15 observations from around the NFL

1. Vick still doesn’t get it.

Had Ben Roethlisberger not led the Steelers on a game-winning scoring drive, Michael Vick would have compiled his fourth fourth-quarter comeback victory in five games. Too bad it was because of Vick that the Eagles had to fight back in the first place. The veteran quarterback fumbled three times and had another fumble overturned by replay. Last Sunday he didn’t turn the ball over and played within himself, and the Eagles picked up a divisional win against the Giants. This week he cost his team scoring opportunities, including once when he fumbled on the goal line. Vick still doesn’t seem to grasp that as he goes, so does the Eagles. And his nonchalant attitude about his performance following the game shows that he still doesn’t get it, period.

2. Although in defense of Vick…

+ In fairness to Vick, Philadelphia’s defense deserves part of the blame for Sunday’s 16-14 loss to Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger had been sacked nine times entering Sunday’s game and the Eagles didn’t bring him down once. It was the second time in two weeks that Philly’s defense failed to produce a sack and the Eagles had trouble getting off the field on third down as well.

3. Nolan or Spags? It’s not even close.

It’s funny to think back to this offseason when pundits wondered whether the Falcons hired the better defensive coordinator, or if it was the Saints. Atlanta went with Mike Nolan, while New Orleans hired Steve Spagnuolo, and after five games it’s not even close. The Falcons are having issues stopping the run but the pass defense has been solid and Nolan constantly varies his looks to confuse opposing quarterbacks. The only confusion going on in New Orleans is among Spagnuolo’s defenders. The front four doesn’t apply enough pressure, the back seven misses too many tackles, and the secondary has allowed to many big plays. Outside of 25 minutes against San Diego on Sunday night, New Orleans’ defense has largely be a disaster under Spagnuolo.

4. Is there a blueprint forming for Baltimore?

Opponents are starting to put together a blue print on how to beat Baltimore, which put together a pretty pathetic performance in Kansas City on Sunday. Offensive tackles Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele have struggled with edge rushers. Outside of Anquan Boldin, the receivers can’t beat press coverage. The run defense on Sunday was brutal, which is especially concerning considering the Ravens knew the Chiefs had no choice but to run the ball. Joe Flacco still has bouts of inconsistency. The Ravens will make no apologies for their 4-1 record, nor should they. But cracks are starting to form in Baltimore’s foundation.

5. You stay classy, Kansas City.

Good for Eric Winston for taking Kansas City fans to task after they cheered Matt Cassel’s injury on Sunday. It’s one thing if fans want to chastise an athlete for his poor performance. But to cheer when a player has to head to the locker room with what could be a serious injury just because you want to see the backup is morbid. In those situations, fans don’t think about the player’s family in the stands or back home, waiting to see if their loved one is okay. Injuries are part of the game but when they happen, football is pushed to the backburner and fans should remember that players are human beings first and foremost.

6. The Colts’ victory was inspirational.

The Colts’ 30-27 victory over the Packers won’t be something that we forget soon. It was announced earlier this week that head coach Chuck Pagano is set to fight leukemia. So his players fought for him on Sunday, turning in an inspiring performance against a Green Bay team that was favored by a touchdown. The Colts struck gold in Andrew Luck, who joined Cam Newton as only the second rookie quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300 or more yards in three of his first four starts. The kid is for real, and he’s tougher than a bad piece of meat. All elite passers take risks and Luck is no exception. He continuously fired passes into tight windows on Sunday and it’s incredible how quickly he’s developed chemistry with Reggie Wayne. But this win wasn’t just about Luck. The Colts could have thrown in the towel when the Packers jumped out to a 21-3 lead, but they didn’t. Granted, Green Bay is banged up. But the Packers have some of the best depth in the league and the Colts are devoid of overall talent on both sides of the ball. Greg Jennings or no Greg Jennings, B.J. Raji or no B.J. Raji, what Indy did on Sunday was impressive.

7. That said, there is something wrong with Green Bay’s offense.

+ There’s something wrong with Green Bay’s offense and it’s not just injuries to Greg Jennings, Cedric Benson and Jermichael Finley. Defenses have taken away the deep ball and Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been the insanely accurate passer he’s been known for over the past few years. Granted, his offensive line hasn’t done him any favors at times, but the blame can’t solely be laid at their feet. Rodgers held onto the ball too long on several plays in the second-half of the Packers’ shocking loss to the Colts, and he also misfired on what should have been a 60-plus yard touchdown to Jordy Nelson on Green Bay’s first drive. For whatever reason, Rodgers and the rest of the offense hasn’t been the same juggernaut it has been since 2009.

