Notes from the North

Poor, poor Byron Leftwich. Playing in place of injured ben Roethlisberger, in one of the fiercest, nastiest rivalries in the NFL, Leftwich lights it up on the Steelers' first possession, scrambling for a 31-yard touchdown on their second play from scrimmage.

Then he spends the next 59 minutes getting hammered by a relentless Ravens defense. Where's the blocking? Where's the run game? Where's the protection?

On Friday, I asked a series of questions that I thought the weekend's football action might answer, first among them: Can the Steelers win with Leftwich?

I think we got our answer. It's not Leftwich that is the problem. It's the pass protection. Leftwich played as well as any mortal not named Roethlisberger can be expected to play behind that line and still managed to manufacture almost no offense over the course of the rest of the game. He got killed by the pass rush and could be seen grimacing from various injuries acquired throughout the massacre.

Yes, he was sacked only three times but he was a Leftwich Sandwich more often than not, crunched between two or more Baltimore defenders after releasing the ball. Leftwich is a good enough quarterback to win ball games in the NFL; it's just that Ben Roethlisberger's ability to stand in and asorb hit after hit while making plays has helped to mask the Steelers' biggest problem: its inability to protect the passer.

My second question had to do with Michael Turner, the running back for the Falcons. He's been a top-flight back in recent years but some pundits have expressed concerns that his four-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach is ill-suited to the high-flying Atlanta offense.

I predicted the Turner would save the Falcons' bacon in its game against a stout Cardinals pass defense and, though Turner only picked up 46 yards on his 15 carries, I think it's important to note that, on every play Turner carried the ball, quarterback Matt Ryan did NOT throw an interception.

Ryans five INTs were key to keeping the offensively inept Cards in the game and Turner's carries provided a steadying influence to Atlanta's own faltering O. High octane offenses work great... when they're working. A running back who can protect the ball and pick up three or four yards every time he touches the ball isn't subject to such inconsistencies.

My third question related to the quarterbacking situation in San Fran and Chicago. I have to remember not to pose a Friday Football Question that won't be answered until Monday Night, hours after I write my Monday blog.

And finally, I wondered which team would take best advantage of the Giants' recent struggles in the NFC East. The Cowboys, who came into the weekend at 4-5, seemed in the best position to catch New York but the 3-6 Redskins and Eagles, I argued, could also launch a run at the division leaders with a win in their matchup Sunday.

Well, Dallas got the win it desperately needed over Cleveland. But barely. The Cowboys had to score 17 points in the fourth quarter just to tie the game and send it into overtime, where they won 23-20. That's a pretty sloppy performance against one of the league's most beatable teams for the Cowboys. Doesn't inspire much confidence, does it?

Meanwhile, RGIII played lights out football in leading Washington to a 31-6 win over the suddenly hapless Eagles. How on earth does a first year pivot complete 14 of 15 passes for four TDs? And then add another 84 yards in rushing?

The 'Skins' defense didn't play badly either, holding the Nick Foles-led Eagle offense to just 257 net yards while posting four sacks.

I'm not sure what we can learn from this beat down. Did Washington simply accomplish what it should have accomplished by beating up on a floudering Philadelphia team? Or was this something more?

The Washington coaches seem to have Griffin playing within his abilities, not trying to do too much, not taking too many risks nor taking too much onto his own shoulders. His 14 completions went to nine different receivers, an incredibily impressive stat.

Plus, the Redskins defense seems to be playing well too.

Hmmm.... Based on this weekend's games, if I had to pick the team I thought could challenge New York for the NFC East title, it wouldn't be the 5-5 Cowboys after their sloppy win over Cleveland. It would be the 4-6 Redskins, who seem to be learning how to make best use of the talents in their arsenal, who seem to be learning how to win.


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