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Tag:Chicago Bears
Posted on: November 16, 2011 3:40 pm
 

Film Room: Bears vs. Chargers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The Chargers have not won a game since we featured (and lauded) them in a Week 7 Film Room post. The Bears, on the other hand, are white-hot, having won four straight in taking over the NFC wild card lead.

Here’s a five-part breakdown of the two teams in this Sunday’s late afternoon showdown at Soldier Field.


1. Quarterback
It was not long ago that the preeminent strong-armed, interception-prone quarterback in his mid-twenties with an on-field demeanor that rubbed many the wrong way was Jay Cutler. This season, however, it’s Philip Rivers.

His league-leading 15 interceptions have been genuine turnovers – not the kind of cheap tipped picks that plagued Eli Manning last season. Rivers’ downfield accuracy has waffled. He also has been uncomfortable passing from a dirty pocket. That’s alarming given that his best trait in years past has been making strong throws in the face of pressure.

Cutler knows all about operating in the face of pressure. However, lately he’s been throwing from much cleaner platforms. Because he has the strongest raw arm in football, he does not necessarily need to set his feet in order to throw. He’s a solid athlete with underrated mobility that allows him to buy time. But it’s when the time is bestowed upon him and he is able to set his feet that he gets in rhythm.

It’s not quite a Brady/Brees/Rodgers-like rhythm – Cutler has too many fundamental flaws for that – but it’s a potent enough rhythm to carry a team to victory.

2. Offensive line
The reason Cutler has been more comfortable is he trusts his pass protection. Mike Martz knows that his unathletic offensive line cannot hold up long enough to consistently protect seven-step drops, so he’s built more three-and five-step drops into the gameplan (though the Bears did drift away from this just a bit against the Lions last week). As Cutler has said, he’s potent when he has room to throw.

To be fair, the Bears offensive linemen have elevated their play as of late. Guard Lance Louis has been particularly solid since becoming the new right tackle. Losing left guard Chris Williams (on I.R. with a wrist injury) hurts because, until Gabe Carimi returns from his knee problem (he’s missed seven games and underwent arthroscopic surgery last week), Frank Omiyale will likely play. Omiyale was a train wreck at right tackle earlier this season. He played guard earlier in his career, but if he were truly viable there, he never would have moved outside. Edwin Williams replaced Chris Williams last week, but the Bears have not named him the new starter. He could still be in the mix.

Either way, offensive line coach Mike Tice will have his hands full helping this group continue performing at an acceptable level.

Rivers has felt a lot of Cutler’s old pain as of late. Left tackle Marcus McNeill has fought injuries the past few weeks; after he left the Raiders game last Thursday night, backup Brandyn Dombrowski was eaten alive. Inside, backup left guard Cornell Green, filling in for All-Pro Kris Dielman (out since suffering a concussion-related seizure after the loss to the Jets), has struggled to move his feet in pass protection.

Even though Norv Turner’s playbook is heavy on slow-developing downfield passes, the Chargers did not give the left side of their line much help last Thursday. That should change going up against Julius Peppers.

3. Receivers
Once again, these two clubs are going in opposite directions. The Bears have recently gotten healthy outside, with Earl Bennett back and showing newfound quickness. Bennett is no longer just a plodding possession slot receiver – he’s Cutler’s go-to guy. His presence has eased the burdens on the unreliable Roy Williams and permanently raw Devin Hester.

Also, what can’t be understated is the brilliance of Matt Forte. His success on the ground has given the offense balance, which helps the passing attack. Forte is also one of the best receiving backs in the league.

The Chargers, on the other hand, are without Malcom Floyd (hip injury). His absence has been ameliorated by the flashes of athletic explosiveness from rookie Vincent Brown.

However, San Diego’s usual stars have disintegrated in recent weeks. Antonio Gates has looked heavy-footed and Vincent Jackson has consistently failed to separate against man coverage. Jackson had a three-touchdown outburst against Green Bay thanks in part to some coverage busts. But in the three games before that, he caught a total of seven balls for 98 yards. Last week against Oakland, he had just one reception for 22 yards.

4. Cornerbacks
It will be tough for Jackson to reignite at Soldier Field. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman is having arguably the best season of his stellar career. Tillman thoroughly won his one-on-one battle against Calvin Johnson last week, using a mixture of aggressive press coverage and well-timed post-reception physicality from off-coverage positions.

Tillman, like all Bears cornerbacks, used to only play one side of the field. It was part of Chicago’s strict Cover 2 scheme. But as this season has progressed, Lovie Smith and defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli have drifted away from Cover 2 and more towards single-high safety concepts with the corners playing both man and zone principles. This allows the other safety to roam the field as an extra run supporter or, more often, versatile pass defender.

Consequently, the corners have moved around based on matchups. Tillman defends the opposing team’s biggest (and often most dangerous) receiver, while Tim Jennings (who is having the best season of his career) follows the smaller-but-quicker No. 2 receiver. The commendable performance of these corners is the reason Chicago has been able to spice up its defensive scheme.

