Play Fantasy The Most Award Winning Fantasy game with real time scoring, top expert analysis, custom settings, and more. Play Now
 
Tag:Minnesota Vikings
Posted on: October 19, 2011 4:29 pm
 

Podcast: Week 7 Film Room breakdown

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Week 7's on the horizon, which means it's time to hit the film room with Andy Benoit.

This week, we break down Jets/Chargers (you can read the Film Room post here) and Raiders/Chiefs (you can read that Film Room post here).

Plus, Andy and Will talk about the recent Carson Palmer trade, whether the Redskins should start John Beck or Rex Grossman, if the Vikings are smart rolling with Christian Ponder, how Tim Tebow will do in his 2011 starting debut in a "road game" against the Dolphins plus much, much more.

Just hit the play button below to listen (and 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: October 18, 2011 4:36 pm
 

Man arrested for slapping Devin Hester at casino

Posted by Will Brinson

Well here's a weird, potentially scary story that didn't end poorly: Devin Hester, Bears special teams player beast, was assaulted at a casino by a 52-year-old man named Daniel G. Rago at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, Illinois.

Actually "assaulted" is really just a technical term, since Hester was, according to the Des Plaines Trib-Local, slapped in the back of the head by Rago while waiting a "cash transaction line at around 10:40 p.m. Friday."

Rago, according to Des Plaines Police Chief Jim Prandini, slapped the Bears player in the back of the head and then walked away.

"There was no brawl, no melee that drew attention to the situation," Prandini said. "There was no big scene that took place."

Following getting slapped, Hester went to casino security, who put Rago in a holding area and later had him arrested by local police.

"Devin was basically attacked," said Hester's agent Eugene Parker. "He did the right thing and showed great restraint in an unfortunate situation."

Seriously -- Hester's willingness not to react after getting hit in the back of the head for apparently no reason at all is pretty impressive. Rago wouldn't give a reason for why he went after Hester, so one has to assume that Rago either really hates or the Bears, or he was trying to sneak in a monster bet on the Vikings shortly after the incident.

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: October 18, 2011 2:30 pm
 

Report: Christian Ponder in as Vikings starter

Posted by Will Brinson

Even though the Vikings were down 29 points, Donovan McNabb was indeed benched for Christian Ponder on Sunday night in a loss at Chicago. Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said he'd announce his decision on who'll start going forward Wednesday, but his mind is reportedly already made up and Ponder will get the nod in Week 7 for the Vikings.

That's according to Jason LaCanfora of the NFL Network, who reports that Frazier "has made the change and notified those involved." This is a bit awkward considering McNabb said Monday that he expected to remain the starter.

The logic behind the move to Ponder is pretty simple: the Vikings aren't winning now whether McNabb or Ponder's under center, and McNabb simply isn't anything more than a one-year rental for Minnesota.

Ponder, on the other hand, is the theoretical future of the franchise, as my colleague Pete Prisco wrote on Monday morning. And Minnesota, already five games back of the division-leading Packers, needs to find out if Ponder can be as successful as they hope.

It's unlikely he'll turn around the Vikings season, but he did provide a spark to the offense Sunday, albeit against a prevent defense from the Bears.

And as I noted in Sorting the Sunday Pile, it sure sounds like the rest of the members of the Vikings offense are on board with plugging Ponder in and trying to see what they've got from the rookie out of Florida State.

It's the smart, logical move, even if it won't pay off immediate dividends in terms of games won. But then again, McNabb didn't appear to helping much either.

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: October 18, 2011 9:29 am
Edited on: October 18, 2011 10:28 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 6: self-sabotage in Dallas

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Jason Garrett, head coach, Dallas Cowboys. It says it right in the tag line: "Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and 'Wait, what did he just do?!'" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat." Usually, that's the result of something a player, a unit or even an assistant coach did (or didn't do) that cost a team a win. It reflects poorly on the head coach -- and might ultimately get him canned -- but only because the buck stops with him, not because he was the one actually doing the damage.

Garrett, who also serves as the Cowboys offensive coordinator, is the exception this week. He has the unenviable task of calling plays that maximize the team's chances of winning while also minimizing a game-changing Tony Romo interception.

It's a delicate balance. Romo tossed two pick-sixes against the Lions in Week 4, and after taking bye week to regroup, Romo came out and threw another interception in his first series against the Patriots Sunday.

So it's certainly reasonable to think that Garrett's fourth-quarter play-calling was affected by the possibility that Romo might start firing passes at the other team. With Dallas leading 16-13 late in the fourth quarter, that meant running the ball on three straight downs, punting to the Patriots, and hoping for the best. And hope is pretty much all you have when Tom Brady's on the field preparing to mount a late-game comeback.

Predictably, the Cowboys lost. Upside: it wasn't because of a Romo errant pass.

Immediately after the game, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones questioned the "run, run, run, punt" strategy.

“When you get in a situation like that, you’ve got to go for the kill,” Jones said. “I felt like we could’ve been more aggressive. Our defense had been good all day, but you knew Brady had a length-of-the-field drive in him -- so it didn’t surprise me at all when he took them down at the end.”

Put differently: even Jones knew this was doomed.

Week 6 Recap

On Monday, Garrett explained the offensive game plan, particularly the decision turtle up.

