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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, August 27, 2011 at 11:33 PM

It was a very busy night in the NFL. In the national TV game, the Detroit Lions made it clear why so many pundits are picking them as a possible darkhorse in 2011. Several other matchups saw interesting storylines develop. Let’s crunch some numbers and see what happened. Games are presented in rotation order…

BUFFALO 35, JACKSONVILLE 32 (in overtime)

  • Total Yardage: Jacksonville 280, Buffalo 443
  • Yards-Per-Play: Jacksonville 4.1, Buffalo 5.3
  • Third Downs: Jacksonville 36%, Buffalo 50%
  • Turnovers: Jacksonville 2, Buffalo 2
  • Halftime Score: Jacksonville 10, Buffalo 17

We’re going to include the halftime scores in the rundowns tonight because those through the night were pretty pure. Starter vs. starter. You can see why we want to do that here. Buffalo was actually much sharper during the dress rehearsal portion of the game. Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Bills had a passing line of 11-12-0-165 for a passer rating of 158.3. Fantastic night needless to say. David Garrard was just 11-21-0-106 for a passer rating of 66.8. That’s a VERY low yardage total for 21 attempts. It may not mean anything in two weeks because the Jaguars may have been playing vanilla defense. But, the fact that Garrard struggled on the road against a Buffalo isn’t a good sign for Jacksonville fans. You know an offense is struggling when they only total 280 yards in about five quarters of action. The Jags host St. Louis next week…and we wouldn’t be surprised of they emphasize offense in the first half of that one. Buffalo hosts Detroit, and may run the ball all night to avoid injuries! When the season opens in two weeks, Buffalo visits Kansas City while Jacksonville hosts Tennessee.

PITTSBURGH 34, ATLANTA 16

  • Total Yardage: Atlanta 405, Pittsburgh 320
  • Yards-Per-Play: Atlanta 4.7, Pittsburgh 6.3
  • Third Downs: Atlanta 50%, Pittsburgh 36%
  • Turnovers: Atlanta 3, Pittsburgh 0
  • Halftime Score: Atlanta 16, Pittsburgh 24

Wow…the Falcons let Matt Ryan throw 42 passes! His passing line was 22-42-1-220 for a disappointing passer rating of 65.6. That tells you that Pittsburgh was playing regular season defense against him (as they were vs. Michael Vick last week). Atlanta’s first half touchdown came on a short field, just a 38-yard excursion. Ben Roethlisberger had a passing line of 11-16-0-214, for a passer rating of 151.0. More than 200 yards on just 11 completions! Atlanta won total yardage because they won time of possession 35-25, and held an 86-51 edge in offensive plays. The combination of YPP and turnovers best lines up with the final score. Atlanta moved the chains but lost the ball three times. Pittsburgh didn’t move the chains as well but had some very big plays. The Steelers will probably sleepwalk through the Preseason finale at Carolina next week so they can be ready for Week One on the road at hated Baltimore. Ironically, Atlanta hosts Baltimore next week in their exhibition finale before opening at Chicago.

TAMPA BAY 17, MIAMI 13

  • Total Yardage: Miami 282, Tampa Bay 366
  • Yards-Per-Play: Miami 6.0, Tampa Bay 5.3
  • Third Downs: Miami 17%, Tampa Bay 14%
  • Turnovers: Miami 1, Tampa Bay 0
  • Halftime Score: Miami 10, Tampa Bay 10

On a night that saw several strong passing performances (not surprising because of the sense of urgency on offense), Chad Henne had a passing line of 10-13-0-175, for a passer rating of 143.9. A 60-yard TD pass to Brandon Marshall was the first score of the game. But, even if you take that play out, you get 9-12-0-115 which is accurate and effective. The same can’t be said for Josh Freeman of Tampa Bay. He was 14-29-0-183 for a passer rating of 68.6. That’s close to a full game’s worth of passing attempts with less than half completed and less than 200 yards in the air. Freeman is an up-and-comer. He’s not the next Michael Vick just yet. Remember that the Bucs played a below average schedule last year. Both teams struggled badly on third downs…which means it will be tough to trust either offense in the regular season against good defenses. Tampa Bay won total yardage because they ran 69 offensive plays to just 47 for Miami. Sloppy night on penalties, with the teams combining for 26 accepted infractions. Let’s see if these offenses focus on scoring next week. Miami hosts Dallas while Tampa Bay visits Washington. When the season starts, Tampa Bay hosts Detroit (we’re thinking Under already) while Miami hosts New England in a Monday Nighter. Speaking of Detroit and New England…

DETROIT 34, NEW ENGLAND 10

  • Total Yardage: New England 353, Detroit 468
  • Yards-Per-Play: New England 5.3, Detroit 6.4
  • Third Downs: New England 31%, Detroit 44%
  • Turnovers: New England 1, Detroit 1
  • Halftime Score: New England 10, Detroit 27