In sticking with our theme, San Diego’s secondary has been increasingly disappointing the past month. Left corner Quintin Jammer and slot corner Dante Hughes have been fine, but on the right side, Antoine Cason and rookie Marcus Gilchrest have taken turns replacing one another in the starting lineup. Free safety Eric Weddle moves well and has some interceptions, but he’s not a true stopper.



5. Defensive front
A feeble pass-rush doesn’t help matters for San Diego. The loss of Shaun Phillips (still out with a foot injury) and Larry English (injured reserve) leaves the Chargers with journeymen Antwan Barnes and Travis LaBoy on the edges. Barnes is fast and has actually been as impactful as his team-high six sacks suggest. LaBoy’s run defense compensates for his low sack total (1).

Still, the bottom line is the forces that once buttressed San Diego’s pass-rushing depth are now the forces that comprise San Diego’s pass-rush period.

If the Chargers want to generate consistent pressure on the quarterback, they have to blitz. Inside linebacker Victor Butler and slot corner Dante Hughes are the two best options for this. Blitzing is not preferable for defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, though.

It’s never been preferable for the Bears. They almost exclusively use a traditional four-man pass-rush, which works when you have a deep rotation, a highly-skilled No. 2 rusher like Israel Idonije and a monster like Peppers. In an effort to create matchup problems, Peppers has been lining up at both end positions and, lately, inside on certain passing downs.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 11 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 15, 2011 7:36 pm
 

Pick-Six Podcast: Will Tebow option keep working?

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

We're less than 24 hours away from the -- surprisingly -- heavily-hyped matchup between the Jets and ... the Broncos? (Apparently the Jets are frustrated they lost to New England and now taking their smack-talking out on Denver.)

So we break down whether or not the option will continue to work for Tebow against Rex Ryan and the Gang Green.

Our good friend Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk also joins the show to discuss whether or not the Lions are in trouble when it comes to a playoff berth and how much we should read into the Patriots improvement on defense.

We also break down the injury-riddled Monday that just went down, debate whether or not Michael Vick should start this week, and discuss whether or not Matt Leinart and Tyler Palko can save the Texans and Chiefs, respectively.

Did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes?

If you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.



For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 15, 2011 4:47 pm
Edited on: November 15, 2011 5:21 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 10

Posted by Will Brinson



Every week, our NFL experts will hand out the Eye on Football hardware to the best of the best from the NFL week that was.

Week 10 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman   Fitz  Carter  Hester McCarthy
Judge   Fitz  Carter  Hester   Fox
Prisco  Romo  Carter  Hester  Whiz
Brinson  Romo  Carter Hauschka   Fox
Katzowitz  Romo Wimbley Hauschka   Fox
Wilson  Romo  Carter Hauschka Carroll
Another NFL week's in the books, and that means it's time to hand out the hardware.

Our Eye on Offense Award goes to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, whose matchup against Larry Fitzgerald for the trophy was much closer than his beatdown of the Buffalo Bills.

Andre Carter was the near-unanimous selection for our Eye on Defense Award. That's what happens when you produce the best pass rush New England's seen since the Bush administration.

Steven Hauschka -- a fellow Wolfpacker! -- stole Devin Hester's award away from Devin Hester thanks to five field goals that propelled the Seahawks to a (somewhat?) shocking win over the Ravens, and is our Eye on Special Teams recipient.

And John Fox, who continues to befuddle AFC West opponents by properly utilizing Tim Tebow, ran away with our Eye on Coaching Award for Week 10.

Leave your votes in the comments below or scream angrily at us on Twitter @EyeOnNFL.