"When you look at it, what we were trying to do was really just manage the situation," Garrett said. "Certainly, in that case, you want to make a first down; you want to end the game right there. But we just felt like it was important at that time to try to run the ball, get the clock moving, force them to use their timeouts, and then hopefully get yourself in a manageable third-down situation where you can run it or you can throw it and try to end the game right there by making a first down. Hopefully, you execute the plays early in that sequence to get yourself in a manageable third down. We didn't do that."

No, no you didn't.

By the way, remember back in 2008, when Garrett, then an up-and-coming coordinator with the Cowboys, turned down head coaching gigs with the Ravens and Falcons? Think he regrets that now? Think the Ravens and Falcons regret it? 

Rex Grossman, QB, Redskins. The issue isn't that Grossman tossed four interceptions in Washington's loss to division-rival Philadelphia Sunday. Or that he completed 41 percent of his attempts, or that his passer rating was 23.7 (he's done worse -- on three different occasions!). It's the idea that anybody with a passing interest in football would be surprised that we saw BAD REX.

Before replacing Donovan McNabb for the final quarter of the 2010 season, Grossman never had a passer rating above 75.0 for a season. He also has 46 career touchdowns to 49 career interceptions. If there was ever a case for a game-managing quarterback to get out of his own way long enough for the defense to keep things close, the Redskins are it. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's unit is a top-5 defense, an effort that was wasted on Grossman Sunday.

But that's part of the problem -- there are no warning signs that BAD REX is on his way. He just shows up, unannounced, wreaking havoc and ruining seasons. And before there's a chance to make a change, the damage is done.

Of course, you could also argue that head coach Mike Shanahan had no business putting Grossman on the field in the first place. When Kurt Coleman, the safety for an Eagles' defense that has been ridiculed for much of the season, intercepts Grossman three times and admits later that "I was able to read Rex all day … I had a great feeling for where he was going to all of his wide receivers," it's probably time to switch things up.


Is it too early to start talking about an undefeated season with the Packers? Is it time for Christian Ponder to take over in Minnesota? Pete Prisco joins Lauren Shehadi to answer those questions and more.

Shanahan might just do that. Then again, he might not. "I believe in Rex, and I believe in [backup QB] John Beck," Shanahan said Monday. "I told you that from Day 1. Both guys, I'm hoping, are going to be here for a long time. … I've been around quarterbacks in the National Football League for a long time, and I know these guys have got what it takes."

That last sentence, perhaps more than any other Shanahan has uttered since taking the 'Skins job, should worry fans most. Because even if there's a hint of truth to the notion that a former first-round flop and a guy who last started an NFL game in 2007 "have what it takes," Washington is in worst shape than we thought.

This could be good news for the 2-4 Eagles, who may not have to worry about the Cowboys (2-3) or the Redskins (3-2) in the NFC East. Both teams seem to be doing a fine job of blowing up their seasons without any assistance.

Miami Dolphins passing offense. Head coach Tony Sparano isn't long for Miami. If that wasn't the case before the Dolphins' Week 5 bye, it is now, after watching what transpired on Monday night against the Jets. If Miami could've scraped together even a mildly awful offense they might've won that game. Instead, we were treated to something a particularly sadistic Mike Martz might draw up in an effort to get his quarterback maimed.

It would be easy to just point the finger at Matt Moore and move on. But he was put in a lose-lose situation (and he delivered), replacing an injured Chad Henne in an offense that was so inept that, by comparison, Mark Sanchez occasionally looked competent.

Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Marshall made some mid-week comments about playing with so much passion he'd probably be ejected by the second quarter of Monday's game.

Neither passion nor ejection happened, though Marshall spent the evening dropping passes (including his fifth dropped touchdown pass on the season), along with just about everybody else on the roster -- Brian Hartline, Charles Clay and Devone Bess even mixed in a fumble.

It didn't help that Moore seemed to seek out Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis, who ended the night with two interceptions, including a pick-six early in the game that should've given the Dolphins a 6-0 lead at worse (and just about any other team would've been up 14-0 against a reeling Jets outfit). But Moore could have been serviceable if he'd just gotten some help from his pass-catchers. Or the Dolphins pass-rushers, who barely touched Sanchez all night. Or cornerback Sean Smith, who looked like a Miami wideout when he dropped a Sanchez pass in the end zone.

We suppose it was only fitting that the game ended on a Moore sack. Though we wouldn't have been surprised if it had been an incomplete pass.

Minnesota Vikings pass rush. The Vikings are one of the best pass-rushing teams in the league. So, naturally, they were absolutely stymied against the Bears Sunday night. This is the same Bears team that couldn't protect Jay Cutler from tackling dummies in previous weeks. But Sunday, he had gobs of time to find receivers and dutifully played his part in running up the score.

"It's humiliating," Vikings defensive end Brian Robison said. "It's the only word I can think of right now. It's simply humiliating."

"Embarrassing," cornerback Asher Allen added. "After the way we played last week and to have the progress we thought we were making, this came out of nowhere."

It really did. Not so much Minnesota's offense -- we all know that there are plenty of issues there, starting with the quarterback situation. But the inability to get to Cutler (a guy who spends most Sunday's frowning and running for his life who not only looked comfortable in the pocket against the Vikings, but absolutely upbeat about the prospects of dropping back to throw) was a little more than troubling. 

