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Tag:Philadelphia Eagles
Posted on: November 3, 2011 10:13 am
 

Keep an Eye on: Week 9's finer points of analysis

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Eagles vs. Bears
You could make a strong case that both of these offenses are built around their star running backs. The Eagles have football’s No. 1 offense and lead the league with 179 yards rushing per game (20 more than Oakland’s No. 2 ranked ground game). Running back LeSean McCoy is second in the NFL with 754 yards rushing. The Bears’ 16th-ranked offense would likely rank somewhere in the mid-twenties if not for Matt Forte’s 672 yards on the ground and 419 yards through the air.

These are the best two running backs in the NFC not named Adrian Peterson. (And both are significantly better receivers than Peterson.) Two years ago, neither was very good. McCoy was a callow, unpolished rookie who could not always read basic defenses. Forte was an inexplicably sluggish runner averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. So what’s changed since then?

One noticeable improvement is in both players’ lateral agility. Though not as emphasized as speed, quickness or power, lateral agility is the most important attribute for an NFL back. It’s often the difference between college runners and pro runners. In short, lateral agility is a running back’s quickness and explosiveness when going left and right. It plays a central role in how he sets up blocks and creates his own space.

Unless you’re an incredibly gifted downhill runner playing behind a decent run-blocking front (ala Darren McFadden), lateral agility is vital in the NFL, where holes close quicker than a hiccup and defenses feature 11 world class athletes, most of whom can immediately diagnose about 90 percent of the run plays they see.

McCoy has the best pure lateral agility in the league. He had it as a rookie but just recently learned to implement it with timing and purpose. He can explode left and right behind the line or at the second level. Most laterally agile running backs, including Forte, have to be on the move in order to cut sharply. McCoy can do it from a standstill (which is why Philly is so fond of draws and delayed handoffs). Forte can occasionally do it from a standstill, though with his smooth, patient running style, he’s much more effective off motion.

On Sunday, keep a count of how many of McCoy’s and Forte’s touches are impacted by their east-west prowess.



Patriots vs. Giants
The key to the Giants’ upset of the undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII was the pressure the Giants pass-rush put on Tom Brady. New York’s then-defensive coordinator, Steve Spagnuolo, brilliantly had his linebackers crowd and attack the A-gaps. That did a few things.

For one, it put extra defenders directly in Tom Brady’s line of vision, which would make any quarterback subtly feel a bit hurried. That hurriedness left New England without enough time to run Randy Moss on deep routes.

Another thing it did was force the Patriot running backs to stay in and pass protect. And because there were multiple defenders crowding the A-gaps, the Patriots focused their protection help inside, which left one-on-one mismatches outside for Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora.

Some things have changed in the four years since 18-1. Spagnuolo is now in St. Louis. Moss is retired. So is Strahan. The Patriots’ high-powered passing game has become horizontal instead of vertical. But despite the changes, don’t be surprised if the Giants once again crowd and/or attack New England’s A gaps this Sunday.

Teams like the Jets, Cowboys and Steelers have shown that the best way to pressure Brady is with bodies up the middle. The goal is not always to sack him – it can be to mentally preoccupy him with what’s going on inside. When Brady’s doing that, he seems to lose a little trust in stepping into throws and sensing his protection on the edges.

The Giants had great success with A-gap blitz concepts against the Dolphins last week. Mathias Kiwanuka is a potent defensive end who happens to play linebacker. He’s natural standing up over the center in nickel defense. Lately, end Dave Tollefson, himself a good athlete, has also been used as an A-gap blitzing joker. In these instances, the Giants don’t just rush the A-gaps, they also confuse offensive linemen and set up stunts and edge-rushes for Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora.

New England’s answer to New York’s A-gap attacks will be quick passes in the flats. Wes Welker is not a bad guy to turn to for that.

Chargers vs. Packers
Green Bay can take the lipstick off the pig that is San Diego’s defense. The No. 1 ranked defense from 2010 has been decent but not necessarily impressive under new coordinator Greg Manusky in 2011. A soft schedule has made it difficult to pass full judgment. The Chargers rank sixth in yards allowed, but they’ve faced the Vikings, Dolphins, Broncos, Jets and Chiefs (twice) – all inexplosive offenses.

The Packers have the most lethal offensive attack in football. It’s not just that Aaron Rodgers has been nearly flawless, or that his top five receiving targets would all be No. 1 or 2 targets on a typical team. It’s that the Packers have perhaps the best formation variation in the league. This, with their array of weapons, strongly tests a defense’s depth, intelligence and confidence.

Currently, the Chargers are vulnerable at cornerback. Antoine Cason appeared on the verge of stardom late last year, but the ’08 first-round pick has reverted to the baffling inconsistencies that marred his first two seasons as a pro. Cason normally plays the right outside. The Packers love to create one-on-one matchups for Greg Jennings by lining him up as the X-iso receiver on the left side (across from the right cornerback) in 1x3 receiver sets. It’s a matchup Rodgers goes to virtually every time.

With four receivers on the field, Cason will have to play. Marcus Gilchrest and Quentin Jammer are the outside starters; Dante Hughes is the slot nickel. The Chargers like to blitz Hughes and will likely align him across from the receiver furthest inside on the three-receiver side. Jammer plays outside on the defensive left. That leaves either Cason or Gilchrest, a second-round rookie, to face Jennings outside on the right.