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Larry Fitzgerald Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
On a crap team, with a crap quarterback, in a crap game, on a crappy throw, he makes one of the top catches of the week. Then again, week in and week out, that's what Fitzgerald does. He sometimes gets lost amid the talk of the best receivers in the NFL but he was the biggest reason the Cardinals beat Philly and I'd take Fitzgerald over any other WR.
Larry FitzgeraldLarry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
He has 146 yards in catches, two touchdowns and sets up the winning score with a diving reception near the goal line ... and all from John Skelton. The Cards weren't supposed to win on the road. They weren't supposed to win with Skelton. And they certainly weren't supposed to beat the Eagles. They did, and Fitzgerald is why.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Tony Romo Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
Romo completed 23-of-26 passes setting a Cowboys record for completion percentage, and threw three touchdowns in the Cowboys blowout of the Bills. Romo was poised in the pocket all day and never seemed to get unsettled.
Tony RomoTony Romo, QB, Cowboys
Romo had arguably the best game of his career against the Bills, throwing just three incompletions with three teeters, and the only reason his production wasn't better is that Dallas blew Buffalo out. Prediction: we'll be calling Romo a darkhorse MVP candidate by Week 14.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Tony RomoTony Romo, QB, Cowboys
He started the game 11/11 and finished by completing 88.5 percent of his passes (23/26) and throwing for 270 yards and three TDs. Forget about the loss of Miles Austin. With Dez Bryant beginning to show his talent and with the emergence of Laurent Robinson, Romo, at times, shows why he could be a top-five quarterback. That’s what he accomplished in destroying the Bills. 
Tony Romo Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
According to Football Outsiders, Romo is a top-5 NFL quarterback. You wouldn't know it after watching him against the Jets and the Lions but you certainly would after his performance versus the Bills Sunday. He threw just three incompletions all day (that's three fewer than Tim Tebow ... while attempting 18 more passes) and had three TDs.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Andre CarterAndre Carter, DE, Patriots
The easiest choice to make for these awards. I watched Carter against a moderately talented offenisve line and he destroyed it with 4 1/2 sacks. I didn't think Carter had it in him. I didn't think the New England defense was capable of anything remotely like that. 
Andre Carter Andre Carter, DE, Patriots
The biggest problem with the league's last-ranked defense, people tell me, is that the Patriots can't rush the quarterback. Well, this just in: They just did, with Carter producing a career-high 4 1/2 sacks by himself. Rex Ryan wasn't outcoached. His players were outplayed, with Carter simply too much for the Jets' offensive line.
Prisco Brinson
Andre CarterJared Allen, DE, Vikings
Carter had 4 1/2 sacks against the Jets and could not be blocked. For a team that lacked a pass rusher for much of the season, they may have found one.
Andre CarterAndre Carter, DE, Patriots
The Patriots dynasty was dead (again). Until Andre Carter did to the Jets on offense what Tom Brady did to them on defense, exploding for 4 1/2 sacks and generating the first pass rush we've seen in New England in a while. If he keeps his motor running like this, watch out.
Katzowitz Wilson
Kamerion Wimbley Kamerion Wimbley, OLB, Raiders
On the day when Carson Palmer was celebrated for leading the Raiders to their first win under his stewardship, Oakland’s outside linebacker accumulated four sacks, three additional hits and seven pressures on Rivers. Not bad for a guy who had just two sacks on the season coming before.
Andre Carter Andre Carter, DE, Patriots
The Patriots' defense has alternated between punching bag and laughing stock all season. Against the Jets they were neither, harassing Mark Sanchez into mistakes all evening. Carter had 4.5 sacks, a personal and team best. 

Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
Thanks to Hester producing yet another return touchdown (this time an 82-yard run to the house), he was the second easiest choice this week. How about this? Stop kicking to him. STOP KICKING TO HIM. And put him in the Hall of Fame.
Devin Hester Devin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
One of these days someone will figure out that no one in NFL history has more punt returns for touchdowns than this guy, so maybe it's not a good idea to kick to him. Hester sets up one score with a 29-yard return, then produces a touchdown on an 82-yard runback. The numbers don't lie, people. This guy is the best there ever was.
Prisco Brinson
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
He had a punt return for a touchdown, his 18th return for a score in his career. Why do people kick to him?

 

Steven HauschkaSteven  Hauschka, K, Seahawks
Doesn't Hauschka kind of look like he should be named "Steve" instead? Whatever, the N.C. State product kicked like his name was Morten on Sunday, banging home five field goals and generating the majority of the scoring for the Seahwaks in an upset only one person saw coming.
Katzowitz Wilson
Steven Hauschka Steven Hauschka, K, Seahawks
In Seattle’s upset of the Ravens, Hauschka matched the franchise record by kicking five field goals (22, 38, 39, 35 and 30 yards). They weren’t long attempts, and they weren’t game-winners. But without his capability, Seattle doesn’t provide the week’s most surprising result.
Steven Hauschka Steven Hauschka, K, Seahawks
The former Raven was an integral part of the Seahawks' "death by 1,000 field goals" gameplan. He was 5 for 5 and accounted for all but seven of Seattle's points in their win over Baltimore, the league's most inconsistent team.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Mike McCarthyMike McCarthy, HC, Packers
Monday night against Minnesota was the perfect time for a letdown game and the Packers respond by wrecking the Vikings. I know. Division rival. But it isn't easy playing those type of games when their lead in the division is so large and the opponent is no good.

John Fox John Fox, HC, Broncos
Not only did he beat Kansas City in Kansas City, he won by completing two passes all afternoon. Of course, it always helps when you run for 244 yards, but Fox's Broncos did it with their top two backs missing most of the afternoon. Fox is smart to tailor is offense to his quarterback's talents, and that tinkering has the Broncos a game out of first in the AFC West.
Prisco Brinson
Ken WhisenhuntKen Whisenhunt, HC, Cardinals
Playing with backup quarterback John Skelton on the road against a supposed good team in the Eagles, Whisenhunt got his team to pull off an upset as a 14-point underdog. That's impressive.
John FoxJohn Fox, HC, Broncos
Fox is a run-first/play-defense type of guy, so you have to think he rather enjoyed beating the Chiefs when his offense only completed two passes all day. Mock the read-option at your own risk: what Fox and his staff are doing with Tim Tebow is the very definition of great coaching.
Katzowitz Wilson
John Fox John Fox, HC, Broncos
You can call the offense he’s helped install a college-style offense. You can call it outrageous to current NFL sensibilities. But you also have to call it a winning formula so far. Fox isn’t known for his offensive capabilities – he came up on the defensive side of the ball – but with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, this read-option style of play has Denver at 3-1 when Tim Tebow starts at quarterback.
Pete Carroll Pete Carroll, HC, Seahawks
Jim Harbaugh deserves some credit too, because Carroll hoped the Ravens would get away from Ray Rice and the run game and that's exactly what happened. It's not every day you're out-schemed by Carroll. We can only hope that during this post-game handshake Caroll reminded John to say hello to his brother Jim for him.

