Monday Morning Jones: Alabama rolls, Ducks are tested and we meet Doug Martin

Matthew Stockman

Tide! Ducks! Doug Martin! Mike Smith! Yes, Mike Smith gets an exclamation point in this week's Monday Morning Jones.

It's been days since the the clock went to zeroes in Baton Rouge, and it's still the first thing on my mind from the weekend. That, ladies and gentlemen, was a classic. On the other hand, this is the Monday Morning Jones. To the weekend ...

In case you weren't sure Alabama was the best team in America ... Much of the noise after the Crimson's Tide thrilling 21-17 win over LSU Saturday night was about Les Miles' gambles, but it's hard to begrudge him for being himself when that got LSU so far the rest of the night. The Tigers game is to beat their opponents up for four quarters, and they did it to the best team in the country for 58 minutes. Even if they continued a season-long trend of ignoring the run when something went wrong, they did enough to allow Zach Mettenberger, finally, to be the quarterback we'd heard he could be. They played Les Miles football, and the positive results greatly outweighed what was lost on special teams failures.

Alabama simply won. The three worst quarters of A.J. McCarron's season turned the unstoppable pair of Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon into mere prelude for failed third-down conversions. The defense, seemingly unbreakable coming into the game, bent more than it had all year. But it bowed up to force Miles to play for that late field goal, and the offense moved 72 yards in 43 seconds with no timeouts. Those things didn't happen because of Miles' decisions. They happened because the Tide were the superior team.

And in case it wasn't clear before, Alabama is a cut above everyone else. Name another team in the country that could withstand four quarters of punishment from LSU, at night, at Tiger Stadium. If you can do that, name one who could do so without its A-game, regardless of how well LSU did or did not play. This was the game of the year thus far, and it left little doubt as to who's the best team in the country.

Did USC really test Oregon? Just like Alabama, the Ducks had their first game this season that required four full quarters of effort. It wasn't quite the test the Tide received in Baton Rouge, but beating USC 62-51 was enough to make you think Oregon can score on anyone. The Trojans might be short on depth, but they are long on talent and had spent so much time and expended so much effort -- short-term and long -- with beating Oregon in mind. And when matched up against Chip Kelly's futuristic machine, their defense looked as hopeless as everyone else's has this season. Even though Monte Kiffin's defense has struggled this year -- and overall against spread offense since he returned to college in 2009 -- the Ducks passed a big test with flying colors.

Except, what's there to say about the defense? Matt Barkley, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are a lot for any team to stop, but no one else this season let USC score 51 points. The Ducks turned two of Barkley's mistakes into interceptions, but Oregon didn't really get stops. They just didn't give up as many points as USC, which should leave Oregon's fans elated that they won, but concerned with how their team would match up against a power-running team that could keep Kenjon Barner and Co. off the field. The first test will be against Stanford November 17. The next might be in Miami against their peers in the BCS standings -- Alabama, Kansas State or Notre Dame.

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Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Add this name to your Heisman list. As Geno Smith's eight touchdown show against Baylor disappears from the rearview mirror, Collin Klein emerged as the consensus Heisman Trophy favorite. But after seeing what Kenjon Barner did when Oregon had to play a full game -- 321 yards rushing and five touchdowns -- maybe we should give more attention to the Ducks running back. Klein's combination of rushing and passing stats will make for a gaudier resumé, but don't ignore how incredible it is that Barner's scored 19 times on 179 carries this season. Barner's also racking up these numbers while sharing the backfield with Marcus Mariota and DeAnthony Thomas, either of whom could win Heismans before they graduate. There's plenty of time for this to sort itself out, but Oregon's offense isn't just great because of Chip Kelly's system. It's powered by great players, and Barner might be the best in the country.

Andrew Luck's brilliance Sunday went way past passing yards. In the Colts' 23-20 win over the Dolphins, Luck's 433 yards passing, a new rookie record, were eye-catching, but nothing was more impressive than what the Colts did on third down. Facing Miami, the best defense in that situation in the league, Indianapolis went 13-for-19 on third down. This was in spite of the fact they could never establish the running game. But behind Luck's efficiency, and even though they ran for a first down five times all game, the Colts held the ball for almost 35 minutes.

Luck's not just throwing the ball down the field on boom-or-bust throws. In spite of the Colts' emphasis on downfield passing, he's finding ways to move the chains and, in essence, serve as his own ground attack. He's not as exciting as Robert Griffin III, but both have proven to be every bit as good as the experts told us they would be. But which of those experts expected the Colts to be a playoff contender?


Brad Wells of Stampede Blue breaks down the exciting win and analyzes Andrew Luck's rookie campaign.