This isn’t a fantasy column, but here’s a tip: if your opponent has Greg Jennings on his or her team, remove yourself from the trash-talking email thread this week.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 9 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 1, 2011 3:49 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 3:51 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 8



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 8 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  McCoy Houston Peterson  Reid
Judge Jackson  Dareus Peterson Tomlin
Prisco  McCoy  Long Peterson Spags
Brinson  McCoy  Long Peterson Spags
Katzowitz Jackson Taylor Peterson Frazier
Wilson  McCoy Woodley Peterson Spags
Week 8's in the books and we're (almost/kind of) halfway home in the 2011 NFL season. Let's get to the hardware.

LeSean McCoy might have stayed in the game too long -- he was carrying the rock with the Eagles up a lot of points -- but it worked out for him here, as he nudged out the Rams Steven Jackson for our Eye on Offense Award, thanks to 185 rushing yards.

Chris Long clotheslined his way to the Eye on Defense Award, thanks to a trifecta of sacks against Saints quarterback Drew Brees in a stunning upset.

Long's coach Steve Spagnuolo was rewarded as well, as his gameplan against New Orleans, despite being horribly overmatched, resulted in the least predictable win of the NFL season thus far.

And rookie Patrick Peterson, though his team lost, picked up the Eye on Special Teams Award for his beasty 82-yard touchdown return.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
LeSean McCoy LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
The Cowboys allegedly had the top-ranked rushing defense. Then McCoy got a hold of it on Sunday night and by the time he was done with it left totally humiliated. McCoy had 30 carries for 185 yards and two scores. It was stunning to watch. The offensive line play, the play calling, the cutback running. The Cowboys are still licking their wounds.
Steven JacksonSteven Jackson, RB, Rams
First, he tells teammates what it will take to beat New Orleans. Then he demonstrates it, running for 159 yards and scoring twice in a stunning upset. Jackson is a terrific player on a not-so-terrific team, and it's games like this where we're reminded just how good the guy can be.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
LeSean McCoy LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
He rushed for 185 yards on 30 carries and scored two touchdown in the Eagles' rout of the Cowboys. His 6.2 per-rush average is what really impresses me. McCoy is having an Offensive Player of the Year type of season.
LeSean McCoyLeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
McCoy took advantage of a brilliant gameplan by Andy Reid (let Dallas' rushers get upfield and then cut Shady loose) for a career day, and he's now the only player in the NFL to score a TD in every game, after rolling for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Steven JacksonSteven Jackson, RB, Rams
He was such a big part of getting the Rams off the schneid, I’d be foolish not to recognize him. From recovering teammates’ fumbles to rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, Jackson did it all. He caught passes, he gained yards, he yelled at teammates. And most impressively, he helped lead St. Louis to a huge win against the Saints without the contributions of Sam Bradford
LeSean McCoy LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
The combination of the Eagles bye week, a renewed focus on the running game and Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan flapping his gums created a perfect storm that took the shape of Shady McCoy. Eight weeks into the season and the Eagles finally look like … the Dream Team. Maybe Andy Reid should serious consideration to, you know, committing to the running game.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Chris HoustonChris Houston, CB, Lions
Did his part to end the phony quarterback candicacy of Tim Tebow with a 100-yard interception return for a score. Houston did not "Tebow" which was good. No need to rub it in.
Marcel Dareus Marcel Dareus, DT, Bills
Now you know why the Bills took this guy with the third pick. It was a no-brainer. They wanted someone to plug the middle of the league's worst run defense, and Dareus is that someone. He had two-and-a-half sacks and three quarterbacks hits in Buffalo's rout of Washington, the first time Mike Shanahan has been shut out in the NFL.
Prisco Brinson
Chris LongChris Long, DE, Rams
He had three sacks against the Saints and spent the day in the backfield. Long is a relentless player who plays hard all the time, and that showed up against the Saints. He's getting better every year.
Chris LongChris Long, DE, Rams
Howie's kid was the cog in a Rams defense that quite unexpectedly shocked the world in their beatdown of the Saints, piling up three sacks on Drew Brees, including a third clothesline-like blow that's as brutal a sack as I've seen in a while.
Katzowitz Wilson
Ike Taylor Ike Taylor, CB, Steelers
There were others around the league with more impressive games. Guys who had big sack totals, those who mocked  the opposing quarterback. But Taylor was such a huge key in shutting down New England’s Wes Welker in the Steelers win. Welker was limited to six catches for 39 yards, his lowest output since Week 16 of last year, and Taylor was to blame.
LaMarr Woodley LaMarr Woodley, LB, Steelers
He only played two and a half quarters, but in that time he managed to harass Tom Brady into plenty of hurried throws, many of which were off target, and not more than 10 yards downfield. Woodley also had two sacks, giving him nine for the year, a total made even more impressive given that he had just 1.5 sacks through the first month of the season.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, WR/KR, Cardinals
An 82-yard punt return was one of several keys that sparked the biggest comeback in Baltimore Ravens history. If it wasn't for Peterson, Joe Flacco might still be getting booed. (Yes, I'm being a smartass.)
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
For the second time this season he returns a punt for a touchdown, and while it wasn't enough to beat Baltimore it was enough to make the game interesting. Peterson is a special talent, with some regarding him as the best player in this year's draft. Peterson will be a premier cornerback. For now, he's a premier return specialist.
Prisco Brinson
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
He returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown against the Ravens, giving Arizona a 24-3 lead. They didn't hold on, but he still gets this award.
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Peterson became just the third rookie in NFL history to return two kicks of 80+ yards in a single season (Devin Hester and Craig Yeast are the others) with his ridiculous 82-yard TD return against the Ravens. A standout rookie in a fabulous rookie class.
Katzowitz Wilson
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Those who watched Peterson take a Ravens punt return back 82 yards for the touchdown won’t soon forget how easy the rookie first-round draft pick made it look. He looked so smooth, accelerating up the middle of the field and breaking five Baltimore tackles, that it was enough for me to award him this honor on the strength of just one play.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
He's still developing as a CB, but his ability on special teams is what makes him so dangerous. He shed five would-be tacklers on his touchdown return against the Ravens, and these weren't whiffed tackles. These were Ravens players who went from Peterson's shoulder pads, to his waste to his knees before ending up on the turf wondering what happened. It's too bad Peterson can't play quarterback, too.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Andy ReidAndy Reid, HC, Eagles
Moved to 13-0 after bye weeks. Think about that for a moment. Here's a bye week. There's Andy Reid. Bye week + Reid = Win. There is no bigger guarantee in the NFL other than the Dolphins losing.

