Tag:Baltimore Ravens
Posted on: October 26, 2011 10:03 am
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Everyone on Ravens pointing fingers at offense

Posted by Will Brinson

The Ravens looked downright dreadful on the offensive end of things on Monday in their 12-7 loss in Jacksonville. As such, the critics came calling, with many a pundit ripping Joe Flacco and even Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs questioning the playcalling after the game.

Suggs was baffled about the number of touches that Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice received. That number -- eight! -- apparently didn't sit well with head coach Jim Harbaugh, who said he's on the "same page" with Suggs re: touches.

"I listen to all of our guys and definitely I listen to Terrell Suggs, especially with the way he’s playing," Harbaugh said. "And then, the things he says are right. But, that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s not like we’re not trying to do the things he’s talking about doing. So, I think we’re all on the same page with that."

So that's not good news for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Although our own Mike Freeman reported Wednesday morning that Harbaugh isn't happy about the way Suggs criticized Cameron publicly, so perhaps it's Suggs that should be worried.

Indeed, BaltimoreRavens.com reported late Tuesday that Harbaugh and Cameron huddled up and discussed the offensive problems and determined that everyone's at fault.

"It’s warranted for all of us,” Harbaugh said. "I think we all deserve to have fingers pointed at us when the offense plays like that. That’s tough."

Oh, right, and add Flacco to the list of people that deseve blame, according to Cameron.

"That’s part of our deal," Cameron said. "Heat on me, heat on Joe. The coordinators, quarterbacks, we can all do better. It goes with the territory."

Flacco deserves criticism for making bad throws, of course. But it's not Flacco's fault that the offense is plodding through a late-game situation, or that Rice only got eight carries.

Now, there's an argument that the Ravens weren't moving the ball well on the ground -- Rice averaged just 3.5 yards per carry and Ricky Williams picked up just five yards on three carries.

But the problem with that argument is that 12 total carries for your running backs in a game that doesn't feature more than 19 points is simply illogical. 19 total points means that a game's either a defensive bloodbath or a sloppy offensive game. Either way, mistakes and the other team's opportunities can be mitigated by running the ball and looking to run it more effectively.

Cameron could have worn down the Jaguars defense and limited Flacco's mistakes if he'd simply given Rice the ball more, but for some reason, he didn't feel interested in doing so; when the score of a football game is 6-0 at halftime and still takes two hours to play, something has gone amiss in the respective offensive gameplans.

"Eight carries is never going to be a winning formula for Ray Rice," Harbaugh said. "There is no doubt about it."

Indeed it isn't, and Cameron should probably heed Harbaugh's words and perhaps take a look that the coach had on his face during Baltimore's next-to-last drive of the game. Cameron didn't go with a no-huddle offense initially, and melted nearly 1:30 off the clock with three plays that picked up a whopping 23 yards.

After finally letting Flacco put his foot on the peddle, the offense moved the final 60-plus yards in less than two minutes, scoring their first points of the game.

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Posted on: October 25, 2011 6:43 pm
 

Podcast: Questioning Polian, Ripping the Ravens

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

The Jaguars-Ravens Monday night game was so awesome that we decided to bust out the old podcast machine and get to talking about whether or not the Ravens are contenders and if Jack Del Rio can save his job.

Then Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk joins the show to discuss whether or not Bill Polian should be on the hot seat in Indy and where the Lions stand after their second-straight loss.

Finally, we break down Terrell Owens tryout and wonder whether Stephen Ross is trying to "pull a Major League" with the Dolphins.

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.


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Posted on: October 25, 2011 9:57 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 7: Carson Boller, everybody!

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

Raiders quarterbacks (take your pick)
Remember Raiders head coach Hue Jackson in the days leading up to the Chargers game, joking about about drinking irish coffee before deciding on his quarterback? He was coy and evasive about whether Carson Palmer would start less than a week after Jackson swapped two first-rounders for him and save Oakland's season. Carson had spent the previous nine months on his couch refusing to play for the Bengals, and while the Raiders was a better situation for him (think about that for a moment), he didn't know the offense or his teammates, and would no doubt be rusty from having taken nearly a year off.

The QB changed, the results didn't (Getty Images)
So when the Raiders took the field Sunday, it was with backup Kyle Boller. Not ideal, but it's what you have to do given the circumstances. What you can't do, no matter how bad things get against a division rival: you absolutely can not bring Palmer in.

First, because, as we've established: HE'S NOT READY. Second, long-suffering Raiders fans have something this October that they haven't possessed in a decade: hope. (The Raiders entered Sunday's game with a 4-2 record. Since 2002, the last time they went to the Super Bowl, Oakland won four games or fewer for an entire season four times. And they haven't had a winning record since 2002.)  After gazing on Palmer in all his unmitigated awfulness, now that's been taken away from them, too.

Jackson panicked. Boller threw three first-half interceptions, the Raiders got down early, and Jackson, perhaps finally realizing that he had mortgaged Oakland's future, decided to get Palmer some work against a Chiefs team that suddenly looked like defending division champs.

Bad idea. Because when Palmer entered the game in the third quarter, he picked up right where Boller left off, tossing three interceptions of his own. And all the talk about the zip on his throws? He must've left that on the practice field, too, because our first glimpse at 2011 Palmer looked a lot like the 2010 Palmer that struggled with the Bengals.

