Brad Kurtzberg (TheSTN) – Analysis and Observations of the NFL at the Halfway Mark

There is plenty to discuss at the halfway mark of this season. As always, there are plenty of exciting story lines and players to discuss and lots of surprises. Here are a few thoughts about the first half of the 2012 NFL season:

1) Rookie quarterbacks look good: We have five rookie QBs starting in the NFL. Two of them, Robert Griffin III of Washington and Andrew Luck of Indianapolis, have dominated the headlines. But don’t overlook Ryan Tannehill of Miami. The Dolphins coaching staff has worked out a good system for him to minimize his weakness and emphasize what he does best. So far, it’s worked well and the Dolphins are 4-4. Tannehill is on pace to throw for more than 3,500 yards and has nearly as many TD passes and interceptions despite a lack of receiving weapons.

2) The Falcons are not doing to finish the season undefeated. Sure, Atlanta is 8-0, but has a team ever gone through half the season unbeaten and gotten so little respect and attention? Atlanta is a very good team, but they aren’t really overwhelming anybody. They have been steady and consistent. Atlanta won’t convince any of their critics until they win a playoff game, something that QB Matt Ryan and Coach Mike Smith have not done despite their regular season success thus far since joining the Falcons.

3) The Bears defense is excellent, but it’s way too early to start the comparisons to the 1985 Bears or even the 2000 Ravens. Chicago is 7-1, but they won’t duplicate that mark in the second half unless their offensive line improves and they continue scoring points on defense like they have been. That being said, any team with a defense as good as Chicago’s has the ability to go all the way.

4) Quietly, Josh Freeman and the Bucs have improved to 4-4. Freeman took a huge step back in 2011 after a very good 2010. While some of new head coach Greg Schiano’s antics have been sophomoric, he seems to be getting the Bucs on the right track and quietly, this team is in the hunt for a wild card.

5) Change is needed in Dallas and it’s not necessarily at quarterback or at coach. Sure, Tony Romo has a habit of coming up short in big games and clock management by both Romo and Coach Jason Garrett has been horrible at times. But the biggest issue in Dallas is that owner Jerry Jones continues to be his own GM. Folks, it’s a simple time equation. If you are trying to be the hands on owner and hands on GM of a team, you don’t have enough time to dedicate to either position to do them right. Part of leadership is surrounding yourself with good people and delegating authority to them. Jones has to hire a real football person and let him run the show. The organization will be better off in the long run if he does.

6) Barring a second half turnaround of large proportions, it appears Andy Reid’s days in Philadelphia are numbered. That’s a shame, too, because Reid is a darn good football coach and a quality person. Still, the past two years, the Eagles have been less than the sum of their parts and that reflects poorly on the head coach. Michael Vick is also too inconsistent to be an upper echelon starting QB in this league, especially running a Reid offense. Reid runs a version of the West Coast Offense which places a heavy emphasis on accuracy and uses short passes in lieu of the running game. Accuracy is not one of Vick’s strong suits. Rest assured, much like Jeff Fisher did, Reid will have plenty of job offers when he’s ready to coach again.

7) Anyone still doubting Peyton Manning? The Broncos are 5-3 at the break and play in what may be the NFL’s weakest division. They should win at least 10 games this year and should be a real threat do go deep into the postseason. Why? Because Manning’s biggest weapon is his mind which was never in doubt and his timing with his receivers will only increase as the season progresses.

8) The Baltimore Ravens aren’t the same team without Ray Lewis who is their spiritual leader even if he’s only good and no longer great on the field. Injuries to their once vaunted defense have also hurt the club. Unless they get healthy in a hurry, look for the Steelers to overtake the Ravens in the AFC Central with Baltimore hanging on for a wild card spot in the AFC.

9) The problems the Jets are having go way beyond Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow. The Jets need a new GM and their owner has to change the culture around the organization. For the Jets, it’s all about media attention and getting on the back page of the tabloids or more coverage on ESPN. Meanwhile, the deficiencies of their team have not been addressed. The Jets receiving corps, running game and offensive line have all gotten worse over the past three seasons with no roster help to replace departed players. Rex Ryan’s boasting style works well when you’re winning, but when you say, “This is the best team I’ve had here” every year and then you start losing, your credibility can sink faster than your winning percentage. A new GM is needed for the Jets and maybe a new coach.

10) The Houston Texans are quietly the best team in the AFC right now. Everybody talks about Peyton Manning and the Broncos or Tom Brady and the Pats, but the Texans are 7-1 and have already manhandled the Ravens and beaten the Broncos. The Texans have a great defense led by J.J. Watt and Defensive Coordinator Wade Philips and superior balance on offensive with Arian Foster carrying the ball and Matt Schaub throwing it. Schaub slips under the radar but he’s on pace to throw just eight INTs this season and he makes this offense go. Foster is on pace for nearly 1,500 yards. This Sunday night’s game between the Texans and Bears should be a great one and a fantastic way to kick off the second half of the season.

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