Mike Munchak Mike Tomlin, Steelers
He found a way to beat arch-nemesis New England ... er Tom Brady ... by remaining patient with his offensive game plan, controlling the clock and keeping Brady off the field. On defense, the Steelers were in man-to-man defense 70 percent of the time, bottling up Brady's receivers at the line, before unleashing the attack dogs on third down. Perfect.
Prisco Brinson
Steve SpagnuoloSteve Spagnuolo, HC, Rams
His team was 14-point dogs to the Saints on a day they were playing without their starting quarterback. So what happens? They dominate the game. They ran it, played good defense, and pulled off the upset for their first victory of the season. Who else can ever be mentioned here?   
Steve SpagnuoloSteve Spagnuolo, HC, Rams
There was zero chance the Rams were winning this game, against the high-scoring Saints and without quarterback Sam Bradford. But Spags designed a defensive attack that smothered Drew Brees, and he was smart enough to hand the ball to an inspired running back in Steven Jackson.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jim Schwartz Leslie Frazier, HC, Vikings
Just for the simple fact that Frazier recognized that Christian Ponder would provide a spark to his teamand replaced Donovan McNabb with Ponder as the starting quarterback. Sure, Mike Shanahan can tell you it wasn’t an unprecedented decision, but after beating the Panthers, it seemed like it came at the perfect time.
Steve Spagnuolo Steve Spagnuolo, HC, Rams
The man beat Drew Brees and one of the league's best offenses with a defense that is without its top four cornerbacks. And the Rams' offense was led not by Sam Bradford by by A.J. Feeley. In fact, we should name the award after Spagnuolo.


Posted on: October 31, 2011 4:13 am
Edited on: October 31, 2011 4:29 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 8

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



1. Denver Gets Tebowned
The past week was full of far too much talk about Tim Tebow, leader of men, winner of games and erstwhile quarterback-at-large. The Broncos quarterback even got his own meme -- Tebowing. And call me crazy, but I don't think any of this attention and chatter and one-knee posing sat to well with the Detroit Lions, who rolled into Mile High Stadium on Sunday and delivered a 45-10 beatdown on the Flying Tebows.

But it wasn't enough for Detroit, coming off two-straight losses with their playoff-contender status potentially wobbling, to simply sack Tebow seven times and limit him to 172 passing yards and 63 rushing yards, most of which was well after the Lions victory was in hand.

No, they made things personal, mocking Tebow's pose several times through the course of the game. First there was Stephen Tulloch Tebowing directly behind Tebow immediately after sacking Tebow.



It was a marvelous moment of meme-worthy irony that would make Xzibit proud. But it didn't end there. Tight end Tony Scheffler caught a pass from Matthew Stafford and busted out Tebow's "celebration" too.

Of course, the Lions aren't saying they were coming after Tebow -- after the game Tulloch said that "it's just fun, no disrespect" meant with his celebration, and that he even told Tebow as much. Tulloch had an even better point, though, when he was asked about all the hype that surrounds the former Florida Gator.

"It’s not his fault; it’s the media that gives him that hype," Tulloch said.

This is true, and it's really the most important thing to mention when talking about Tebow right now, because the debate as to whether or not he's good isn't a debate -- it's one-sided argument with some people using intangible and inconsequential analysis to try and support Tebow under center.

Tebow's failure to be a good quarterback isn't on him. I mean, ultimately, it is him that decides whether or not he succeeds, of course. But the only reason people are up in arms about his shortcomings as a quarterback is that too much is made out of whether not he can be a quarterback.

We saw this same thing happen with Cam Newton, who was the talk of every single NFL conversation during an offseason that featured furious debate about whether or not he could succeed. Now he's succeeding and Cam -- in terms of loud, screaming media scrutiny -- is on the backburner.

Yes, that's right. Cam's success made him less of a focus for the media. There's no one forcing themselves to doubt his ego and character in the face of folks who trump his athleticism and win-loss record. In short, it's the complete opposite of Tebow, who's continued lack of statistical -- if not empirical -- success still manages to generate a substantial amount of debate in the media.

Which is pretty unfortunate for him.