It's one thing to bench McNabb for rookie Christian Ponder. That will quiet the masses, even if it may not have much of an impact on actually winning football games. But if Minnesota is going to be competitive, they'll need their defense -- particularly their pass rush -- to show up. We figured that went without saying. 

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: October 17, 2011 8:59 am
 

McNabb still feels like the QB job is his

Has McNabb made his last start for the Vikings(US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

It took Donovan McNabb's best outing of the year to usher in the Christian Ponder era. For a night, anyway. For the first five and a half weeks of the NFL season, there hadn't been a quarterback controversy in Minnesota (a least from head coach Leslie Frazier's perspective) but once Ponder entered a game in the fourth quarter, the conversation immediately switched from "Man, the Vikings are getting blown out of Soldier Field" to "We've seen this movie before and it doesn't end well for Donovan."

But nothing's official; for now, the depth chart remains unchanged. "We have to sit down on Monday and talk about a lot of things," Frazier said following the Vikings' 39-10 loss to the Bears. "We need to decide on what direction we want to go." 

McNabb, as he repeated at various points last season with the Redskins before he was eventually replaced by Rex Grossman (!), considers the job his. "I don't see it 'ending like this,' as you say. It's tough. You're 1-5 at this particular point. It felt like we did a lot of great things today. I guess we'll sit down and talk, but I still expect to be there (starting) next week."

And maybe McNabb should feel that way. After what can kindly be described as a horrible start to 2011 (his Week 1 numbers were particularly offensive), he went 19 of 24 for 177 yards Sunday night, and finished with a passer rating of 97.4, his best this season.

Ponder, the Vikings' first-round pick in April, played well enough to remain in the "Start him now" conversation (9 of 17 for 99 yards, 8 yards rushing), even though the Vikings might have a better chance to win with McNabb under center.

But when you're 1-5, winning is relative. If Minnesota makes the change at quarterback, it will be for the same reasons as the Panthers, Jaguars and Bengals: future success. (Although, miraculously, Cincinnati and Andy Dalton are 4-2 heading into their bye week.)

For now, Ponder's saying all the right things.

"I was very grateful for the opportunity that Coach let me go in," he said. "I thought I made some plays, thought I missed some plays, missed a couple throws. But I definitely had fun. It's always hard to have fun when you're losing that bad, but I was grateful and I definitely had fun."

As for why Frazier decided to pull McNabb for Ponder: "Just where we were in the ballgame, where the score was," he said. "Just wanted to get (Ponder) in there, let him take some snaps and get a chance to get a feel for the NFL tempo."

The Vikings head coach added: "I don't know if [McNabb's] all right with [the decision to take him out of the game] … but he understood"

If this season is anything like last season, it's something McNabb might have to get used to.

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: October 17, 2011 3:07 am
Edited on: October 17, 2011 1:34 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 6

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 6 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

1. What's Your Deal?
By now, you've undoubtedly seen the little melee that erupted between Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz following San Francisco's 25-19 victory in Detroit.

NFL VP of Communications Greg Aiello confirmed to CBS Sports following the game that the NFL will look into the near-fight that went down, and I'd be pretty shocked if both coaches didn't get hit with some kind of fine. Though Harbaugh didn't do much that was noticeable on the video, he did admit following the game that he probably incited Schwartz' anger.

Schwartz, of course, chased Harbaugh down the field and had to be repeatedly pushed back from the crowd. No matter what Harbaugh did, it's hard to fathom that Schwartz behavior is remotely acceptable in the eyes of the league. And though Schwartz might have looked like the aggressor, the blame has to lie with Harbaugh on this one.

Looking ahead, this might not be a rivalry that dies quickly. Niners offensive lineman Anthony Davis, on his newly verified Twitter account, had a little trash talk of his own after the game.

"They talked s*** to us all week," Davis tweeted following the game. "We said nothin ... Came and kicked that a** ... its f***** football f*** classy.. Save classy for Mortons lol"

Steakhouse humor aside, it's worth mentioning Cliff Avril of the Lions saw Davis' tweet and pointed out that it was "real professional" -- Davis responded by pointing out that he "pancacked [Avril] on a passing play ... sooo uh just be quiet go home play with your kids."

So this shouldn't evolve into anything unpleasant in the near future at all!

What's fascinating about this whole thing is how people are defending both sides. Some folks think that Schwartz is an unhinged lunatic. Some think Harbaugh is an arrogant jerk. (Our own Mike Freeman noted on Twitter that Harbaugh's not making himself any friends around the league with his attitude.)

For me, it's hard to blame Schwartz for his reaction, given the way that Harbaugh behaved following San Francisco's victory:



Whatever, here's hoping they meet again in the playoffs. In the meantime, my top-five list for coaches I would pick for a steel-cage death match:

1. Jack Del Rio
2. Ron Rivera
3. Mike Tomlin
4. Jim Schwartz
5. Raheem Morris

Leave your picks in the comments.

2. Speaking of Coaches ...
You'll notice Sean Payton didn't make my top five. And he might not have even if he was healthy, but he certainly wouldn't be up there after the incident that took place on Sunday, when tight end Jimmy Graham came crashing into the sideline and blew up Payton's knee.

The Saints coach suffered a broken tibia and tore his the MCL in his left knee, which means he'll be knocked out of shape for quite a while.