8. Implosion is near in Buffalo.

It’s one thing when a defense surrenders nearly 600 yards to a team led by Steve Young and Jerry Rice. It’s quite another when Alex Smith pulls off the same feat. Bills coach Chan Gailey challenged his team’s toughness heading into Sunday’s game versus the 49ers. His players responded by allowing Smith and San Francisco to compile 621 yards of total offense (a franchise record that dated back to 1992). Buffalo has one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, big money free agents Mario Williams and Mark Anderson have been ghosts, and the offense continues to be hamstrung by Ryan Fitzpatrick’s limitations as a passer. But those are just Buffalo’s issues on the field. Off it, Gailey has seemingly lost the locker room and it might only be a matter of time before the Bills completely unravel.

9. The 4-1 Vikings: Pretenders or contenders?

Outside of defending the run, the Vikings don’t do anything exceptionally well, which is one of the reasons why people aren’t breaking their necks hopping onto Minnesota’s bandwagon. But the Vikings don’t have any huge weaknesses either, and a favorable schedule might allow them to stay in contention longer than fans think. Granted, three of their four wins have come against teams with losing records and three of their five games have come at home. But they beat a San Francisco team that many consider to be the class of the NFC and while Christian Ponder will continue to have his doubters, he keeps turnovers to a minimum, takes what defenses give him, and keeps plays alive with his mobility. Are the Vikings pretenders? Probably, but this team isn’t winning purely smoke and mirrors either.

10. The Panthers will only go as far as Newton takes them.

The Panthers’ future is firmly hitched to Cam Newton and their immediate present is as well. Just like Vick in Philadelphia, as Newton goes, so do the Panthers. At one point on Sunday, Newton was 3-of-16 passing, he skipped a pass to a wide-open Ben Hartsock in the end zone on a fourth-and-1 late in the fourth quarter, and he fumbled away Carolina’s last chance to pull off a comeback with under a minute remaining. You can tell Newton is pressing. He’s used to having his athleticism lead the way in tight games and while that worked in college, NFL quarterbacks also have to think the game – especially in the fourth quarter. Until he becomes a fourth-quarter closer, the Panthers will continue to suffer.

11. The fault isn’t all just on Sanchez.

J.J. Watt is 6-foot-6 but somehow Mark Sanchez made him look 7-foot-6 on Monday night. Sanchez had way too many passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage in New York’s 23-17 loss, and he still misses way too many open receivers and his ball placement is lacking. That said, it’s difficult to fault Sanchez for his shoddy play when the Jets have zero weapons. Santonio Holmes is out for the season with a foot injury and this year’s second-round pick Stephen Hill is banged up as well. The Jets have tried to get Tim Tebow in the mix, but he’s not the answer either, especially for a stagnant passing game. New York needs to rebuild the offense, starting with the offensive line. All things considered, it was admirable that Sanchez and the Jets hung with the Texans considering everyone figured the game would be a blowout. But “Gang Green” needs a major facelift.

12. Don’t know what to make of Denver.

It’s a shame that the Broncos ruined what could have been a great ending to the Denver-New England game on Sunday. Thanks to Peyton Manning and a Patriot turnover early in the fourth quarter, the Broncos cut New England’s lead to 31-21, but Willis McGahee coughed the ball up inside the red zone and Denver’s comeback ended. Of course, the bigger takeaway from this game might be the fact that the Broncos aren’t the force many thought they would be this preseason. Manning threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions, but he has no zip on his deep ball and Denver’s defense isn’t as dominant as it was a year ago. Despite their loss to New Orleans on Sunday night, the Chargers might be the team to beat in the AFC West.

13. The Rams are reaping the rewards of a solid offseason.

While fans have grown frustrated with rookies Brian Quick and Isaiah Pead, the work that Jeff Fisher and Les Snead did this offseason in re-stocking the Rams roster cannot be overlooked. The duo found a free agent bargain in JoLonn Dunbar, they showed guts in pulling the trigger on Janoris Jenkins when every other team passed on him, and they trusted that Cortland Finnegan was going to be worth the money. The result has been three wins (it should have been four), a young core in which to build around, and an excited fan base that has been desperate for something to cheer about. The offense remains a massive work in progress but this team has already proven that it will compete every week under Fisher.

14. If you’ve ever wanted to be a NFL running back, now is your chance.

The Cardinals’ running game was hideous before Beanie Wells was placed on I.R. for turf toe and Ryan Williams was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. But there’s no adjective to describe a backfield that features LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell, and Alfonso Smith. Then again, if Arizona doesn’t start blocking better up front it won’t matter if Stephens-Howling, Powell and Smith were Sanders, Brown and Faulk.

15. The Dolphins might employ the most underrated defense in the NFL.

Miami’s front seven is solid, specifically in run defense, and pass rusher Cameron Wake is a terror for opposing offensive lines to deal with. The secondary was supposed to be a weakness but Sean Smith and Reshad Jones have played better than expected. Ryan Tannehill will continue to suffer growing pains and Miami’s offense is severely lacking in weapons. But thanks to Kevin Coyle’s defense, Miami will continue to battle every week.