2. Steeling the AFC
For the first few weeks of the season, a lot was made of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their crumbling dynasty and "old" defense. As it turns out, Phil Simms was spot-on when he told Warren Sapp that his comments were a "tremendous over reaction." And if Sapp didn't believe Simms in Week 2, he should certainly believe him after Pittsburgh shredded New England 25-17.

The score doesn't tell the full story of this game, either, because the Steelers were certainly more than eight points better than the Patriots on Sunday. They held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game (their time of possession, 39:22, dwarfed the Patriots 20:38) and out-Pats-ed the Pats, as Ben Roethlisberger utilized all of his available options and a ball-control passing attack to keep the rock out of Tom Brady's hands.

Pittsburgh was dominant on defense too, even if the Steelers looked a little less devastating when LaMarr Woodley left with a hamstring injury that could keep him out against the Ravens on Sunday night in Week 9. Brady was fairly efficient, completing 24 of his 35 passes, but he only managed 198 yards, good for 8.25 yards per completion, more than five yards off his season average of 13.5.

So who's the best team in the AFC now? Well, it's not the Ravens at the moment. Even with Brady under center it's hard to give the Pats the nod with their secondary so depleted. And I'm not quite ready to shove all my chips in the center of Chan Gailey's table. Pittsburgh, though, if they can stay healthy on defense, showed Sunday exactly why they're probably the best bet to repeat their success in 2010.

3. Nine Times? Nine Times
It's pretty hard to believe that since Mike Shanahan became offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1985, he was never shut out by an opposing defense until October of 2011 against Buffalo ... in Toronto. (Can you imagine if he went back in time and told 1985 Mike Shanahan that? I'd definitely pay upwards of $5,000 for a YouTube of 85 Shanny's reaction.)

Then again, it's unfathomable that the Redskins head coach would come into the 2011 season expecting the duo of John Beck and Rex Grossman to lead Washington to the promised land. Because it's not happening. We talked about it last week and the story's still the same -- Beck and Grossman aren't going to get it done, but there's not a whole lot Washington can do to change that right now.

As Pete Prisco wrote Sunday from Toronto, the Bills no-name roster continuing to impress with All-Pro performances is the real story. But, really, again, how on Earth did Shanahan think that he'd end up winning this year with Grossman and Beck? And how can anyone be optimistic about Beck after he's thrown up stinkbombs against the Panthers and Bills who just aren't that good on defense?

Buffalo sacked him nine times on Sunday, and as Ed Rooney will tell you, that's too many.

I follow a lot of Redskins fans on Twitter (and also a lot of Bears fans, but I didn't realize that until they started getting all Fake Jay Cutler on me during the Panthers game), and it was borderline depressing to follow the game through that virtual medium on Sunday.

It's pretty clear that the quarterback situation is the direct result of this year's hopelessness amongst the D.C. faithful -- and can you blame them? When the option of benching your best quarterback is technically benching your backup so you can go back to starting Rex Grossman, you have a serious problem on your hands.

Unfortunately for Shanahan, neither the Colts or the Dolphins are going to trade him that top-overall pick. So here's hoping Matt Barkley really is good.

4. All Hyped Up
All season long, everyone's based the Eagles for their "Dream Team" nickname that was entirely inapplicable. So it seems only fair, after watching Philadelphia dismember Dallas 34-7 on Sunday night, to give credit where credit's due.

For starters, kudos to Andy Reid for clearly outcoaching Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan and running his record after a bye week to a ridiculous 13-0. Props to Michael Vick, who looked comfortable all night long en route to an incredibly efficient 21/28, 279 passing yard night. It probably didn't hurt him much that LeSean McCoy piled up 185 yards on 30 carries with a pair of touchdowns.

Of course, it probably didn't hurt him to get left tackle Jason Peters back on the field. Or for Philly to have an early 14-point lead, forcing Dallas to chase Vick and giving McCoy a ridiculous amount of space to get his joystick-like moves on.

This is precisely what the Eagles imagined for their team when the season began -- an athletic, big-play offense that's capable of exploding to the end zone at any moment and a defense that eliminates the opponent's passing game.

Considering that 68 of Reid's career wins (and one tie!) have come after Halloween over the course of his career, it's not crazy to think that the Eagles -- at 3-4 and now tied for both second and last place in the NFC East -- could end up winning the division.

5. Rams Over Saints
For the Rams sake, it seems like it might be smart to trot Tony LaRussa and the World Series champion Cardinals out to every home game.

But it was the Cards appearance, not LaRussa's wardrobe, at the Edward Jones Dome that inspired the Rams to rise up and knock off the Saints in a 31-21 shocker on Sunday.

"I think the Cardinals being here was great for the city," running back Steven Jackson said. "Whoever showed up today, regardless if the place was empty, today was the day.

"We came out with a mindset we were going to fight."

Because of the particular circumstances leading up to this game -- Sam Bradford out, Saints coming a 62-point outing, Rams being terrible, Al Harris being older than Rafael Furcal (no, really, it's true) -- there was zero reason to think St. Louis could cover the two-touchdown spread, much less win.

But Jackson was inspired, piling up 159 yards on 25 bruising carries. And the Rams defense was even better, limiting Brees from the start and sacking him six times. (Although I wouldn't be opposed to crediting them with just five sacks since Chris Long's third sack probably qualifies more as something you'd see in the WWE ring.)

There's no reason to get carried away and expect the Rams to start making a run in the NFC West, but take a look at their schedule. They've played some really tough teams to get to 1-6 and the schedule gets really, really, really easy from here on out, matchups against San Francisco, Cincy and Pittsburgh notwithstanding.

