Takeaways, NFL Week 8: Contenders emerge at season's midpoint

Gregory Shamus

A quick look back at key points from Sunday's Week 8 slate.

With six teams on bye, the NFL schedule for Week 8 was rather unimpressive. But thanks in large part to some drama in Detroit, it was a rather entertaining Sunday afternoon.

Detroit Lions 31, Dallas Cowboys 30

  • The Detroit Lions could be the most dangerous NFC team that never gets mentioned in the conference's roll of contenders. Their 5-3 record might not stand out against the Seattle Seahawks or San Francisco 49ers, but this team has an offense that will match up against any in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys' defense is no slouch, and Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush still combined for more than 450 yards of total offense. Watch this team in the second half of the season, and defenses should sleep on them at their peril.
  • Dez Bryant's hyper-competitive nature is becoming a detriment to the Cowboys. Multiple times on Sunday he was on the team's sideline yelling at anyone with ears about his need for the football and getting in the face of teammates who did not make plays:

    Dezmad_medium

    Some wide receivers are divas — it's the nature of the position but it felt like Bryant was falling into the trap of believing Sunday's game was more about him vs. Calvin Johnson, rather than the the two teams. Managing adversity is more important than coping with success, and it's something Bryant will need to learn moving forward.

Kansas City Chiefs 23, Cleveland Browns 17

  • Alex Smith was sacked six times, and the Chiefs defense was only able to get one of their own. Sunday's game was another example of desperately trying to find a reason Kansas City is 8-0, only to have doubt turned on its head once again. This team has shown it can win when Jamaal Charles doesn't have success, can win when Smith struggles, and now the Chiefs have proven they can win without elite pass-rush play, which they have otherwise had all season. Around the league this team is still seen as a paper tiger, but they're a lot closer to the league's best team than anyone wants to give them credit for.
  • Jason Campbell was sensational against the NFL's best defense, and it prompts questions about what took so long to give him his chance. The Browns quarterback threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns, operating an effective downfield offense without the assistance of a running game. Most promising is how Campbell worked with Josh Gordon, as the receiver and quarterback were both difference makers on Sunday.

New England Patriots 27, Miami Dolphins 17

  • The narrative of New England's season has been watching a future Hall of Fame quarterback deal with a group of sub-par weapons and still lead his team to victory. Tom Brady struggled for much of the day, but his supporting cast was the difference on Sunday. The Patriots running backs combined for 147 yards and two touchdowns, taking the pressure off Brady to do everything himself.
  • Miami is having an issue creating a link between Ryan Tannehill and Mike Wallace. Outside of a Week 2 win over the Indianapolis Colts, there's a pattern between the Dolphins winning and Wallace not producing. Perhaps it's a product of him asking too much of Tannehill, but Miami needs these two players to get on the same page if they want to have offensive success moving forward.

New Orleans Saints 35, Buffalo Bills 17

  • Drew Brees is a known quantity at this point — teams can't stop him and the New Orleans offense. But defensive play is what's making the difference for the Saints in 2013. The Buffalo Bills and Thaddeus Lewis weren't a huge test, but Rob Ryan's unit managed to record four sacks and eight tackles for a loss. In the past, we've seen the Saints win in spite of their offense, but this year we're seeing a complete football team that will be very difficult for the rest of the NFC going forward.
  • Injuries have derailed the Bills' offense this year and it's clear the team needs more weapons. But they have to be thrilled with what their seeing out of rookie Kiko Alonso on defense. The linebacker registered 11 tackles on Sunday and continues to be vital to a defensive front with a lot of above-average and blue chip players. Buffalo need to find more receivers, get quality play from its running backs and upgrade the secondary, but the defensive future is bright.

New York Giants 15, Philadelphia Eagles 7

  • The New York Giants started the season 0-6, but don't tell players that a playoff spot is impossible. New York's defense has it believing in the impossible and the mid-season acquisition of Jon Beason is paying dividends. In three games since moving over from the Carolina Panthers, he has totaled 25 tackles and quickly become one of the team's defensive leaders.
  • Everything has quickly gone south for the Philadelphia Eagles after a quality start to the 2013 season. The old narrative of "elite offense, bad defense" has been replaced with a new model as Chip Kelly's team is struggling in all phases. Offensive players are starting to regress, and the Eagles have to find an answer for the team's poor play at quarterback:

    Barkley_medium

    Getting Nick Foles back will help, but this team is walking a razor's edge with the tipping point being a disastrous spin out in the second half.