"It's just one of those things, the play kind of got up on me quicker," Payton said Sunday. "I think the second part of the tackle seemed maybe all of a sudden. I mean, every once in a while you feel like you get pinned with the play and that's what happened."

Of course, Payton wasn't the only coach who was injured on Sunday in this game (think about that; seriously) -- Jimmy Lake, the Bucs defensive backs coach, tore his patellar tendon celebrating an interception celebrating, as Ryan says in the podcast above, Martin Gramatica style.

What I'm wondering is if Payton's injury might derail the Saints offense a little bit. Maybe that's a stretch, and he'll certainly have his hands all over the team's playcalling and management, but it doesn't sound like he'll be down on the field for a few weeks.

"I might have to be up in the press box for a few games," Payton said. "Because it’s a fracture, its different. If it’s the MCL you can have the brace, but the fracture on the outside means the weight-bearing part of it really changes."

Maybe it won't have any bearing -- with the Saints playing the Colts and Rams in the next two weeks, Drew Brees can probably manage the offense all by himself.

2. A Boy Named John
With Washington getting two weeks to prepare for the Eagles, and Philly looking very much like a punch-drunk boxer practically begging for a knockout shot, it stood to reason that the Redskins could take advantage of the Eagles porous defense and pick up a critical division win.

They didn't, and that's mainly because Rex Grossman turned into, well, Rex Grossman.

The 'Skins quarterback threw four interceptions -- three to Kurt Coleman -- and registered a couple of terrible interceptions that should have been picks. This led to him getting benched for backup John Beck.

“Well number one—we needed a spark," Mike Shanahan said afterwards. "John has been practicing very well the past couple of weeks and with four turnovers there we thought it was time to make a change and give John an opportunity to show us what he could do."

(Ed. Note: Week 6 review will be up early Monday.)

Beck, who's so fancy/awesome he dressed like a gas-station attendant for his post-game presser, isn't locked into the starting role yet, though, as Shanny refused to name next week's starter immediately following the game.

"I would never announce that right after a game," Shanahan said of his decision on who he'll start. "I would announce that later on in the week. We'll make a decision after looking at the film."

That's all fine and well, but who didn't see this coming? Because if the Redskins leading the NFC East after five weeks was the least likely thing in the entire world, then Grossman eventually imploding was on the opposite scale of predictability. And now this is quickly shaping up to be the second rendition of the Donovan McNabb-Grossman fiasco from last year.

On the bright side, it's less expensive?

"I want to play," Beck said, via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post. "I want to be the quarterback. But I’m not the one that makes that decision, it’s coach, and they’ll make the best decision for the team ... What’s gonna happen next, I don’t know. But I’ll just do everything I can to be prepared if my number is called."

If it's me, I roll the dice with Beck, who seemed to at least provide a little spark to the team when he came on the field. It's not like he's been good this year, the Redskins defense has just kept Washington in games. And Grossman's now thrown three or more interceptions in seven of his 45 career starts. Which means 15 percent of the time that you put Grossman under center, there's a 15-percent chance he's going to hand the ball to the opposing defense multiple times.

3. Maybe Romo's Not the Only Choker?
For what feels like the fourth or fifth week this season, it's time to question Jason Garrett's playcalling for Dallas. With the game tied at 13 all and the Cowboys in the red zone, Garrett called a third-down shovel pass despite Dez Bryant sitting in single coverage.

The result was predictably predictable: the shovel pass didn't work and the Cowboys kicked a field goal to go up 16-13. Then, after forcing the Patriots to punt, Dallas ran three straight times (for negative-five yards) and the result was even more predictable: Dallas punted back to Tom Brady, giving him the ball down three points with 2:31 left on the clock.

If you've followed football at all for the last few years, you've probably already figured out what happened. Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does, which is carve up a defense en route to just another routine comeback/last-minute win.

By the time he hit Aaron Hernandez in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown, Dallas had just 22 seconds remaining on the clock to move the ball far enough down the field to get a shot at a Hail Mary, which Tony Romo threw out of bounds.

On that last drive, by the way, Romo completed two passes for 31 yards. Throw those passes on the previous series and we're talking about a signature win for the Cowboys, against the best team in the other conference at their place.

Instead, we're left to wonder why Garrett continually plays, as my colleague Pete Prisco wrote, not to lose, instead of utilizing the weapons he has on offense in the proper way. And by "we" I mean "me and Jerry Jones."

"You'll always second-guess whether or not we should have tried to run a little offense down there instead of running it three times," Jones said after the game, per our Pats Rapid Reporter Greg Bedard. "We went conservative rather than try to get some points and it bit us."

Jones said that doing so in a regular-season game was acceptable, but it's not the type of thing that he'd like to see in the playoffs. Of course, it's hard to imagine the Cowboys making the playoffs if they can't figure out how to turn trips to the red zone into more than three points a pop.

4. Bollers and Pryors OH MY
Many a pundit's willing to point out that the Oakland Raiders, while a half-game back of the Chargers, are the best AFC West team through the first six weeks of the season.

This isn't that far off. The Raiders are pretty good. But despite winning 24-17 over Cleveland on Sunday, Oakland suffered a seriously detrimental injury on Sunday, as quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone and will likely miss the remainder of the season.