Posted on: November 15, 2011 3:00 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 6:00 am
 

Suh says Lions aren't dirty, Urlacher agrees

Things got chippy between Chicago and Detroit Sunday, and the NFL will no doubt punish them accordingly. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

If the Lions were as aggressive between the whistles as they were after it against the Bears on Sunday, the final score would've been a lot closer than 37-13. Instead, Chicago's defense took advantage of four Matthew Stafford interceptions (including two pick-sixes), Devin Hester added a special-teams touchdown, and Jay Cutler and the offense just got out of the way.

Well, they tried to anyway.

Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh ripped Cutler's helmet off after a tackle (he called it "part of the game"). Later in the game, Suh's teammate, Nick Fairley, drove Cutler into the turf on a late hit. (See here and here for the video evidence.)

Stafford also started a fight when, following his third interception, he brought Bears' cornerback D.J. Moore  to the ground by grabbing his helmet (see the video below). Moore, unimpressed, went after Stafford and just like that, it was on like Donkey Kong.

"I thought the play on Stafford was a little bit over the line," Lions linebacker Justin Durant said, according to MLive.com's Anwar Richardson. "That's how I feel about it. He was just trying to make a play. He had thrown an interception and was trying to get there. The guy just took it overboard."

Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, appearing on ESPN Radio Chicago, had a different take on the play.

“Their defense was saying something to our sideline late in the game after D.J. Moore beat up their quarterback [Matthew Stafford]. They said some stuff to our sidelines. I don’t know what…their defense was saying something to our sidelines. I don’t know what it was, but there is ways to handle things and there is ways to not handle things. I don’t know…they are a good football team. No doubt about that. They don’t do very good when they get beat up I guess.”

You can judge for yourself if Moore beat up Stafford:


The Lions and Bears mix it up after Stafford takes down Jennings.

Either way, both teams can expect heavy fines, and Durant realizes as much.

"I can imagine some people will have some $20,000 fines," he said. "I'm not sure who was doing what or if anybody was throwing blows. … One time when I was in Jacksonville, we had a fight against the Titans and a couple of guys came off the sidelines and they got fined just for stepping across the sidelines. More than likely, there are going to be some fines."

Using history and the NFL's haphazard approach to punishing players as a guide, we'd wager that, yes, there will be a lot of fines coming out of this.

Lions wide receiver Nate Burelson added: "If you go out there and throw some blows, you got to expect that FedEx letter in your locker."

Much of the conversation this season has been about how the Lions, and Suh in particular, are dirty. Here are two examples from last season that had people so worked up.


Suh explained his approach to the game during an appearance on ESPN's First Take.

"I like to punish the quarterback. I like to punish running backs for them trying to make plays on my defense," he said. "Whether it's dirty or aggressive or whatever that may be, we're going to continue to play that way and make sure we stand up and make sure teams don't run over us."

Urlacher was asked if he thought the Lions were dirty.

“You know what? They play to the echo of the whistle," he said, via Sports Radio Interviews. "As a player you can’t be mad because that is the way the game should be played. They play fast and they play physical and sometimes they go a little bit too far, but you know what? Sometimes you get away with it. …

"I like their head coach. I will tell you that much. I think he has done a good job for that organization and he’s a hard-nosed guy. He wants his guys to play, so I can’t be mad at him, but you don’t like it when you are playing against them because it pisses you off, but you know what they do a good job and they play hard.”

To recap: the Lions aren't dirty, but both teams should expect to be a little lighter in the wallet this week.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 14, 2011 3:13 pm
 

NFL looking at Bears-Lions, Stafford broke finger

Posted by Will Brinson

Sunday afternoon's Bears-Lions tilt (won handily by Chicago 37-13) got pretty heated at times, with a brawl nearly breaking out after Matthew Stafford "tackled" D.J. Moore by his helmet.

There were a number of other questionable hits and, as such, the NFL is looking at handing out some fines to the players involved in the game.

"Discipline in each case will be evaluated by its own facts and circumstances," a league spokesman told Michael C. Wright of ESPN Chicago. "This includes determination of whether the infraction occurred 'during the normal course of the game' (e.g., was consistent with the competitive tempo, pace, and situation) or 'outside the normal course of the game' (e.g., was flagrant, unnecessary, avoidable, or gratuitous)."

It's a touch early to speculate on who might get fined, but both Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh (for hits on Jay Cutler) will probably be under the microscope, and it's a safe bet that Stafford and Moore will probably warrant some speculation too.

Week 10 Wrapup


Although Lions coach Jim Schwartz doesn't think his quarterback deserves any discipline from the league.

