NFL Week 9 showed us a few things about which teams around the league are playing good football and are legitimate playoff contenders. We saw the New England Patriots defense fail them again in a loss to the mediocre New York Giants. We saw Joe Flacco continue to prove his critics wrong and win the game of the week between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. We'll also get into the Brandon Marshall situation with the Miami Dolphins.
We will discuss both big NFL games but first, the Arizona Cardinals who got their second win of the season against the St. Louis Rams. More importantly, we are finally starting to see the direction this team is going with young players starting to emerge on the defensive side of the ball.
Arizona Cardinals find their future on defense
When the Arizona Cardinals defense was at its peak during the Ken Whisenhunt era the cornerstones were Karlos Dansby, Darnell Dockett, and Adrian Wilson. Dansby moved on in free agency, Dockett and Wilson are obviously still with the Cardinals, but at ages 30 and 32 they are entering the later stages of their NFL careers. That doesn't mean the two vets aren't productive players, but they no longer are the dominant forces they once were.
On Sunday we got a glimpse of where the Cardinals defense is headed. The transition to the new cornerstones is under way with Daryl Washington, Calais Campbell, and Patrick Peterson as the key pieces. It works out perfectly, they have one player at each level of the defense that can develop into the best player of that group and be passed along a leadership role as the veterans move on.
Daryl Washington is exactly the type of middle linebacker you need in the new age NFL. The days of bruising, slow, run stopping linebackers have passed. With how teams spread the field and run out of three and four wide receiver sets it is paramount that a MLB has the ability to cover tight ends, drop into zones, go sideline to sideline, and be a force against the run.
Washington is a versatile, dynamic, playmaking middle linebacker who can play all three downs. He showed off all these skills against the St. Louis Rams on Sunday coming up with 10 tackles, two for a loss, and two deflected passes (one was almost an interception returned for a TD). At the age of 25, Daryl Washington is just entering his prime and has a future as an All-Pro (not the stupid Pro Bowl) type player.
The Pittsburgh Steelers defense the Cardinals are trying to implement with defensive coordinator Ray Horton is predicated on getting to the quarterback. A lot of this pressure comes from a variety of blitzes from positions all over the field. This often leads to the defensive line getting overlooked. Yesterday was Calais Campbell's best game of the season; he was a force in the pass rush with 1.5 sacks and solid against the run. This needs to be an every week type game from Calais.
The final piece to the puzzle is rookie cornerback Patrick Peterson. The punt return that won the game was great, don't get me wrong, but the Cardinals did not draft Peterson with the number five pick for him to become Desmond Howard. Peterson is wearing red and white to be a lock down, Darrelle Revis type corner. He's not there yet, he still gets too many penalties, and is not consistent enough in coverage, but we are starting to see flashes.
The development of Patrick Peterson will be one of the deciding factors on how good this Cardinals defense can become in the next few years.
The Cardinals season might be lost, but when you look at the development of Washington, Campbell and Peterson, along with second year players O'Brien Schofield and Dan Williams and rookies David Carter and Sam Acho the future might be looking bright.
Let's take a look around the rest of the NFL with my Big Three...
Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
I have to start with the Steelers-Ravens game. It was the best game of the weekend, NFL or college, an incredibly fun game to watch. The main story was the play of Joe Flacco, who was 28 of 47 for 300 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions.
Then numbers don't give his performance justice. I've been critical (really critical) of Flacco's play all year and in the past. This was, however, the best game I have ever watched Flacco play. He was money, making play after play.
The Ravens were 14-21 on third down and picked up 18 of their 23 first downs through the air. Plus he drove them 92 yards to win the game in the final seconds and he actually won it twice, but Torrey Smith didn't run through the pass the first time around. I have to give Flacco credit; he was the best player on the field Sunday night. I want to see more consistency before I start moving him up the quarterback rankings.
New York Giants at New England Patriots
An unbelievable win for the New York Giants and a tough loss for the New England Patriots. The Giants are now 6-2 and Eli Manning is playing great football. I thought he cost them the game when he threw an interception at the Pats five yard line when they had the opportunity to make it a two possession game in the third quarter. But Eli responded with two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter with the Giants trailing each time and desperately needing an answer.
As much as it seems like you can crown the G-Men NFC East champs based on their recent history you really can't. In 2010 the Giants started off the season 6-2 including two statement wins over the Bears and Cowboys. They faltered down the stretch, finished 10-6, and didn't make the playoffs.
In 2009 the Giants started off 5-0, lost their next four games, and struggled to an 8-8 record. In 2008 the Giants started off 11-1, went 1-3 in their last four regular season games, and got bounced by the Eagles in their first playoff game. I need to see the Giants put together a full season before I believe they are a contender.
Brandon Marshall and the Miami Dolphins
The always controversial Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall deserves credit. If no one else wants to say it I will, he's becoming a leader and doing a damn good job keeping a team with nothing to play for playing hard every single week.
Everyone bashed him for the comments he made before the Jets game. I missed it; did he get kicked out of the game or start a fight? Did anyone apologize to Marshall for ripping him to shreds? No of course not, a bunch of blowhards were to dumb to realize all he was trying to do was fire up his team.
Now a report comes out Vontae Davis, a highly regarded cornerback for the Dolphins decided it was a good idea to go get hammered and come to practice hung over, reeking of alcohol. What does Marshall do? He calls him out, pegs a football in his face, and gets into a fight. I applaud Marshall; Davis deserved to get his ass kicked for disrespecting the entire Dolphins organization.
And by the way, the Dolphins won their first game beating the red hot Kansas City Chiefs on the road, 31-3.