“I’m not going to let this football team blink," coach Hue Jackson said Sunday. "We’ll miss Jason for a little while. I have no idea how long it will take [for him to recover]. We’ll see as we go. I know obviously he won’t be here next week. We’ll continue to press forward and get better."

That's the optimistic point of view. The pessimistic? Kyle Boller, Terrelle Pryor and Shane Lechler are now the top-three quarterbacks on Oakland's depth chart. Yikes.

So Oakland has a couple of options going forward. One, roll with Boller. (Again, yikes.) Two, let Darren McFadden carry the ball 50 times a game. (Not terrible, but it could cause some long-term issues in terms of his health.) Three, go out and get another quarterback.

A couple of names spring to mind immediately: Kyle Orton, Donovan McNabb, David Garrard and Carson Palmer. Garrard makes sense because he's openly said he wants to play for a contender and the Raiders, at 4-2, certainly fit the bill.

Orton, McNabb and Palmer seem like longer shots as trade possibilities, but the Raiders have about 36 hours to make a deal, and it's reasonable that the Broncos, Vikings and Bengals would be interested in getting something back for guys that are either going to ride pine the rest of the year or won't bother showing up.

5. Don't Forget the Defense



In this, the year of ridiculously silly offensive outputs in the NFL, it's easy to just gawk at high-powered offensive teams and assume they will end up winning the most games and doing the most damage in the postseason.

But we need to recognize the Ravens for the dirty work they're doing on the defensive side of the ball, suppressed their league-leading points-allowed total to 71 Sunday after casually shut down Houston in a 29-14 victory. Baltimore held 2010 rushing champ Arian Foster to just 49 yards on 15 carries, and limited Matt Schaub to 220 yards and a touchdown in a dominant defensive performance that should make some people take notice.

Ryan and I debated this audio-style, but I think there's a legitimate argument that the Ravens are the best team in the AFC and can contend for the best team in the NFL. Clearly -- quite clearly -- the Packers are the cream of the crop at the moment.

But anyone in the NFL can score these days. Few teams can stop the opposition from scoring. With Haloti Ngata serving as the lynchpin for the defensive line and wrecking havoc on opponents' offensive lines, and with a secondary that's surprising this year, and with Ray Lewis playing rejuvenated ball, the Ravens can do that.

They're lacking in offensive consistency more so than a lot of other teams around the league -- Joe Flacco alternating between awesome and terrible this season is pretty terrifying if you're a Baltimore fan -- but Ray Rice is so good right now that he can carry the Ravens when Flacco's struggling.

And if Rice isn't up for the task, the defense isn't afraid to take over either. Which separates the Ravens from most everyone else in the league.

6. Madden Up to His Old Curses Again
What the hell is going on in Cleveland? Because, one, the Browns aren't winning, so that's a problem. And two, Peyton Hillis has some serious drama surrounding him these days.

We've detailed the drama before (numerous times, actually), but Sunday took things to a whole new level. For starters, Hillis rushed just six times for 14 yards and then left with a hamstring injury, pulling up lame after taking a second-quarter screen pass from Colt McCoy only to have it negated by an illegal shift penalty.

After halftime, Hillis returned and appeared to be out for the game. This is fine, if it's because of injury. Except Hillis returned to the game ... and didn't get any carries. He blocked for McCoy and was on the field, but didn't rush the ball at all.

The Browns weren't exactly ground heavy during the game -- Montario Hardesty only had 11 carries for a meager 35 yards -- and McCoy ended up throwing 45 times (his lowest passing-attempt total on the year is now 32, which is also a bit disconcerting), but to see Hillis hurt but maybe not hurt enough to sit out the rest of the game especially after a controversial injury earlier in the year, well, let's just say that something ain't stirring the Kool-Aid in Cleveland.

7. Ponder This
Sunday night, Christian Ponder got his first real action for the Vikings in their 39-10 blowout loss Sunday night. I mentioned this when writing about the substitution, but you can't pin everything that's going wrong on Donovan McNabb.

He's not the guy refusing to block defenders, and he's not the guy allowing other teams to score 20-plus points in the second halves of games. But it's understandable that some of the players on the team might be a little interested in seeing what Ponder, who at least looked more, um, energetic than McNabb, can do.

"I'm not a coach, but this team definitely could use a spark wherever that may come from," wide receiver Percy Harvin said.

Again, McNabb hasn't been that bad. But the Vikes are 1-5, going nowhere in (arguably) the toughest division in football and need to find out if Ponder's their guy for the long term.

Because at this rate, they'll have another pretty critical decision about some talented young quarterbacks at the top of the 2012 draft as well.

For the Bears part, lets give credit to Mike Martz and Lovie Smith for learning that if you actually give Jay Cutler help to block pass rushers, you can produce offensively.

Except they learned this last year, too. Remember how the Bears stunk and Cutler looked like a candidate for serious brain damage through the first few weeks in 2010? And then the Bears started running the ball more and protecting Cutler? Yeah, maybe next year they'll remember before they're a quarter of the season in.



8. Down South in ... Tampa Bay?
The Saints were supposed to blow out the LeGarrette Blount-less Buccaneers this weekend and the Panthers were supposed to upset the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. And then I was going to spend a large chunk of this column talking about the Panthers secretly being the second-best team in the NFC South.