Big night for the Lions, who wanted to send a message to the league in a national TV game. Matthew Stafford had a passing line of 12-14-0-200 for a passer rating of 158.3. Now, last year the St. Louis Rams beat the Patriots outright on the road in a dress rehearsal game. It wasn’t the end of the world for the Pats, who went on to earn the #1 seed anyway. But, the poor defense they played that night DID foreshadow regular season weakness…and, ultimately the key that helped the Jets knock them out in the first round of the playoffs. Vegas better post some high totals in New England’s regular season games. Total yardage at the half was 300-185 for Detroit by the way. Tom Brady finished the night 12-22-1-145 for a passer rating of 71.2. That certainly speaks well for the dangerous Detroit defense that is anxious to run lose and hurt people this year. That season opener at Tampa Bay is going to launch a darkhorse in either the NFC North or NFC South. New England catches a break this Thursday in that they’ll host the NY Giants after the G-Men only get Tuesday and Wednesday off. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett may enjoy that quite a bit. Tom Brady will be more focused on the season opener at Miami.

TENNESSEE 14, CHICAGO 13

  • Total Yardage: Chicago 416, Tennessee 220
  • Yards-Per-Play: Chicago 5.5, Tennessee 4.3
  • Third Downs: Chicago 56%, Tennessee 27%
  • Turnovers: Chicago 2, Tennessee 0
  • Halftime Score: Chicago 10, Tennessee 7

Jay Cutler was 13-21-1-170 for a passer rating of 67.6. That pick hurt the rating badly because there wasn’t a TD pass to offset it. The rest of the passing line was fine. Matt Hasselbeck was 12-22-0-135 for a passer rating of 73.1. Very similar efforts in this playoff rematch of QB’s. Cutler’s pick cancelled out those 35 extra yards in terms of the head-to-head ratings. Caleb Hanie would later throw a pick six for the Bears that allowed Tennessee to win. Chicago dominated the stats but those two turnovers made the edges moot. Maybe Tennessee’s staying vanilla through August. To this point, the offense looks pretty meek without their superstar running back. A final tune up awaits next week at New Orleans. Chicago hosts Cleveland next week. On September 11, we’ve already mentioned that Chicago hosts Atlanta and Tennessee visits Jacksonville.

HOUSTON 30, SAN FRANCISCO 7

  • Total Yardage: Houston 417, San Francisco 105
  • Yards-Per-Play: Houston 5.3, San Francisco 2.6
  • Third Downs: Houston 60%, San Francisco 20%
  • Turnovers: Houston 3, San Francisco 3
  • Halftime Score: Houston 24, San Francisco 7

San Francisco scored a defensive touchdown seconds into the game…giving an immediate heart attack to a world of bettors that had driven the Vegas line up from Houston by 2 to Houston by 5.5 during the course of the week. The Texans came storming back, then got a pick six of their own to cancel out the early miscue. Matt Schaub was 16-24-1-180 for a passer rating of 85.4 Alex Smith and Colin Kaerpernick took turns floundering for the 49ers. Is Coach Jim Harbaugh playing opossum? Niners fans better hope so! The offense has been horrendous this summer. Smith was 2 of 6 passing with an interception. Kaepernick was 6 of 16 with a pick.

Two later starts will finish after publication deadlines (Seattle/Denver and San Diego/Arizona). The stats from Dallas/Minnesota were having trouble making the rounds to espn.com and nfl.com. throughout the evening We’ll run the numbers from those games, and talk more about the weekend for VSM handicappers in our late Sunday report that will go up about an hour after New Orleans/Oakland ends on NBC.

In Saturday’s pennant races…

*In the AL East, Boston swept a doubleheader from Oakland before the rains from Irene came. The Yankees scheduled DH in Baltimore never had a shot. Boston now leads the division by two full games. They’ve played four extra games thus far…meaning the Yankees have to win those four remaining extra starts to pull back to even.

*In the AL Central, Justin Verlander won his 20th game for Detroit as they beat Minnesota in a game you may have watched on FOX Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t vintage Verlander. But it was enough to get the job done. Cleveland rallied late to beat Kansas City, staying 6.5 games behind the Tigers.

*In the AL West….the Los Angeles Angels beat Texas 8-4 in Arlington, reducing their deficit to two games. Nolan Ryan mentioned earlier this week he was concerned about fatigue with his starting rotation because of the brutally hot summer. Game time temperature here was 106. The Rangers are about to take those tired arms to Boston and Tampa Bay. The series finale here is the national Sunday Night game on ESPN.

*In the NL West….Arizona beat San Diego 3-1. San Francisco will finish after publication deadlines…needing to beat Houston to stay within three games of the D-backs.  

Back in the morning for more in the VSM Blog. The Network Notebook finishes off its summer series of college previews with the Independents. Should Notre Dame have been talking national championship this week? Check in for details…

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