Or they could stop playing football and just sell tickets to see LaRussa try on Sam Bradford jerseys. I'd be fine with that too.

6. Bengals emerge
Ryan Wilson and I said before the season that the Bengals, by virtue of a puff-pastry-filled early-season schedule, could start out hot and win a few more games than anyone expected. They've done just that after a dominant 34-12 win in Seattle on Sunday moved them to 5-2.

Everyone is surprised ... except the Bengals. Naturally.

"To the people on the outside, they may be surprised and what not," cornerback Leon Hall said. "Every season we come in expecting to win. Just hopefully, we've got some big games coming up, so we execute in those games."

Hall's speaking to the widely-held belief that the Bengals will fade with  Baltimore and Pittsburgh showing up on the sked twice each in the second half of the season. That might be presumptuous, though, because this Bengals team is quietly becoming legit.

Beating the Seahawks doesn't exactly make them the Super Bowl favorites or anything, but their success is coming with a pretty simple formula that's been forgotten in this day of high-scoring NFL games: defense.

Lest you forget, the Jets made the AFC Championship game two years ago with a rookie quarterback, a stout running game and the best defense in the NFL. The Bengals aren't as good on the ground as the Jets (or even close really) and not as good on defense, but Andy Dalton's better than Mark Sanchez and A.J. Green's better than any of the receiving options the Jets had then.

Cincinnati's top-five defense will get a couple bigger tests soon in the form of the Steelers, the Ravens and a game against the Texans, but the Bengals also get the Titans, the Browns, the Rams and the Cardinals the rest of the way home.

Which means there's actually a decent chance they get to double-digit victories and one of the more shocking playoff berths we've seen in a while.

7. Ponder Wins the Weinke Bowl
The differences in Cam Newton and Christian Ponder are pretty obvious right? Their physical stature, their style of play, their respective hype coming out of college, their expectations once they were drafted ... all very different.

But they have one common thread -- they were both tutored by Chris Weinke, former Florida State and Carolina Panthers quarterback.

Ponder won their first matchup 24-21, thanks to a 31-yard honk by Olindo Mare at the end of regulation field goal that was setup by a penalty-flag honk on a holding call against Steve Smith after Cam Newton scrambled for a first down.

"I got a few texts saying already in the HD it didn't look too bad," Smith said of the official's call. "For a 70-year-old man gimping down the field, I guess that's what he saw."

Hilarious. And also probably a statement that will get Smith some kind of fine. From my vantage point, it was surprising, but not entirely unjustifiable to nail Smith with the yellow flag on the play. It shouldn't have mattered though, because as Newton pointed out after the game, the Panthers didn't do enough earlier in the game to take advantage of a game they should have won.

Once again, the problem really became that they can't stop anyone who resembles a physical running back. Adrian Peterson, who led the Vikings with 86 rushing yards and 76 receiving yards, is the definition of a physical running back, and he had his way with the Panthers defense, who let the Vikings convert seven of their 14 first downs (the Panthers came into the game ranking 29th in the NFL, allowing opponents to convert 45.5 percent of their third downs).

And when you can't stop the other team's offense and your own offense stalls out for several consecutive drives in the second half, it makes winning games hard. Newton was brilliant again, and even though the Panthers are losing, fans aren't exactly getting upset at it. The future is bright.

It's bright in Minnesota too, and it kind of makes you wonder what took Leslie Frazier so long to hand Ponder the reigns. Maybe he should have called Weinke and gotten his opinion first.

8. Fast Learners
Speaking of common threads, how about six of the top seven players in the 2011 NFL Draft coming from the SEC and making an immediate impact on the NFL as rookies?

Newton (Auburn), Marcel Dareus (Alabama), A.J. Green (Georgia), Patrick Peterson (LSU) and Julio Jones (Alabama) all hail from college football's best conference and all have put a serious footprint on the league through eight weeks. Hell, on Sunday, Newton threw three touchdowns, Dareus had 2.5 sacks, Green caught a(nother) touchdown, and Peterson returned a(nother) punt 82 yards.

To take it a step further, and move away from the SEC, it looks like this year's first-round rookies are going to be a pretty damn good crop. Ponder's clearly an upgrade for Minnesota, Ryan Kerrigan's been tremendous in Washington, Robert Quinn's coming on strong for St. Louis, J.J. Watt's a day-one starter for Houston, Aldon Smith is wrecking shop for San Francisco ... and so on and so forth.

It's early -- like eight weeks early -- but it's hard to find a slam-dunk bust in the top 10 of the draft like we've seen seen the past few years. We'll know more by season's end, but the point being is that it's an incredibly impressive performance by this rookie class on such short notice.

Or maybe the lesson is to just avoid drafting for need and grab anyone who played in the SEC.

9. Needing a New Nickname
Chris Johnson is often called "CJ2K" as an homage to his 2,006 yards rushing in 2009. His performance in 2011, coming off a contract dispute, is an insult to the letter K. And perhaps the number 2.

Certainly, it's insulting to Titans fans who had to watch him grind out 34 yards on 14 carries in Tennessee's 27-10 win over Indy Sunday.

Oh and speaking of insults, what's worse for Johnson? That Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said Johnson reminds him of Hassy's old Seattle teammate Shaun Alexander, or that Mike Munchak is having him split carries with Javon Ringer?