"Discipline for what?" Schwartz said Sunday, per our Lions Rapid Reporter John Kreger. "For their guy getting kicked out of the game? For their guy getting kicked out of the game? Did Matt get penalized? No, Matt did not get penalized."

Stafford did have to deal with some physical punishment Sunday, playing against the Bears with a broken finger that he suffered two weeks ago against the Broncos.


Per Kreger, Stafford said the finger is "not that bad" and didn't affect his accuracy on Sunday. Given that he had to wear gloves for the first time in his career, threw four interceptions and hit just 33 of his 63 (!) passing attempts, there are many reasons to dispute that claim.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 14, 2011 9:43 am
 

NFL Week 10 podcast review

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Week 10's Sunday action is all wrapped up and that means it's time to fire up the podcast machine.

We wonder why everyone counted out the Patriots, if the Jets can make the playoffs, why the Ravens stink against terrible teams, if the Bears or Lions are the better bet for the wild card, what Mike Smith was thinking in overtime against the Saints, if the Texans are the best team in the AFC, if the Cowboys are in position to overtake the Giants, and much, much more.

Did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes?

If you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.



For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 14, 2011 3:55 am
Edited on: November 14, 2011 10:18 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 10

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 10 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.


1. Houston We Don't Have a Problem

"Who's the best team in the AFC?" -- that's a question I got asked a couple of times on the radio this past week, and I pointed out each time that we shouldn't be sleeping on the Texans. Following their 37-9 pimp-slapping of the Bucs in Tampa, I doubt I'll be the only one saying that this week.

Yes, they play in one of the NFL's worst divisions and, yes, they have a ridiculously cake schedule this year. No, Matt Schaub is not "elite." Yes, the Ravens have beaten them this year.

I don't expect people to stop using those arguments to knock down the Texans. That's fine -- but people need to realize that Houston is as complete a team as there is in the NFL.

They can run: Arian Foster and Ben Tate are the most dangerous backfield combo in the NFL, Derrick Ward's a nice third option and their offensive line is criminally underrated. (All three guys scored Sunday against the Buccaneers.) They can pass: pan Matt Schaub all you want, but he's thrown just three picks in the six games since losing Andre Johnson, and when Johnson returns after the bye he'll only get better.  They play defense: after ranking 30th in total yards allowed in 2010, the Texans find themselves as the stingiest defensive team in football through 10 weeks of the 2011 season.

The Texans rank third in the NFL with 14 interceptions. That's one more than they had in all of 2010. And their point differential (107) currently tops the league.

Heading into Week 10 the Texans were the only team to rank in the top 10 of Football Outsiders efficiency metrics on offense, defense and special teams. The Steelers could join them in that distinction after this week, but thanks to an absolutely dominant game in Tampa Bay, there's zero chance the Texans will see their stock fall.

Look, it's perfectly OK to expect the Texans to figure out a way not to make the playoffs. It's what they do. But it's not like they're working on some fluky formula here. Their offense won't slow down, particularly with Johnson returning, and their defense, despite losing Mario Williams, really appears to be gelling.

And because the division's so terrible, there's a distinct chance the Texans clinch their first AFC South title before Christmas.


2. The Only Stat That Matters ...

If I told you that Tim Tebow would go two of eight passing on Sunday while Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno left the game early with an injury, you'd assume that a) the Chiefs rolled the Broncos and b) Tebow got benched. You would not assume what actually happened, which is that the Broncos beat Kansas City 17-9 to hand the Chiefs their second-straight inexplicable victory.

And what's weirder, that Tebow was 0-fer at halftime, missing on all five of his passing attempts? Or that he only attempted three more passes in the second half? Or that his second completion was a straight-up NFL throw that resulted in a 56-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker?

Or maybe that Broncos coach John Fox was clearly overjoyed to beat a division rival with an offensive gameplan that probably caused the NFL's marketing arm to set fire to the highlight reel within 15 minutes of the final whistle.

"It's just a mindset. It's a low-risk offense. It's not an indictment on Tim Tebow or whoever our quarterback is," Fox said. "It's just whatever is working for us. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. We tried to possess the ball and keep our defense fresh."

That sounds kind of ridiculous, and I guess it is. But we're talking about John Fox here -- he's not exactly an offensive innovator, much less someone who cares in the slightest how many passing attempts his quarterback has, particularly if the team wins.

But hey, there's a precedent for this kind of game -- it's the 27th quarterback time since the merger that a team's won a game despite having a quarterback who completed two or less passes on eight or more attempts. The parameters are weird, and the list is weirder, especially because several of the quarterbacks weren't the only guy to take snaps for their team. Most interesting (to me) are a pair of names on the list with Tebow: Kyle Orton ... and John Elway.

Tebow's not the same quarterback as the man in charge of his future, but he's now 3-1 since taking over as the Broncos starting quarterback. He's improving, Denver's figuring out how to design offensive schemes around his specific skillset, and they're turning what looked like a lost season into an interesting little run in a weak AFC West.