Why aren't we talking more about the Bears? Rarely do you hear the Bears considered the best team in the NFL. That's strange considering they came into Week 9 eighth in points scored, second in points allowed, play in a fairly large media market and have looked more dominant than the Falcons this year. They also have a defense that scores points at an unprecedented rate. But even after watching them throttle the Titans 51-20, who really believes in the Bears? Or, more specifically, who trust the Bears' offensive line?

No matter how well Chicago plays, it's impossible to ignore the fact Cutler took three more sacks Sunday, taking the Bears' season total to 28 allowed (third most in the NFL). It's impossible to ignore who the guy is taking the sacks. Put Ben Roethlisberger, his focus under pressure and his ability to extend plays behind that terrible line, and I'd probably take the Bears to win the NFC. But Cutler goes to the panic button faster than most, and it's hard to believe a team can win three or four playoff games without that problem coming up in a major way.

Are the Giants as good as we think? Without a win to show for this week's troubles, it's impossible to mask the fact Sunday's 24-20 loss to the Steelers was Eli Manning's fourth straight subpar game. In that span, he's thrown two touchdowns, four interceptions, and only completed 54.5 percent of his passes. Only once has he averaged more than seven yards per attempt. Manning's a made man with two Super Bowl rings, but he's never been beyond reproach. For the Giants to repeat as champions, they'll need more from their quarterback.

Well, him and everyone else in blue. The Giants are 6-3, but their win over the 49ers came in their only contest against a team with a winning record. All season, they've let lesser teams hang around and/or beat them. Their running game remains inconsistent. The Giants are the champs until someone knocks them off, but too often they look like just another team in the NFC. This week, unlike the much of the season, that caught up to them.

The difference between the Cowboys and Falcons is on the sideline. Though they're undefeated, the Falcons have two glaring flaws -- they can't run the ball, and they can't stop opponents from doing the same. So, of course they outrushed the Cowboys, 123-65, while winning 19-13. It's hard to knock Dallas for that. The only thing more depleted than their stable of running backs is the two-deep at inside linebacker. But in spite of that, the Cowboys probably would have won Sunday night if they had the better coach. But, as is typical, Mike Smith's team played with more discipline and Jason Garrett's had more penalties and made more mistakes. The guy we've been told is a "guru" for years still can't hold a candle to the guy with the plain name. Can you name a better reason the NFL's glamour franchise, supposedly with enough talent to win a championship, is so far behind one of its perennial doormats?


James Dator of Cat Scratch Reader breaks down Newton's performance against the Redskins

The Panthers won and they ran the ball? Trust me -- no one needed a win Sunday more than Cam Newton. A loss to Robert Griffin III and the Redskins would have been juicy, red meat for those starving for ways to point out Newton's ineptitude. Instead, it was the rookie who spent the afternoon in Cam's shoes, falling to the Panthers, 21-13. It was the Redskins who didn't run the ball enough, giving Alfred Morris just 13 carries when the Panthers did little to stop him. Carolina, maligned for their tendency to ignore their running backs, were as committed to the run as they've been all season. Newton, as a result, looked more poised and comfortable than he had since the Saints Week 2 win against the Saints.

In the Panthers' four strongest offensive performances this year, they have been between perfectly balanced and run-heavy on offense. That's helpful for a rookie quarterback, especially one who can run himself. That also makes it easy to see part of what went wrong for Washington, who threw more than they ran, even though the latter was clearly more effective.

The real reason to worry about the Lakers. The Princeton offense could ultimately work. On a cursory level, it seems like a systematic, equitable way to create options for a team with four capable scorers in its starting lineup. But it won't matter how they play if its creakier players don't hold up. It'll be a few days before we know for sure how long Steve Nash will be out -- it looks like four weeks -- but we know right now that he's 38 years old. We also know that everyone in the world swears by the Suns training staff, which makes it fair to wonder how well he'll hold up without him. And we know he's not a luxury for Los Angeles. They got him because they needed a point guard. Even if the offense isn't perfectly suited toward him, the Lakers without Nash are not the unit that revived the title talk around the franchise.

No matter the offense they ultimately employ, the Lakers will find a system that works. Mike Brown's not gonna let himself get fired in the name of Pete Carrill. But this team is depending on Nash, Kobe Bryant in his 17th season, and Dwight Howard, who's still recovering from back surgery. If you want to worry about something this early in the season, think about the fact that this team might never be much healthier than it is right now.

Ladies and gentlemen, Doug Martin. Martin's numbers the last two weeks, including yesterday's incredible 25 carry, 245 yard performance speak for themselves. But here's a little context to make it clearer.

Needless to say, Luck and Griffin have some company in the race for Offensive Rookie of the Year.

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