San Francisco 49ers 42, Jacksonville Jaguars 10

  • Colin Kaepernick has been allowed to run more in recent weeks and it's no surprise that offensive success has followed. Allowing the QB to use his legs has changed Kaepernick from a one-dimensional pocket passer to the offensive weapon he showed he could be in 2012. In London, he displayed for the UK crowd what the new breed of mobile quarterbacks can do, throwing for a touchdown and running in two more. It's not about total production, but efficient production — as Kaepernick averaged 10.3 yards per attempt and 7.7 yards per carry.
  • At this point, Jacksonville is looking for small things they can build on moving forward. The 2013 season is lost, but head coach Gus Bradley should be happy with the lift in his offensive line play against the 49ers. For the first game this season, the Jaguars didn't surrender a sack and while that doesn't seem like much, it's a building block. If the offensive line can continue to grow, a new quarterback will have a chance with two good receivers in Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon.

Cincinnati Bengals 49, New York Jets 9

  • Early-season criticism seems to have put Andy Dalton on a path to prove his doubters wrong. Never was this more apparent than on Sunday, as he threw five touchdowns and targeted eight different receivers. In the past, there was a question about whether Dalton was a quality QB, or whether a group of good receivers made him better than he really was. Against the Jets, he showed that he deserves to be in the conversation with the league's top quarterbacks — even if he does boast a great supporting cast.
  • The New York Jets are a team with no offensive identity, and that's why they couldn't move the ball against the Bengals. This isn't a product of coaching, but rather inconsistent play at every offensive skill position that makes it tough for a coaching staff to lean on any one weapon. In the past, Rex Ryan teams have been characterized by tough defense and running the football, but the current stable of running backs is awful.

Oakland Raiders 21, Pittsburgh Steelers 18

  • On the back of an NFL record 93-yard touchdown run, Terrelle Pryor managed to rush for more yards than he passed for against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pryor remains one of the NFL's least consistent passers, but it's a moot point if the team is finding ways to win. The Raiders managed to knock down a Steelers team going for a third straight victory, as Oakland's run defense was dominant on Sunday.
  • The key to Pittsburgh's offensive success is rookie Le'Veon Bell, and he struggled. Bell was unable to follow up a strong performance in Week 7 by rushing for just 24 yards on 13 attempts. An early deficit caused the Steelers to abandon the run, but when they did turn to their running backs, nobody could deliver. Mike Tomlin can attempt to determine how much is on his backs and how much of the blame falls on his woeful offensive line.

Denver Broncos 45, Washington Redskins 21

  • It's easy to overlook the rest of Denver's offense and focus on Peyton Manning, but running back Knowshon Moreno deserves credit for stepping up and proving he can be a difference maker. Over the last three weeks, he's rushed for 175 rushing yards, and on Sunday he added 89 yards receiving and a touchdown. Moreno's emergence gives the Broncos another weapon for defenses to contend with and more importantly, someone who can pick up first downs in short-yardage situations.
  • The Washington Redskins were in a good place entering the second half, but inexplicably abandoned the run and became one dimensional. Alfred Morris was running the ball well and the game was close, but Mike Shanahan's team asked Robert Griffin III to do everything on offense over the final 30 minutes, which allowed the Broncos to key in him only. This resulted in a poor passing game and a collapse. Griffin will be the talking point this week, but offensive play-calling deserves to be the focus.

Atlanta Falcons 13, Arizona Cardinals 27

  • If you need to hear something positive about the Falcons, it's that the team will get better ... next year. Injured players will be back in the mix, and GM Thomas Dimitroff will have had a full offseason to fix some of the roster's biggest problems. Finding pass rushers is one of those tasks. Ditto for fixing the offensive line. Leaning on a running back in his 20s would help too, considering Mike Smith's preference for old-man style football.
  • Arizona is a better team than it gets credit for, and that's almost entirely because of the defense. They sacked Matt Ryan four times, and hit him on 11 plays. Atlanta could only muster 1.9 yards per attempt running the ball and a meager 3.7 yards against the Cardinals defense. Despite being 4-4, the Cardinals aren't realistically going to threaten San Francisco and Seattle in the NFC West, but Bruce Arians' team could be much closer than anyone imagined in August.

Green Bay Packers 44, Minnesota Vikings 31

  • Aaron Rodgers finished the game 24-for-29 with 285 yards and a pair of touchdowns. This was without Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jermichael Finley in the lineup. Green Bay's offense looks unstoppable, and it's not just because Rodgers' MVP effort. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy is making a case for Rookie of the Year. He rattled off 94 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries, splitting the workload evenly with Rodgers.
  • Minnesota's quarterback situation is dire. Christian Ponder was terrible staring for an injured Josh Freeman, or whoever is going to be Minnesota's next quarterback. It's easier for defenses to stop Adrian Peterson that way. He had 13 carries for 60 yards and one touchdown.

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