"The running game hasn't been where we wanted it to be all year, so I guess they just trying new things," Johnson said.

I mean, does this guy care? Because it always seemed like he might care -- there are certain guys in sports that seem as if once they get paid, they're going to reduce the amount of effort they put forth. We saw this with Albert Haynesworth and the Redskins; everyone except Dan Snyder saw his lack of effort coming.

But Johnson always seemed motivated by people who questioned his ability to be a full-time NFL running back. Maybe he's still motivated and just isn't in game shape yet, but his refusal to take accountability for a holdout followed by a monster contract followed by what is easily the worst season by a running back in the NFL this year is disappointing to say the least.

10. Upset Sunday Gets Upset
The Rams taking down the Saints is obviously a big deal. Perhaps the biggest, considering the Rams were two-touchdown dogs at home. But the early goings of Sunday's action had a lot of potential for upsets, with the Ravens losing big to the Cardinals and the Giants struggling against the winless Dolphins.

Both New York and Baltimore came back to win, but the inconsistency they've both shown against mediocre teams this year is terrifying for their fans. The Ravens looked like they might lose to the Cardinal and Jaguars in less than seven days and the Giants aren't that far removed from getting beat by the Seahawks in their home stadium.

And there's one thing they have in common: inconsistent quarterback play.

Both Joe Flacco and Eli Manning are elite-level talents with big arms. Both guys are capable of great performances. But both guys are equally capable of shooting their teams out of games.

Ken Wisenhunt and Tony Sparano deserve credit for getting their undermanned squads ready to play. Particularly Sparano, since I refuse to believe that this scene didn't unfold in the Dolphins locker room before the game Sunday:



(Yeah that's right, I'm only one Teen Wolf reference away from the trifecta.)

Anyway, the point is that Manning and Flacco scare me. As Clark Judge noted, Manning's been great at times this year, but he's absolutely capable of doing what he did against the Seahawks and tossing three picks. Flacco's more concerning, of course, because he's shown zero consistency this season, and has tended to play down to the opposition (Tennessee, Jacksonville, Arizona are all good examples).

The upside of being inconsistent and talented, though, is that you can make big throws. And both guys did that late on Sunday to help their team win. They just need to show up with more regularity if they expect either squad to make it a deep run this year.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Reggie Bush recorded his second career 100-yard rushing game Sunday. Both of them came against the Giants.
... LeSean McCoy is now the only NFL player to score a touchdown in every game this season.
... Teams coming off a bye this week were 5-1. So much for that theory about being at a disadvantage.
... The Bills are the eighth team in NFL history to start a season 4-0 at home a year after starting the season 0-4 at home.
... Calvin Johnson joins Randy Moss (2007, Pats) as the only players since 1970 to record 11 touchdown catches in their first eight games of the season.
... Five times a team's come back from 20 points to win this year -- most in NFL history.
... Cam Newton, Peyton Manning, Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan are the only quarterbacks with five 250-yard passing games in their rookie season.
... Drew Brees somehow kept his TD streak alive and now has a touchdown pass in 35 consecutive games. Johnny Unitas has the record at 47.
... Patrick Peterson joined Devin Hester and Craig Yeast as the only rookies with more than one 80+ yard return touchdown in a season

Worth 1,000 Words



Jim Irsay Pop-Culture Referencing Tweet That's Sure to Drive Colts Fans Isane of the Week
"No one is "Tanking the season"...that's absurd conspiracy theory mumblings...Suck4Luck doesn't exist n Indy"

Suck for Luck counts as a pop-culture reference right? Whatever, at this point Colts fans want the team to finish dead last right?

GIF O' THE WEEK
I could watch fat men lateraling the football for hours.



Hot Seat Tracker
  • Tony Sparano -- Great effort from Miami, but they came up short. Again.
  • Ken Wisenhunt -- Tough to see that comeback by the Ravens and not get discouraged.
  • Norv Turner -- Unless he wins on Monday.
  • Mike Shanahan -- That 4-12 thing looks more realistic than it did last week doesn't it?
  • Jim Caldwell -- Charley Casserly said he's locked but I dunno.
Chasing Andrew Luck
Colts (-600): They're clearly the NFL's worst team in 2011 ...
Dolphins (-500): But they're in a harder division.
Cardinals (-300): Season. Unraveling.
Rams (-250): Hope!

MVP Watch
Aaron Rodgers somehow picked up some more space on his bye week -- Tom Brady's poor performance separates the Packers quarterback even further. Once again, though, we need to mention Fred Jackson as a viable MVP candidate (though he won't get votes). LeSean McCoy could get some run if the Eagles really get hot.
Posted on: October 31, 2011 12:03 am
Edited on: October 31, 2011 11:47 am
 

Coming off the bye, Eagles pound the Cowboys

J. Maclin and Philadelphia looked fantastic against Dallas (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Andy Reid was 12-0 in his career coming off the bye week -- and it seems impossible to believe he wasn’t doing something special during his team’s time off. He was asked about it this week, but he always discards the notion that he was doing anything out of the ordinary.

“You know, I get asked that every year, and I don’t think there’s any secret,” Reid said earlier this week. “You just do what you do. We’re going to practice just like we did last week and the week before that, and so on. So I don’t know if there’s any secret to it.”

