepare. In two weeks, if I am New England, I am paying special attention to Josh Cribbs
When did we play them and how did we do? Three weeks ago (Week 4); lost 17-14
The Game: 37-34 (OT) at home against the Buffalo Bills
Out of the Ordinary: Giving up 514 yards - to arguably the worst team in the league
What happened: A win is a win. That should be the Ravens' attitude coming out of that one, because outside of a few individual performances by the usual suspects (Ray Lewis: 15 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble; Ed Reed: Two interceptions), this game didn't give the Ratbirds much to be happy about. Buffalo, supposedly a worse team than the 0-16 Lions a couple years back, came out of the gate in full power. A late-game push by Flacco and the offense carried the Ravens into OT, where they finally took care of business. But still, with or maybe even because of Ed Reed being back, this pass defense suddenly looked more than beatable. We all remember Ryan Fitzpatrick, the awful QB for the Bengals two years ago when Palmer was out, right? Well, against the Ravens he had a 106 QB rating, threw for 382 yards, and 4 TD. But, like I said, a win is a win.
Team Temperature: warm, but not overly hot I would say - like a nice toast with some melted Nutella on it.
Highlight Reel: Ravens vs. Patriots
Next Week's opponent: Bye Week
What to look for: Some extra work for Ed Reed with the secondary, which will probably look better once the players are used to playing with each other again.
The Name: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
When did we play them and how did we do? Four weeks ago (Week 3); won 38-13
The Game: 18-17 at home against the St. Louis Rams
Out of the Ordinary: LeGarrette Blount - the undrafted rookie had 11 carries for 72 yards, a 6.6 avg.
What happened: Alright, I think by this point of the season we can agree that the Bucs are not among the elite teams like some pundits claimed after the first three weeks. Nonetheless, can we also agree that they are much improved over last year? Josh Freeman, throwing for over 200 yards without a turnover once again, reminds me very much of a young Ben Roethlisberger and looks more like the long-term answer at QB every game. And his got a young target in Mike Williams, a rookie WR that has had a pretty impressive season so far - 82 yards in this game, 365 for the season. Anyways, this looked to be all St. Louis, until Tampa turned on the heat, turned the game around, and turned their backs to the Rams. The Bucs now stand at 4-2, and already have as many wins as they had all last season. The only concern is points/game, where they rank 30th in the league with just 16.3.
Team Temperature: Not as hot as the Florida weather, but pretty comfortable to relax in
Next Week's opponent: Away against the Arizona Cardinals
What to look for: I don't know about you, but in a match up between two low-scoring teams (both allow 16.3 points/game, which - as mentioned above - is 'good' for 30th in the league) I am particularly interested in how Fitz does against Ronde Barber. Larry Fitzgerald, still haunting Steeler fans with his TDs in the Super Bowl, has had a difficult season so far because of constantly changing QBs. Barber on the other hand continues to defy age, is second on the team in tackles, and already has two interceptions. It will be interesting to see how these two standouts play against each other, even if the ball will barely be thrown to Fitz in a manageable fashion. Oh, and of course how Derek Anderson will do, but I wouldn't hold my breath over that.
Last Game against the Cardinals: Nov. 4, 2007 - Tampa Bay 17, Arizona 10, in Tampa Bay
The Standout last time: Earnest Graham (FB) - 34 carries, 124 yards, 3.6 avg., 1 TD
Prediction: Tampa Bay 17, Arizona 7
Upset of the Week
The Name: Oakland Raiders
The Game: 59-14 away against the Denver Broncos
Out of the Ordinary: Darren McFadden - 16 rushes for 165 yards (10.3 y/c), 3 TD. Also 2 receptions for 31 yards (15.5 avg.), 1 TD
What happened: I have to admit, I wanted to pick the Browns here. But that would just be redundant; and besides, this is a pretty good game to talk about, isn't it? The Raiders, for years the laughing stock of the NFL, went on the road and onto the mountain, only to descent after having scored a franchise-record 59 points. I mean this was never even close. 24-0 after one quarter, and 38-0 before Denver scored its first point on a TD just before the half. McFadden simply went nuts, and accounted for 28 points by himself while rushing for over 10 yards a carry. But the rest of the team chipped in with 2 interceptions (1 returned for a TD) and a 2 TD performance by Jason Campbell. All that is left to say is holy sh**, are the Raiders this good? I would hesitate, but they are definitely better than in recent years.
Team Temperature: Hot! Hot! Hot! I just burned myself, someone must have left the stove on and no one noticed
Next Week's opponent: At home against the Seattle Seahawks
What to look for: Quite frankly, I am looking for coaching. Pete Carroll has done a great job in Seattle so far, so I look forward to seeing whether he can continue with his ridiculously remodeled team. Tom Cable on the other hand, after being laughed at by many, finally has his team playing the way he wants them to - and he didn't even need to punch someone. Seriously though, these two surprising teams have plenty to prove - are they flukey in the beginning of the season, or will they be threats in their respective divisions in the upcoming years? As for me personally, I think I will just lean back and enjoy watching two teams that are a perfect example of how quickly you can turn your fate around in the NFL.
Last Game against the Seahawks: Nov. 6, 2006 - Oakland 0, Seattle 16, in Seattle
The Standout last time: Maurice Morris (Seattle) - 30 carries, 138 yards, 4.6 avg.
Prediction: Oakland 20 - Seattle 19
And, of course, your German word of the week: Weltmeister (say: Velt-Mise-ter) - World Champion