With the first four weeks of the season done, how have the various teams done? Today we go through the AFC West and look at how each team has performed to date. This is one of the more contentious divisions in the league and arguably the weakest division in the NFL.
San Diego Chargers: 3-1
So far the San Diego Chargers may be the leading team in the AFC West but this isn’t necessarily a reflection of this team’s ability. First of all there is the fact that all three of their wins have come against teams that have had only one victory so far this season and two of those teams are weaker division teams – the Chiefs and the Raiders. Further to this point, the win against the Raiders was a game in which San Diego played fairly poorly but were the recipient of Oakland losing their long snapper and that team’s inability to punt the ball effectively due to said injury. In the one game in which the Chargers faced a winning team – the now 4-0 Atlanta Falcons – they were soundly beaten 27-3.
Looking at the offense, there are some high points but also some obviously disturbing low points. The Chargers are 14th in points per game, 24th in offensive yards per game, 22rd in total passing yards while 23rd in yards per passing play, 17th in total rushing yards while being 24th in yards per rushing play and finally they are 14th in total touchdowns. Considering the teams the Chargers have faced so far and the fact they rank 4th in the NFL in Time of Possession, these numbers are not very encouraging. There are a few positives – they aren’t turning the ball over very much and are getting it done on third down at a very respectable 43%. There just doesn’t seem to be any real vigor to this offense as a whole and their attack lacks any real identity while their offensive line is still one of the weakest in the NFL overall.
To the defense and this is where there is some reason for optimism. The numbers here are reasonably good – although this should be expected given their opposition thus far. They are 6th in points against per game despite a slightly disappointing 12th in total yards per game, 18th in 3rd down against percentage, 23rd in penalty yards but 15th in penalties, a decent 17th in passing yards against per game with five interceptions, a strong 6th in rushing yards against per game but a mere 15th in rushing yards against per play and finally a very poor 21st in sacks. This defense has faced some rather good running backs so far – Darren McFadden, Jamaal Charles, Chris Johnson and Michael Turner – and performed well overall although this is due in part to their opposition throwing more than average which depresses their ranking in the passing stats. Ultimately, this team’s defense is helping carry the team but you have to wonder how they will stand up to better offenses.
Denver Broncos: 2-2
So much has changed for the Broncos since last season but so far the transition from Tebow to Manning has gone much smoother than many expected. So far this team has been competitive every single week and while they are only 2-2 their two losses have come to a pair of 4-0 teams – the Houston Texans and the Atlanta Falcons. Unlike the Chargers however they have managed to beat a quality team in the Pittsburgh Steelers. Fun fact – through four games the two losses have both been by a mere six points while both their victories have been by double digits.
The main impact of this offense may be Peyton Manning and his noodle arm but their overall numbers are pretty good. They’re 12th in the league in total yards per game, 13th in yards per play, 7th in points per game and 4th in third down percentage while the only real issue is turnovers where they rank 7th in the league on the wrong end with a -4 differential. Despite Manning’s problems with arm strength, the passing offense has been pretty good as they rank 9th in passing yards per game, 5th in passing TDs and oddly enough 11th in average yards per play although the 64.3% completion percentage certainly needs improvement. The running game has done fairly well too as they’re middle of the pack in most rushing categories as Willis McGahee continues his strong play from 2011.
The main worry for this team in the preseason was the defense which many felt badly needed upgrading. While there have been one or two additions however this is largely the same defense that forced Tim Tebow to perform his comeback heroics so often last season. It is somewhat surprising then that the stats look pretty solid so far. They are 9th in total yards against with the run defense in particular holding up well in 9th and the passing defense doing reasonably well also in 13th. The biggest concern for this defense is that opposing offenses are 41% on third down – good for 10th worst in the league – and have had 30 penalties in 4 games – tied for 8th worst in the league. Overall this defense is talented but is still showing some major discipline issue in terms of both assignments and general play.
Kansas City Chiefs: 1-3
For me this is one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL. During pre-season it looked as if they were turning a corner after they disasterous 2011 campaign that could be forgiven after their bad schedule. I have previously written about how Matt Cassel was looking far more comfortable behind his offensive line with the addition of Eric Winston helping matters a lot. Now Cassel looks like a complete novice as he has been ripped apart in recent weeks despite his running game having a lot of success and his offensive line performing well also. Perhaps what is most astonishing about this team so far is that they actually have a win – they really didn’t deserve their week 3 victory over the New Orleans Saints and won it despite Cassel’s bad play thank to Jamaal Charles taking the team on his bad and dragging them kicking and screaming over the line.
Just look at these numbers for the offense. They may be 4th in total yards – largely thanks to Charles – but when you break it down they’re only 14th in yards per play and slipping. The passing game is just barely average as they rank 17th in passing yards per game and are a woeful 27th in passing yards per completion. What is most worrying of all is the turnovers – this team has by far the worst turnover differential in the NFL at -13! -13!!! To put that in context, that means they coughing up the ball more than three times a game on average even after you take into account fumble recoveries and interceptions by the defense. Even worse, the next closest team in this category is the Dallas Cowboys with a mere -7.
The inefficiency of the offense has had a distinct impact on the defense as opposing offenses have found themselves far more often in good field position and capitalised. They have been pretty disciplined overall and given away only 18 penalties – equal 5th best in the league – but because of their issues with field position have been susceptible to big plays as they rank 7th in yards against per play and have given up the 16 touchdowns – third worst in the NFL – with 10 of those coming through the air – second worst. This doesn’t mean their passing defense has been horrible though as opposing offenses average only 212 passing yards per game – the 12th best mark in the NFL. Overall this is a defense that has performed but for which we need to wait and see how they do when the offense lifts it’s game.
Oakland Raiders: 1-3
In a division that is all about quarterback questions, there was perhaps no Field-General for which opinion was divided on than Carson Palmer as both the haters and the defenders came out to square off regarding the former Bengals signal caller. Unfortunately for Raider Nation the now infamous trade made by former head coach Hue Jackson following the death of the late Al Davis has not paid off. To be brutally honest, Palmer has taken a largely anaemic offense and effectively made it worse.
When you look back on this Raiders team last year, Jason Campbell was making some real headway and many had the Raiders in the play-off hunt prior to his injury that led to the Palmer trade and Campbell’s departure. We heard all the talk – “Palmer needs time to develop chemistry with his receivers”, “This team looked good early last year so Palmer should do well” – but the reality is that Carson Palmer’s inability to carry this team on his back – something that has to be expected and demanded with the price this team paid for him – and the lack of Oakland’s ability to make improvements thanks to the horrible cap number Palmer brought with him has resulted in this team being a joke of a match-up.
The offensive stats bear out with what the critics like myself have been saying. 22nd in total yards, 20th in yards per play, 16th in turnover differential and 13th in passing yards per game – astonishing since they’re behind constantly and even worse as they’re 24th in passing yards per completion. It gets much worse though – LAST in rushing yards per game, 29th in points per game, tied for LAST in total touchdowns and perhaps worst of all they are 30th in third down percentage at a miserable 28%.
The unfortunate thing is that this team actually has a half decent defense. Guys like Richard Seymour, Tyvon Branch and so on have been playing some good football overall but because their offense has been so poor their stats look really bad. They give up the 5th most yards per game – largely because they have the third highest time of play per game at 34:44. What they could improve on is the 6 yards per play they surrender which is too high even with their high amount of playing time. What hurts most is this defenses struggles on third down as 53% of all third downs have been converted against Oakland so far – this despite also having the largest number of third down attempts against. While the defense has played well as a whole, they are on the field far too much and it shows.