3. Texas Is Big Enough for Two Teams

It really is nuts how much the NFL playoff picture can change in a matter of weeks. Or days. Or hours -- the Cowboys entered Sunday morning two games back of the Giants for the NFC East lead with the potentially resurgent Eagles hot on their heels. Less than 12 hours later, after a 44-7 whipping of Buffalo? Dallas is one game back of the Giants, the Eagles look done, and it's like the Cowboys season was never in jeopardy.

"We needed a game like this," Jason Witten said. "This needs to be the foundation of what lies ahead for this team."

"A game like this" equates to what might be the best game of Tony Romo's career. The oft-maligned quarterback was 23 of 26 for 270 yards and three touchdowns, and the only reason his numbers were suppressed is Dallas 28-7 halftime lead. Romo attempted just seven passes in the second half and set the Cowboys franchise record for completion percentage, hitting 88.5 percent of his passes.

Could it be a coincidence that Romo got rid of his flak jacket for the first time since his broken ribs in Week 2? Maybe. But over the course of the next few weeks, it probably won't look like it, because the Cowboys go to Washington, play Miami and travel to Arizona before hosting the Giants on December 11.

Given that the Giants play the Eagles, the Saints and the Packers in that same time frame, don't be surprised if we're approaching that Week 14 matchup throwing out terms like "division-leading Cowboys" and "darkhorse MVP candidate Romo."

Things change, because this is the NFL. But watching the Cowboys bounce back over the past two weeks, and knowing that Romo's now 17-2 in November (his .895 winning percentage in the month is the highest of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era), it's hard not to think they're getting hot at the right time.

4. Bold But Bad

Mike Smith's decision to go for it on a fourth-and-inches on his own 29-yard line in overtime will be analyzed a lot over the next seven days, because it giftwrapped a 26-23 victory for New Orleans Sunday. And, most importantly, it put the Falcons way behind the eight ball for a shot at the NFC South title, as they're now two games back of the Saints.

Atlanta's still in decent position for a wild card berth, and I'm OK with the call Smith made, even if, like my man Pete Prisco, I probably wouldn't have made the call. (This is hindsight creeping in -- I hated it at the time.) The Saints are terrible against the run (a league-worst 5.2 yards per carry allowed), handing the ball to Drew Brees in overtime is the football equivalent of suicide, and Michael Turner is the perfect back for that situation.

My beef is with the playcall, which was precisely the same play that Atlanta used on fourth and one with six minutes left in the third quarter. Witness what the Saints defense looked like then:



Obviously New Orleans is playing to stop the run, but they're not selling out. They got no penetration, and they're certainly wary of the possibility that Matt Ryan could roll out, or that Turner could cut outside to try and pick up the first down.

The second time around, in overtime, that wasn't the case.



As you'll recall, Gregg Williams called a timeout right before Atlanta broke the huddle not in punt formation for this second try. Do you think he might have pointed several Saints defenders in the direction of where Michael Turner might be running with the ball?

Judging by the relative positions of said Saints defenders in the two pictures above, that seems like a pretty reasonable assumption.

And I understand that Turner's a bowling ball and that the Falcons have Smith's back on this and they appreciate his confidence in them picking up a half-yard or less in such a situation.

But knowing that you showed Williams this exact same play less than an hour ago, you have to be more creative with the playcall, especially when there's a division title on the line.

5. Deja Vu All Over Again

After the Patriots lost to the Giants in Week 9, there was a weird feeling of deja vu. You should have that same feeling right now, because after New England pummeled the Jets 37-16 in New York, every single "the Patriots are dead" column from the past week is totally pointless.

Making the premature eulogizing of the Patriots even more irritating is the similarity between 2010 and 2011.

Last year, the Patriots lost their second game of the season when the Browns shocked them 34-14 in Week 9 in Cleveland. The loss of Randy Moss meant that the Patriots couldn't get vertical and ergo/therefore/henceforth the Pats were dead men walking. Naturally, Tom Brady waltzed into Pittsburgh on November 14, went 30 for 43 for 350 yards and hit Rob Gronkowski for three touchdowns.

On Sunday (Week 10! November 13!) Brady waltzed into the New Meadowlands and carved up Rex Ryan's defense, going 26 of 39 for 329 yards and hitting Gronkowski for two touchdowns.

In case you forgot, Brady closed out last year in pretty good fashion -- he didn't throw an interception for the rest of the year, the Pats didn't lose another game and finished 14-2, and Brady became the first-ever unanimous MVP winner in NFL history.

My point is this: though the Patriots defense might stink, Tom Brady is still on the roster. It's not as if the defense in 2010 was all that good; they finished 25th overall in the NFL last year. But the Pats went 14-2 because Brady played at an unholy level with essentially the same offensive personnel he's got now.

In other words, Expecting the Patriots to lose three-straight games -- they haven't since 2002! -- was about as smart as writing off Belichick and Brady after what went down last season.


6. Run This Man!

I planned on taking screenshots of all the commenters who ripped me for picking Seattle to upset Baltimore and posting them here. But there were too many of them. And they were all too vulgar.

