The calendar has flipped to October, but the NFL season continues to be thoroughly confusing. The elite teams in the league remain very murky. Preseason favorites have faltered and teams that were expected to implode are somehow still alive. Here are the four biggest takeaways from Week 5.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers might be in trouble:
After a mercurial start to the season that featured a lethargic win over Minnesota in Week 2 and a bizarre loss to Chicago the following week, everything went wrong for Pittsburgh at home against Jacksonville. Ben Roethlisberger threw five interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns as the Steelers fell 30-9 to the Jaguars. The Steelers defense held strong for the most part outside of a late 90 yard touchdown by Leonard Fournette on 3rd and 2 with the defense selling out to get a stop. The issue for Pittsburgh came from the inability to sustain offensive drives. Big Ben threw the ball 55 times Sunday, a number that becomes even more staggering when juxtaposed with the 15 carries that Pro-Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell had. Roethlisberger targeted All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown 19 times a week after Brown threw a hissy-fit on the sideline that ended with a gatorade cooler being spiked. The beauty of the Steelers offense is how many different ways they can attack teams, but when they become one-dimensional and overly Brown-centric they lose the diversity that makes them so special. Fortunately for them they play in the putrid AFC North, but Pittsburgh looks like anything but a Super Bowl contender through five weeks.
- Cam Newton is starting to look like the 2015 version of himself
It was a bizarre week for the 2015 NFL MVP after he lost his sponsorship with Dannon Yogurt due to his disrespectful comments to a female beat reporter. While Newton took a deserved beating off the field, he was excellent on it. He threw for 355 yards and three scores, but more importantly he was driving the ball downfield with confidence. Newton has found a good rhythm with receiver Devin Funchess, and has found the balance between taking deep shots and checking the ball down. One of Cam’s great strengths is his ability to make throws from the pocket with traffic around his feet. He has the arm talent to launch strikes downfield even when his body is not fully set. If Newton can maintain this kind of pocket poise and continue to make the Panthers a vertical passing threat, they may be one of the more dangerous teams in the NFC.
- Aaron Rodgers continues to be a sorcerer
Despite having the ball for a full 10 minutes less than Dallas and having his kicker miss two extra points, the Green Bay quarterback once again engineered a magical fourth quarter comeback. These kind of performances that leave daggers in the hearts of opponents have become routine, but not recognizing the brilliance of Rodgers would be a great disservice. When he took the field for the final drive I do not think there was a single person in the stadium or watching at home that did not believe that game was at minimum going to overtime. Rodgers continues to cover up the flaws that the Packers’ roster has. His escape and scramble on third down of the game-winning drive to put the Packers deep in the red zone was the most impressive play of the game. If he gets sacked there, the game is essentially over given that the Packers were out of timeouts. Instead Rodgers conjured up yet another miraculous escape and eventually threw the game-winning touchdown. One would think that Rodgers success will eventually regress toward the mean in these situations, but I am beginning to believe that he is destined to pull the rabbit out of his hat for years to come.
- The Eli Manning era may be coming to a close
The New York Football Giants fell to 0-5 this week and lost Odell Beckham Jr. for the season to an ankle injury. They could not squeak out a victory against the winless Los Angeles Chargers at home despite facing a west-coast team at a noon central time kickoff, a recipe that usually spells doom for the road team. The Giants have lost their last three games by a combined 10 points, but things do not get any easier for New York as they travel to Denver next week, followed by home games against Seattle and the Los Angeles Rams. There is a very real possibility that Manning and company could be 0-8 after eight games, and that would almost assuredly spell doom for head coach Ben McAdoo. With the way things are going, the Giants will be picking near the top of a draft that features several top-flight quarterback prospects. Management would be hard-pressed to justify passing on a quarterback of the future given Manning’s inconsistency and age. It is important that we as fans appreciate Eli face while we still can, as it could soon be a thing of the past.