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Week 5 Observations
By Matt Horkman

For the third consecutive game, the Packers had over 100 rushing yards. They ran for 139 against Washington, 182 against Cincinnati, and 180 against Detroit. In addition, the team’s rushing leader differs from each game. James Starks ran for 132 against Washington and Johnathan Franklin ran for 103 against Cincinnati. It was Eddie Lacey’s turn this week, as the rookie running back led the team with 99 yards. Green Bay’s utilization of Lacy also stood out. The former Alabama running back is more of a battering ram than somebody who operates in space, but 14 of his 23 carries came with Aaron Rodgers in shotgun. The Packers opted to spread the field, forcing Detroit to stop the run with their front four. They couldn’t and Green Bay was able to maintain a balance, as a result.

You know your running game is in trouble when third-and-1 is a passing down. In recent years, that’s been the case for the Packers, so you’d expect it to change with an improving running game. Think again. Instead of letting Lacy punch through the line for a yard, the Packers threw the ball on their only two third-and-1 situations. They failed to convert each one.

Facing a third-and-3 situation, Andrew Luck went to his safety blanket (Reggie Wayne) in an attempt to extend the drive. However, Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner managed to tip the throw, causing Wayne to lose concentration and drop the ball. The Seahawks blocked the ensuing punt for a safety.

A rare mistake from Seattle’s secondary led to T.Y. Hilton’s 73-yard touchdown reception. Richard Sherman was expecting help over top, but safety Earl Thomas did not comply, allowing Hilton to come open on a corner route. Thomas T.Y. Hilton-- who was in zone coverage -- was playing the middle of the field, leaving the sideline exposed. It is possible Sherman was supposed to jam Hilton at the line of scrimmage, giving Thomas enough time to get over. However, the Colts alignment forced Sherman to play off coverage.

Deep in their territory, the Colts were facing third-and-22. The Seahawks were coming off a 12-play drive that took up over seven minutes of the second quarter, so the Colts couldn’t afford a three and out. Luck did a good job of using his cadence to draw a Seattle defender offside, and like a 10-year veteran, he took a shot downfield knowing he had free five yards in his pocket. The pass (intended for Hilton) drew pass interference, giving the Colts an automatic first down. The drive only resulted in a field goal, but this one play gave Indianapolis’ defense a much-needed rest and the Seahawks didn’t touch the ball again until 1:05 remaining in the half.

Luck’s third-quarter touchdown pass to Hilton was as good as a throw you’ll see all year. Hilton got a free release off the line of scrimmage, but cornerback Brandon Browner didn‘t do a bad job of covering Hilton down field. He kept Hilton along the sideline, forcing Luck to make a perfect pass to complete the play. Luck did just that by dropping the ball right in the breadbasket.

Trailing by three late in the fourth quarter, Seattle was facing a vital third-and-2. Russell Wilson kept the ball on a read-option and attempted to get outside, but linebacker Jerrell Freeman did an outstanding job of reading the play. He quickly identified that Wilson kept the ball, prevented him from getting outside, and squared his shoulders to make a textbook tackle. The Seahawks would punt the ball back to Indianapolis, who took over four minutes off the clock before giving it back to Seattle for their final drive.

Early against Arizona, Cam Newton was playing well. The turning point came late in the second quarter when the Panthers could not gain one-yard on three consecutive plays. The Cardinals stuffed running attempts from Mike Tolbert and Newton. Ron Rivera uncharacteristically went for it on fourth-and-1. Carolina’s offensive line gave Newton plenty of time to throw and wide receiver Brand LaFell broke open. The pass was perfect, but LaFell dropped it. The Cardinals would outscore Carolina 19-3 the reminder of the game.

The NFL has a new rule penalizing runners for lowering their helmet and leading with the crown of their head. I wrote about this rule in week three regarding the wrongful penalty on San Francisco safety Donte Whitner. He was penalized for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Indianapolis running back Ahmad Bradshaw, even though Bradshaw’s the one who lowered his helmet and led with his head. I believe the officials once again failed to enforce this particularly rule. Early in the second-quarter, Dallas running back DeMarco Murray gained 13 yards on a second-and-1 play from Denver‘s 16-yard line. Near the end of the run, he lowered his head and initiated contact with Denver defensive back Rahim Moore. There was no penalty on the play and Dallas was setup with a first and goal. They would ultimately settle for a field, but nonetheless, this is another example of officials failing to enforce this new rule.

Denver wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker combined for zero first-half catches against Dallas, yet the Broncos still scored 28 points in the first 30 minutes.

Peyton Manning and Romo put on a passing clinic this Sunday. The duo combined for 385 yards and four touchdowns . . . in the first 30 minutes. At the end of the game, the duo combined to go 58-of-78 for 920 yards, nine touchdowns, and two interceptions.

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