Plus, I'm sure everyone who called me names will be back to apologize later anyway.

But really, should we be surprised at this point when the Ravens fail to win after refusing to utilize Ray Rice, clearly the best offensive weapon on their team?

No, no we should not.

Week - Opponent
Rice Carries
Rice Rushing Yards
Points Scored
Result
1 - Steelers
19 107 35 W
2 - Titans
13 43 13 L
3 - Rams
9 81 37 W
4 - Jets
25 66 34 W
6 - Texans
23 101 29 W
7 - Jaguars
8 28 7 L
8 - Cardinals
18 63 30 W
9 - Steelers
18 43 23 W
10 - Seahawks
5 27 17 L

Rice's usage and subsequent success (or lack thereof) isn't a direct correlation with the win-loss record of the Ravens. He's had nine carries in a game (against the Rams) where the Ravens absolutely rolled.

But two games above really stand out in terms of similarity -- the loss to the Seahawks and Jaguars. Both were on the road, both were against teams that aren't even remotely considered on the Ravens level and both featured Rice inexplicably getting less than 10 rushing attempts.

The Ravens were behind for much of each game, but never were they in full-on blowout territory, and the downside of running the ball is really only losing a couple of seconds of game time and actually getting the defense to respect the natural balance that the Ravens offense should feature.

It's doesn't seem that hard to figure out that the Ravens are 1-3 when their best player on offense rushes the ball less than 15 times in a game. And yet somehow Cam Cameron can't do it.

7. Red Rocket

Alright, I give up: Andy Dalton, despite losing to Pittsburgh 24-17 on Sunday, deserves to be the leader for Rookie of the Year right now.

This might sound weird considering he's coming of a loss, he threw a game-ending interception (his second in the fourth quarter Sunday) and my blatant homerism deep respect for Cam Newton.

But it was ridiculously impressive that Cincy took the Steelers best shot early in the game and then rallied back to get within a touchdown, despite losing their other studly rookie A.J. Green after he hyperextended his knee.

Oh, it also doesn't help that Newton absolutely laid an egg on Sunday, failing to score a touchdown in a football game for what he said might be the first time in his life. I haven't seen any confirmation of this, but I also have no trouble believing it.

Back to Dalton and the Bengals though: if Green's injury is substantial, I don't think the Bengals make the playoffs (they currently project as the sixth seed) because not only are the Ravens and the Steelers better, but the Ravens might actually try against Cincy.

And if Newton bounces back over the next few weeks, and the Bengals lose their last three games against the Steelers and Ravens, it's going to be tough for voters to hit Dalton up.

But if he improves from the growing pains he suffered against the Steelers, he might end up stealing the award after all. And, you know, a playoff berth.

8. Andy Reid's Hot Pants

Before the season, we penciled in the Week 10 Cardinals-Eagles matchup with the idea that Kevin Kolb would lead a revived Arizona squad into Philly with a chance for redemption against the team that cast him off for Michael Vick. Instead, Kolb couldn't play Sunday, so John Skelton started and ... the Eagles still lost, 21-17.

With that L, let's just go ahead and bury the Eagles 2011 season. Instead of debating whether 9-7 is possible, let's discuss whether or not Andy Reid should be fired if the Eagles miss the playoffs.

I, unequivocally, say he should not be fired. He's got issues with his roster construction, his clock management and his balance on offense, but there's a reason why he's the longest-tenured coach in the NFL.

Additionally, this is a lockout year, and teams were supposed to struggle to adapt under circumstances. "Bringing in a bunch of new faces" is one such circumstance where there's a built-in excuse.

And perhaps the best reason to hold onto Reid: he's Michael Vick's guy, and Michael Vick just got paid $100 million. That's not to say Vick couldn't play for another coach and succeed, but Reid's mentored him on and -- perhaps more importantly -- off the field. He's turned Vick from an ex-con into a franchise quarterback.

Vick's taken a step back this season, but if Philly can beef up its offensive line and address some of the defensive issues, there's no reason why Reid can't just can Juan Castillo in sacrificial lamb fashion and come back next year, regardless of how this season plays out.

9. What the Helu?

Would the Redskins beat the Colts if they played today? Wilson and I talked about that on the podcast (I assume you hit play above and are listening now but just haven't gotten that far yet), and, um, I'm not sure?

Indy's terrible, but Washington is just depressing -- the latest feather in Mike Shanahan's cap is a 20-9 loss to Miami that not only gave Shanny his first-ever five-game losing streak, but also handed the Dolphins their first win at Sun Life Stadium in 364 days.

The saddest part of the Redskins failure on Sunday isn't even that Rex Grossman gives them a better chance to win than John Beck. That's just the truth, even if it's cringe-worthy. Although apparently Shanahan doesn't know that? Or he does? Or ... you tell me:

"We’re going to make decisions that we think gives us the best chance to win," Shanahan said about the decision to go with Grossman. "Then before the game we decided to go in another direction."

I know what he's saying (I think), but it's kind of awesome that this quote, taken out of context, sounds like "Beck gives us the best chance to win, that's why we started him. But on Sunday we changed our minds."