But obviously, after the Eagles dominated the Cowboys 34-7 Sunday night, Reid is doing something right. Lost this season, among Vince Young’s Dream Team comment and the team’s 1-4 start, is that Reid is still a fine football man. Even if he’s never taken the team to the Super Bowl title, he’s one of the better coaches in the league.

The fans in Philadelphia want to see their team go all the way, and the Eagles have been so close so many times. With Philadelphia’s early-season failure this year, it was easy to hoist much of the blame on Reid, because he has such tight control over the roster and because many of the team’s offseason decisiosn seemed to clunk on arrival. But during their last two games, you’ve seen how good this team can be, how well they can play.

I don’t know what Reid did during the bye week, but his team looked like NFC title contenders Sunday night. LeSean McCoy dominated the Cowboys No. 1 rush defense, accumulating 185 yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries. The offensive line opened up enormous holes. Tight end Brent Celek made his triumphant return to the spotlight by catching seven passes for 94 yards and a score. And Michael Vick, who completed 21 of 28 passes for 278 yards and two touchdowns while rushing seven times for 50, looked absolutely awesome. In all, the Eagles gained 518 total yards, the most ever against a Cowboys squad.

“The biggest thing is to get everybody healthy off the bye week and to stay focused,” McCoy told NBC after the game. “With the losses, we weren’t focused with the turnovers and letting guys run for yards. So many things were going wrong. Coach talked about focus, to take care of your job and not worry about the next man.”

Remember a few weeks ago when everybody was bashing Reid for hiring former offensive line coach Juan Castilllo and the team’s installation of the Wide 9 defensive scheme? Well, it seemed to work wonders tonight, keeping Tony Romo from doing much of anything and rendering Dez Bryant and Jason Witten irrelevant.

The team looked fast and fit and refreshed, and the Cowboys never had a chance. If Reid has a secret about how to prepare his team during a bye week, he’s obviously not going to share it. But at 13-0, it’d be surprising if he didn’t know exactly what that secret is.

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Posted on: October 28, 2011 7:04 pm
 

DeSean Jackson calls out Rob Ryan, Ryan responds

Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan welcomes DeSean Jackson's attempts to tackle him. (US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Sunday night can't get here fast enough for the Eagles and Cowboys. The NFC East rivals have, to varying degrees, had disappointing starts to the season, but a win this week could go a long way toward a wild-card spot.

Helping to drum up interest in the matchup: the trash-talking back and forth between Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan and anybody remotely associated with the Eagles. It all started in August, when Ryan called Philadelphia the "all-hype team" before promising to "beat their ass."

Eagles quarterback Michael Vick said Wednesday in a radio interview that "Maybe we'll make him eat his words. I hope he backs it up. … Players, we're on the field, we're on the gridiron. Coach, you on the sideline coaching. I mean, you don't know what it's like to be in this battle."

Vick's teammate, DeSean Jackson, has some thoughts on the matter, too.

“For a coach to say that, it’s hard for me to. . . . I wouldn’t expect that from a coach because he’s not out there playing,” he said, via CSNPhilly.com. “He’s calling plays and putting his defense in the right position to stop the offense. But as far as a defensive coordinator, that’s kind of unheard of, uncalled for. “It [would] be good if his players said that," Jackson continued. "Then I could understand that, because we’re all out on the field with them so I’d be able to get a shot at that player who said something crazy. But for a coach, it ain’t like I can go run on the sideline and cut up the coach, run past them and score a touchdown.”

Normally, that would be the end of it. A coach, presumably with better things to do than rile up the opposition, would take the high road and move on. But this is Rob Ryan who always gets the last word.


This Sunday night, the Dallas Cowboys will take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Which team has the advantage? NFL.com's Pat Kirwan joins Jason Horowitz to break down this upcoming game.

“I know that Jackson said it’s not right for me to comment, and he’s right about that, that I don’t play on Sunday,” Ryan said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Charean Williams. “I know he wishes I did. I mean, hell, he doesn’t have to worry about tackling me. If he does, he can tackle me. That’d be great, because I’m going to land on his shoulder and put him out. So that’ll be awesome. Hell, he can tackle me two or three times.”

We love the visual of Ryan chasing Jackson around the field like a grizzly bear in hot pursuit of a rabbit. We also find it hysterical that Ryan uses the word "awesome" to describe belly-flopping on Jackson's shoulder.

Ryan did admit that his initial comments about the Eagles being "all hype" were "unfortunate."

"I thought that it was provoked by the media," he said Friday. "I’m an emotional guy. Who are we kidding? I’m not some guy [who] just can handle coach speak and be boring. I’m going to be emotional at times, and unfortunately that was one of my times, and I found out everybody listens in this town, which is good, unlike Cleveland. So I got in a little trouble there."

The takeaway: the Browns can't escape criticism even when the story has nothing to do with them.

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Posted on: October 27, 2011 9:09 am
 

Vick hopes Ryan backs up 'all-hype team' remarks

Vick on Ryan's August comments: 'Maybe we'll make him eat his words.' (US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Way back in August, before lackluster effort, injuries and poor coaching combined to inevitably doom some teams' season (even after just seven weeks), Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was doing what he does on most days: coaching and flapping his gums.

One particular topic he spoke of early in training camp is of interest this week because it pertained to the Eagles, then everyone's Super Bowl favorite, and in Vince Young's words: a Dream Team. (The saddest part? Young's NFL career will be known more for those two words than anything he ever did on the field.)