Well, apparently no one else in the entire world got the same memo I did (thanks a lot for not forwarding the revised copy, you big jerks), because the Panthers got handily dismantled 31-17 in Atlanta and the Bucs straight up took care of business in route to grabbing the division lead with a 26-20 win over New Orleans.

If you missed it, lemme fill you on why the Panthers lost: their defense is terrible. It's not bad coaching and it's not to mean to the guys in the lineup, but the best way for Tiki Barber to revive his career would be to just try and get a tryout with whoever's playing the Panthers in the coming week, because there's a decent chance he could scamper for a buck fifty against that fishnet of a rushing defense.

They'll get better in the future and there's no reason to question Ron Rivera's capability as a defensive coach, but if you can run the ball, you can kill the Panthers. After Cam Newton threw a terrible pick to defensive lineman Corey Peters, the Falcons got the ball up a touchdown with six minutes left to play. Eight plays later -- seven of them running -- they were up 14 points.

Everyone knew they were going to run and there still wasn't any way for Carolina to stop it. New Orleans is a different deal, though, because Blount's absence meant the Bucs would struggle (in their wins thus far, he'd done well, and in their losses he hadn't; it's science!). Instead, Earnest Graham piled up 109 rushing yards on 17 carries, Josh Freeman got loose with Arrelious Benn and the Saints found themselves in a 20-10 halftime hole that they couldn't ever climb out of.

In short, a motivated Tampa Bay team showed up, created turnovers and completely flipped our perspective on the NFC South.

9. Bungle in the Jungle
The Ravens, as noted above, are the class of the AFC North. And the Steelers are coming off a second-straight win in which their defense prevailed and Rashard Mendenhall and the running game looked good.

But it would be silly to discount what the Bengals have done this year, moving to 4-2 after a 27-17 win over Indy, especially considering most of the offensive production is coming from a pair of rookies in Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.

Dalton's not lighting up the statistical sheet, per se, as he's averaging just 218.5 passing yards per game, and he's only found the end zone seven times. But four of those have been to fellow rook Green, and -- I'm as surprised to be writing this as you are reading it -- Marvin Lewis was write about his offense getting an upgrade during the offseason.

And the Bengals are benefiting from a soft schedule; they could realistically be undefeated, considering that their two losses were by a combined seven points. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they have the second-best defense in the league, allowing just 278.5 yards per game. That defense has

The schedule gets harder down the road -- multiple matchups with both Baltimore and Pittsburgh loom -- but there are four more games left where the Bengals will either be favored or basically a pick 'em. The idea that this team could win eight games as recently as September was, well, not there. The four they have now is probably what they'd have topped out in most preseason projections.

And now they're a reasonable contender for a Wild-Card berth if a few things go their way in the rest of their division matchups.

10. Things to Do In Denver on Your Bye
It's fascinating to me that a team like the Broncos could, somehow, manage to create a ton of noise about their team. On their bye week. Without really talking about Tim Tebow.

I mean, there was some Tebow talk this week, of course, but it wasn't out of control. Charley Casserly reported that the Broncos won't change their offense much for Tebow, and that's probably a good thing and/or not that surprising, since this is a John Fox offense.

Most of the noise centered around Denver's decision to start trying to ship every single talented veteran on the roster out of town. Brandon Lloyd wants gone, and it seems like he could be moved before Monday's practice (the team apparently doesn't think he can be on the same field as the coaching staff). Eddie Royal's on the block too and he's generating some interest; this makes sense since both player are rentals for the rest of the year.

Kyle Orton's situation is a little more interesting. He'll also be a free agent after this year, and one would think that he'd LOVE to get out of town since a) the coaches yanked him in Week 5 for Tebow despite acting like Tebow's worse than Brady Quinn, b) he'll be a free agent in the offseason and c) he's more reviled by the fans around Mile High than Carmelo Anthony during his "trade me to New York or else" run last year.

But the Broncos issued a statement on Sunday night denying rumors that Orton wanted a trade, so apparently he's content hanging around and playing -- ahem -- nursemaid to Tebow. Or he thinks the experiment will fail miserably and he'll be starting in a couple weeks anyway.

Regardless, Denver, you're 1-4. Spend the bye week getting better, not drawing attention to yourselves when you're not playing please.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Shane Lechler's first career pass attempt also produced his first career touchdown pass, when the Raiders faked a field goal in the third quarter against the Browns. Oddly enough, Lechler was the emergency quarterback, set to replace Kyle Boller who replaced the injured Jason Campbell.
... No one will talk about it because they won and because of Handshake Gate, but Jim Harbaugh threw a challenge flag on a scoring play. Huge gaffe, since those are all automatically reviewed. It cost him an unsportsmanlike conduct delay of game penalty.
... Drew Brees became the first quarterback in NFL history to post four-straight games of 350 or more yards passing.
... Packers are now just the seventh defending Super Bowl champ to start the next season 6-0.

Worth 1,000 Words


 
Jim Irsay Pop-Culture Referencing Tweet That's Sure to Drive Colts Fans Insane of the Week
"Little red light on the highway...big green light on the speedway...hey,hey,hey"

This one might seem meaningless ... unless you happen to be a Grateful Dead fan and recognize the lyrics to "West L.A. Fadeaway." In which case you, like me, are clearly one of the first people to realize that Irsay's moving the Colts to Los Angeles. Who didn't see that coming?