Anyway, the saddest part is that Roy Helu broke Art Monk's single-game receptions record last week and he was inexplicably benched Sunday in favor of Ryan Torain.

"Well, I wanted to give Ryan a chance, see what he can do," Shanahan said of the decision. "[The Dolphins] are a very good defensive team."

Again, I don't know what that means or how it's sound logic for benching Helu.

Whatever, an obviously motivated Torain carried the ball 10 times for 20 yards. Helu still managed to end the day as Washington's leading rusher, though, as he carried the ball six times for 41 yards in the second half.

This logical result would have stemmed from an illogical decision, but there's nothing justifiably rational about the Redskins right now.

10. Bear With Me Here

First of all, allow me to congratulate my colleague Matt Norlander, who not only got engaged Sunday, but got a win for his precious Bears (an awkward 37-13 slaughtering of Detroit) and a Devin Hester touchdown return.

And second of all, allow me to say I'm sorry for thinking the Bears stink. Because they don't. I can't justify saying that if I'm going to tout the Texans as the top team in the AFC; after all, the Bears play a complete brand of football. They're great on defense, they generate turnovers, they can run the ball on offense and, needless to say, their special teams are pretty good.

Now there's still room for an implosion here. Lord knows they were 2-3, couldn't protect Jay Cutler and looked like a lost team only a few weeks ago. But just like 2010, Mike Martz realized just how true the old equation of "seven-step drops + passing every down = quarterback injuries" really is and Chicago currently projects as the final NFC wild card.

The Bears getting ready to run the not-so-scary AFC West gauntlet, playing San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City and Denver over their next four games. No, that portion of the schedule could not come at a better time, and if you think that running a cover-2 against a read-option offense and having Brian Urlacher shadow Tebow depending on what side of the line he runs off won't be fun, well, you clearly don't enjoy pain.

With Seattle and Minnesota also on the sked -- only Green Bay is really scary -- and Detroit having to play the Packers twice over the rest of the schedule, Chicago could somehow easily weasel their way to 11-5. Again.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's action...
... For the third time in his career, Reggie Bush scored multiple rushing touchdowns.
... The NFL West went undefeated on Sunday for the first time since division realignment. According to my buddy RJ Bell of PreGame.com, a $100 bet on that happening would've paid out $8,400. So, yeah, everyone saw it coming.
... Tebow's the only quarterback in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass and rush for 25 yards in each of his first seven starts.
... Drew Brees passed Brett Favre for the second-longest streak of consecutive games (37) with a touchdown pass.

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF O' THE WEEK

This is unfortunate for Ray Lewis:

Hot Seat Tracker

  • Todd Haley -- Welcome back, sir! We missed you. How can one manage to not prepare for the read-option after watching another division opponent look totally unprepared for it and lose?
  • Mike Shanahan -- He's the one who thought Grossman and Beck were a winning combination.
  • Juan Castillo -- It's either him or Andy Reid right?
  • Jim Caldwell -- If Caldwell doesn't get canned, I'm convinced no one does.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (1/4): Everyone else in the NFL has two wins, and the only game Indy might even reasonably come close to winning is their Week 16 matchup against the Jaguars. We can almost call this off.
Redskins (3/1): My darkhorse! I think they'll lose out, but I just don't buy the idea of Indy winning one game, much less three.
Vikings (4/1): They play the Packers Monday and get the Lions and Bears again.
Dolphins (5/1): That whole Stephen Ross in a leopard-skin bikini thing is working out well.
Panthers (6/1): Tough schedule coming down the pipe ... and they play the Colts!
Rams (7/1): NFC West schedule and they're starting to fight a little.

MVP Watch

Aaron Rodgers will most likely extend his season-long virtuoso performance on Monday night and further give us reason to pick him as MVP. But just in case he falters, I've got my eye on a few guys who could get hot and supplant him in the second half, via what we talked about above: Brady, Foster and Romo. Brady, well, duh, he's good. And he sure wasn't a unanimous MVP winner after Week 9 (or Week 10) in 2010. So it could happen. Foster's playing as well as any running back in the NFL right now; if the Texans win out and clinch the top spot in the AFC, people will talk about it. And if Romo can blow up over the next two months and get the Cowboys a division title, well, weirder things have happened.
Posted on: November 11, 2011 1:40 pm
 

Podcast: Week 10 NFL preview, Oakland/San Diego

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Week 10's gotten started, thanks to Oakland's big win in San Diego, and we break down that game -- the return of Carson Palmer! -- before diving into Week 10's preview podcast.

Are the Bengals capable of upsetting the Steelers at home? Does anyone care about the Eagles-Cardinals game except for Kevin Kolb? Have the Bears improved enough on offense since losing to the Lions last time to move into a tie for second in the NFC North this week? Can we really bank on the Patriots losing three-straight games? Is Chad Ochocinco really the key to beating the Jets this week? Are the Giants overmatched heading out west against San Francisco?

All those questions answered, plus much, much more, below.

Did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes?

If you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.



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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com