Ryan preferred "all-hype team" to Dream Team and it turns out, he was right. The Eagles were 2-4 entering their bye week. He also promised to "beat their ass" when Dallas and Philly played which is this Sunday night.

During a Wednesday conference call, Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was asked about Ryan's comments.

"We know it's a competitive game and sometimes people say things they regret days, weeks and months later. I think from a competitive standpoint, he was just talking. It was nothing that we really paid any attention to because we know what really counts is when you step out on the football field and whoever wins and loses the game, that's what matters."

Vick's right, of course. And Ryan (along with his brother, Rex) is known to talk a lot, and almost no subject is off limits. In the past three months, Rob has weighed in on his brother's freakiness, then mocked him for "ring envy," and made a silly claim that Miles Austin and Dez Bryant were better than Calvin Johnson. But even Ryan was smart enough to stop short of angering Bill Belichick and the Patriots before their matchup two weeks ago.

Vick admitted Wednesday that when Ryan made his "all-hype team" remarks he did something he usually doesn't: took to Twitter where he politely pointed out that "People talk the talk, but can't walk the walk when necessary! We accept all challenges here in the city of Brotherly Love!!!!!"

During a radio appearance Wednesday, Vick sounded a tad more concerned than he did during the conference call. "Maybe we'll make him eat his words. I hope he backs it up. … Players, we're on the field, we're on the gridiron. Coach, you on the sideline coaching. I mean, you don't know what it's like to be in this battle."

Head coach Andy Reid, who has other issues occupying his time, didn't have much to say about Ryan's comments. "I don't get into those," he said. "We just play. We practice and play."

And keep the players from calling out the front office.

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Posted on: October 26, 2011 5:51 pm
Edited on: October 26, 2011 7:18 pm
 

Samuel: front office 'playing fantasy football'

Samuel says things are good with Reid, but the front office is playing fantasy football. (US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

The Eagles were busy little beavers during free agency, signing players and making trades like they were in Madden franchise mode. It led to Vince Young's unfortunate Dream Team comparison, followed by five weeks of mostly dreadful football. Philly beat Washington in Week 6, and after their bye, they're looking to improve on their 2-4 record.

That'll require more consistency, especially from the defense, which on paper should be one of the best units in the league (instead, through the first six games, they looked incapable of tackling). Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was the big offseason acquisition, and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie came over in the trade that sent Kevin Kolb to Arizona. Those additions to the secondary made incumbent Asante Samuel expendable and the Eagles reportedly told the rest of the league that he was available.

This did not go over well with Samuel.

"I've been nothing but what they expected me to be when they brought me there," Samuel told ESPN 950-AM in Philadelphia last Saturday during the team's bye week. "You know, 22, 23 interceptions over my years. Broke playoff records. So, definitely, it doesn't sit well with me. And obviously they don't want me there, so life goes on. So we'll see where I'll be at, ya know?"

On Wednesday, head coach Andy Reid addressed Samuel's comments.

“You have to understand everybody calls everybody,” he said. “We’re sitting here with a few good corners. So people call. But (shopping Samuel) wasn't the case.

"Asante and I talk. So listen, I’m not worried about that at all. He loves to play the game. And we’re going to move forward. I don’t have any comments past this. And I know he doesn’t. So, we’re moving on here.”

As it turns out, Samuel isn't quite done talking.

"Me and Andy (are) good. That’s all that matters," Samuel said after Wednesday's practice.

Innocuous enough ... and then he was asked if he feels wanted in Philadelphia.

"By Andy. A couple people upstairs might not want me, but who cares. They probably never played football," he said. "It's a business, they run it like a business, so they're going to do what they need to do. So they're upstairs playing with a lot of money, playing a little fantasy football, so they’re doing their thing."

When Samuel was asked if the "fantasy football" reference was directed at team president Joe Banner and GM Howie Roseman.

"Do they fit the comment I made?" Samuel responded. A reporter said they seemed to. "Then maybe so," he added.

"As long as I'm here, as long as I get paid each and every Tuesday, I'm going to go out and do my job to the best of my ability, each and every Sunday. I play for the fans and I play for my teammates, that’s what it’s all about."

Samuel continued: "Everyone has other issues, contract issues, and I deal with them accordingly. That's how I always do."

Reid, through the team, issued a statement Wednesday evening.

“I am aware of how Asante felt and we have since talked," he said. "We both left with a positive feeling going forward. As I have said previously, when we acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, we had received numerous calls on the availability of our cornerbacks. After discussing significant trade offers with other teams, we decided to keep all three cornerbacks on our team. Asante is a valuable member of our team and we appreciate all that he brings to this organization. As far as my relationship with Howie and Joe, I have a great deal of respect for both of them and I know we are all on the same page.”

If nothing else, at least nobody got gut-punched.


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Posted on: October 25, 2011 10:53 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL experts chat: 1 pm Wednesday

Posted by Will Brinson

The midway point of the NFL is nearly upon us (or at least close) and it's time to start separating the contenders and the pretenders. Oh, and guessing who will sign Terrell Owens.

Does your team qualify for any and/or all of those things? Would you want your squad inking T.O.? Join Mike Freeman, Clark Judge, Pete Prisco, Josh Katzowitz, Ryan Wilson and myself Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET to discuss.

We'll also chat about whether Chris Johnson can get things going against defensively incapable Colts, if the Steelers can keep their strong roll going against a team in the Patriots that's had their number recently and everything Week 8 related.



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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