GIF O' THE WEEK

Big ups to @Jose3030 for pulling this clip of LeSean McCoy pulling an aggressive version of the Pillsbury doughboy poke on Eagles coach Andy Reid. There's so much that's perfect about it, from Reid's stomach jiggling to Reid's head snapping back to Reid being totally unprepared for the punch, to McCoy later tweeting an apology for doing it.



Hot Seat Tracker
  • Jack Del Rio -- He wasn't supposed to beat the Steelers, in Pittsburgh. And he didn't. But the Jaguars showed some life. Still hard to imagine he survives this season though.
  • Jim Caldwell -- In the words of the Talking Heads, stiiiiiiiiiiiiillllll waiiiiiiting ...
  • Tony Sparano -- He only lasts through 2012 if Steve Ross is waiting out Jon Gruden.
  • Steve Spagnuolo -- Another guy who wasn't supposed to win Sunday, and he's been ravaged by injuries. But man, how did we all think they'd win the division?
  • Jason Garrett -- Perhaps a bit early, but Jerry Jones is questioning his playcalling. That's never good.
  • Leslie Frazier -- He needs to go to Ponder now to keep his seat cool.
  • Ken Wisenhunt -- He's got the Cards practicing on their off day during their bye week. Might be feeling some pressure.
Chasing Andrew Luck
You'll notice a shifting of the odds this week -- we're no longer accepting wagers that return any money to you. Mainly because there are just too many crappy teams in the NFL right now.

Colts (-500): The Jaguars and Panthers sandwich their Week 11 bye, and besides a Week 17 date at Jacksonville, well, those are the only games that even remotely look winnable right now.
Dolphins (-350): Their schedule is also quite bleak. At least their fans are happy?
Rams (-250): Al Harris is one of their starting cornerbacks. This is not 2001.
Broncos (-225): They're doing everything in their power to deal away anyone with any talent. And this is different than the Josh McDaniels era how?
Vikings (-125): Minny still has Adrian Peterson? Guh that Bears game was depressing.

MVP Watch
Pretty clearly, there's only one choice: Aaron Rodgers. Guy's doing everything he did down the stretch in 2010 but now it's being spread out over the course of a regular season. If he keeps this up, the Packers will have as many losses as there are people who don't pencil his name in for the top MVP vote.
Posted on: October 16, 2011 11:19 pm
 

Christian Ponder replaces McNabb in blowout

Posted by Will Brinson

Donovan McNabb -- who last week suffered through "We want Ponder!" chants -- dealt with a worse fate in Chicago on Sunday night, getting pummeled from every angle by Bears defenders, before being replaced by Christian Ponder in the fourth quarter of a big-time blowout.

The Bears hung 39 points through three quarters on Minnesota, while the Vikings managed just 10, with McNabb taking two huge shots on the Vikings final drive of the third quarter from Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije.

Honestly, though, McNabb wasn't that bad -- he went 19/24 for 177 yards, was sacked for a safety and suffered through a number of drops by his receivers.

And his offensive line was brutal, giving up five sacks on McNabb with the veteran quarterback under center.

Ponder looked more mobile in the pocket, and made some pretty good throws against a Bears defense that didn't seem intent on just sitting back and letting the rookie move the ball.

Leslie Frazier will have his hands full this week with questions about a quarterback controversy, but the reality is that the Vikings problem isn't with their quarterback.

It's with their offensive line.

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: October 12, 2011 11:30 am
Edited on: October 14, 2011 9:43 am
 

Film Room: Bears vs. Vikings preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Few people are excited about this week’s Sunday Night game. The 1-4 Vikings and 2-3 Bears look like non-contenders in an NFC North division housing a pair of 5-0 clubs. This Film Room post is not about the Bears-Vikings game. We’ll touch on the matchup towards the end simply because it’d be weird not to. But the main point here is to examine why the Tampa 2 defense – which both these teams run – is on its death bed.



1. Tampa 2: What it is
The Tampa 2 (aka Cover 2) is a classic zone scheme. Four pass-rushers up front; three linebackers underneath; a left and right cornerback outside; and, as the "2" refers to, two safeties over the top.

Against the pass, as the illustration to the right (click to enlarge) shows, the safeties each cover half the field deep. The linebackers and cornerbacks each cover 1/5th of the field underneath. The middle linebacker is responsible for any vertical routes inside. Up front, the linemen shoot the gaps. There’s no blitzing.

The advantages are that all pass defenders have straightforward responsibilities and the action (for the most part) always takes place in front of them. As for the disadvantage ...

2. Run Defense
In football there are two traditional ways to stop the run: have a defensive line that wins battles in the trenches or have a strong-tackling safety drop down as an eighth man in the box. A Cover 2 naturally misses on both of these. The defensive linemen are instructed to rush the passer first and play the run if it’s convenient along the way.

Defensive line penetration is great for stopping the run, but it can be hit or miss (especially if the offense knows that the defensive linemen are trying to penetrate on every play). The safeties must stay back and cover deep. If they step forward, they run the risk of biting on play-action (which is a great way to get beat deep).

Because of this, Tampa 2 defenses rely on their linebackers and cornerbacks (yes, cornerbacks) to stop the run. More on this in item 4.
Worth noting is that not all Tampa 2 defenses are bad against the run. In fact, the Vikings and Bears have been spectacular in run defense over the years. That’s a product of phenomenal personnel.

The Vikings have had the Williams Wall at tackle (and Pat Williams actually played a nose tackle role, which is a twist on a traditional Cover 2 front) and the Bears have had star linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. But Tampa 2 teams without top-echelon run-stuffers (like the Colts) are very susceptible to the run.

3. Tampa 2 vulnerabilities
Cover 2 defenses are vanilla by nature. That was fine in the late 90s and early 2000s when the scheme was still new and offenses weren’t spreading the field every down. But complex, motion-oriented offenses have an easy time creating mismatches against a Cover 2.

Heck, even basic offensive formations can create mismatches. For example, something the Eagles do against a Cover 2 is line up their speedy receivers in minus splits (close to the formation).

Because Cover 2 cornerbacks always line up outside, this formation dictates that DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin run their routes against linebackers and safeties. Talk about a mismatch.

There are other avenues for mismatches. For a long time, Cover 2 defenses did not have No. 1 and No. 2 corners, but instead, left and right corners. If the left corner stunk, offenses would simply align their best receiver over there. Mercifully, most Cover 2 defenses (the Bears and Vikings included) have recently shown a willingness to at least move their corners from one side to the other based on where they expect certain receivers to be.

That still doesn’t mean a defense will get the corner-on-receiver matchup it desires. This past Monday, Calvin Johnson ran what amounted to a slant-and-go against the Bears’ Cover 2. Charles Tillman stayed with Johnson for about 15 yards. He should have jammed Johnson in an effort to reroute him. Instead, he played the basic Cover 2 technique, which meant he let Johnson go once Johnson went inside towards safety Chris Harris’ deep zone. That left the most athletic wideout in the world matched up on a strong safety. The result was a 73-yard touchdown.

Besides matchup issues, there are natural voids in the Cover 2 that everyone knows about. The gaps 15-20 yards downfield outside the numbers are the main ones, though the voids behind the linebackers in the seams can be enticing too. Really, Cover 2 is the new Prevent Defense. And because the Cover 2 became such a popular defense in the early 2000s, every offense in the NFL has a special chapter in its playbook specifically designed for beating it.

4. Stringent personnel needs
Obviously, a Cover 2 is not a completely hapless defense. If it were, nobody would run it. With the right personnel, the scheme can be quite viable. A great defensive line can sometimes be enough; look at the 2011 Lions or previous years’ Colts, for example (But keep in mind, great defensive lines are going to make any scheme look good.)

Because of the Cover 2’s simplicity and NFL offense’s familiarity with it, the “right personnel” has gone from being “strongly recommended” to “absolutely required”. And the bar for the “right personnel” has risen considerably.

In a Cover 2, you must generate a pass-rush with only four defensive linemen. Thus, you need top-notch speed rushers and defensive tackles with outstanding initial quickness. Those types of players are usually found only in the first rounds.
 
Because the cornerbacks only defend the first 10-15 yards outside, and because the safeties are aligned so deep, Cover 2 cornerbacks are counted on as part of the run defense. Thus, they need to be good tacklers. This is why Antoine Winfield is so potent in Minnesota’s D. Or why, in part, Ronde Barber has stuck around for so long in Tampa Bay. Or why Indianapolis always brings in firm-tackling corners.

It’s also why you’re always hearing about Tampa 2 teams needing fast linebackers. Yes, the linebackers need speed in order to play the pass (especially the middle linebacker, who must run with any targets running vertically between the numbers). But really, Tampa 2 linebacker speed is needed for stopping the run. With the cornerbacks lined up along the front, the defensive linemen are told to shoot the gaps and force runners to that help outside. It’s up to the linebackers to chase them down along the way.

Finding quality Cover 2 type players is certainly not impossible. Problem is, if you don’t have the right guy in every spot, offenses can easily punish you. If a team like the Packers has a weak spot on D, they can use disguises and zone blitz concepts to cover it. If a team like the Bears or Vikings have a weak spot, they can only hope that their defensive ends reach the quarterback before the quarterback exploits it.  

5. Studs and Duds
The star defensive players for both teams have lived up to their end of the deal. For the Bears, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher has moved with more quickness and fluidity than in any of the past three seasons. Monday night’s game aside, Lance Briggs has been the fierce hitter he always is. Julius Peppers has only two sacks, but he’s been a force in bits, if not chunks. Opposite him, Israel Idonije, who has great movement skills and a real feel for executing moves based on the situation, remains one of the most underrated ends in the game.

For the Vikings, Jared Allen has recaptured his 2008/2009 form. End Brian Robison has been fast and tenacious. In fact, he’s having a much better season than Ray Edwards is having in Atlanta. As usual, defensive tackle Kevin Williams has shown his uncommon mobility/power combination. Cornerback Cedric Griffin has been stout in coverage, and E.J. Henderson, while not always great versus the pass, remains a smart, assertive downhill force against the run.
 
The problem is both teams have had a propensity to give up big plays, in part due to iffy play at safety. It’s worse with the Bear than the Vikings. But, on the flip side, the Vikings’ offense has been worse than the Bears’. We could write a thousand posts explaining what’s wrong with both offenses. In short, neither has a good line nor the receivers necessary for their respective systems.

Perhaps this is the week that these offenses find their rhythms through the air. After all, both will be facing plenty of Cover 2 looks.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 6 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com