Yes, we get it, that was his first game action since last season. But that's our point: don't even subject him, his fragile psyche and the fans' hopes and dreams to that in the first place. Not now. It's okay to lose convincingly with Boller. People expect it. But to throw Palmer in the mix and to have that happen … well, that's bad. Really, really, bad.

Not to worry, though.

"This football team is not going to blink," Jackson said after the game. "We've got to play better. We've got to play better offensively. I take full responsibility, because this is a team that I lead, and we didn't play like the Raiders can play."

Um, okay. It gets better (or worse, depending on your perspective).

"We knew they had a quarterback controversy," said the Chiefs' Kendrick Lewis, who pick-sixed Boller's first pass of the afternoon. "We studied film and studied their routes and knew they would have a limited playbook. When we had the opportunity to make big plays and capitalize, that's what we did."

No argument here.


The 4th interception of the day for the Kansas City defense was a pick six off of the newest member of the Oakland Raiders Carson Palmer.

Chargers' two-minute offense
San Diego scored 21 points in the first half against the Jets, and led New York for three and a half quarters. And then, when they needed to score a touchdown with just under two minutes to go, the offense showed all the urgency of a team trying to run out the clock. It was only slightly more inexplicable than the defense's decision to cover Plaxico Burress until he got into the red zone because quarterback Phil Rivers, one of the league's best quarterbacks, is supposed to excel in these late-game situations. Sunday, he did not.

A recap:

* 1:29 on the clock, ball on Chargers' 24-yard line. Rivers to Antonio Gates for 18 yards. Perfect start. We've seen this before, right?

* With no timeouts remaining, Rivers sashays up to the line of scrimmage like it's the first drive of the first quarter. Compounding matters: head coach Norv Turner appears to be in no rush to get the play call into Rivers. Twenty-nine seconds later, the Chargers finally snap the ball. Rivers, perhaps drawing inspiration from Tim Tebow, takes a deep drop before throwing a four-yard pass nowhere near the sidelines. Patrick Crayton makes the catch, the clock continues to run.

* Rivers liked the previous play so much, he runs it again, but only after 46 seconds have elapsed. Seriously.

* On third down, the ball is snapped with 17 seconds left in the game and the Chargers having gained a grand total of 25 yards. Thankfully, Rivers throws the ball a) downfield and b) to the sidelines. It falls incomplete. If nothing else, the clock stops.

* On fourth down, needing 51 yards and with just 11 seconds to do it, the Chargers will undoubtedly call a play that gets them a quick first down and then take one last chance in the end zone. Because, really, they're out of other options at this point, right? Turns out, not exactly. Rivers did something nobody expected: he throws the ball … out of bounds.  And we don't mean in a position near the sideline where only his receiver can make a play. We mean: over the bench, almost into the crowd.

So, yeah, that happened.

"Very disorganized," Tony Dungy said Sunday during NBC's Football Night in America. "You expect more Philip Rivers and that offense." Yes, yes you do, Tony.

Chargers tight end Randy McMichael agrees.

“We had them down and took our foot off the gas,” he said. “I’m not giving credit to anybody. This is our fault. Nothing to do with the play calling … Their secondary isn’t anything. It’s our fault. The guys in this locker room, we lost the game. The San Diego Chargers beat the San Diego Chargers. Nothing to do with the New York Jets. It’s embarrassing.”

Unfortunately, the San Diego Chargers don't get a win and a loss for beating themselves.

Jets cornerback (and former Coach Killers honoree!) Antonio Cromartie had a different take.

"When you're up by 11 points in the fourth quarter, and you can't even finish the game up, that shows what kind of team you are: a team that can't finish," Cromartie told The Newark Star-Ledger. "And that’s been San Diego the whole time. There it is."

And Rex Ryan's response when he was asked about McMichael's comments? "Stay classy, San Diego." We're not kidding.

Week 7 Recap

Kevin Kolb, quarterback, Arizona
You think the Cardinals regret a) trading a second-round pick and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kolb, and b) then giving Kolb a $62 million extension? Because we're almost positive Arizona could go 1-5 with pretty much any combination of Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton.

Against the Steelers, Kolb looked like … well, the same dude we saw behind Donovan McNabb in Philly. We were confused when the Cards gave up so much (and then paid so much) to get him in free agency since Kolb hadn't shown that he was anything other than a quality backup and spot starter.

Kolb threw an interception on Arizona's first possession, which led to seven Steelers' points, and he now has just as many TDs as picks (7) this season. He's also completing just 58 percent of his passes, and missing wide-open targets. On Sunday, he short-hopped a ball to tight end Rob Housler on what should've been a first-half touchdown, and the TD pass he did throw -- a 73-yarder to LaRod Stephens-Howling -- was a Tebow special: the ball traveled 10 yards and Stephens-Howling did the heavy lifting for the final 63 yards to the end zone.

As long as we're making comparisons, here's one more: through six games, Kolb is basically Kyle Boller with a permed mullet. This is not a compliment. (Upside: if there's ever a movie about his life, Danny McBride's getting the lead role, though Kenny Powers might have a better arm.)

Like he did in the team's previous loss, Whisenhunt vowed to examine what the Cards are doing and who's doing it. Clearly, Kolb is part of that examination, although there has been no discussion of replacing him. "I"m not saying that," Whisenhunt told the Arizona Republic's Kent Somers when he brought up the possibility. This is what happens when you pay guys $62 million and you're not really sure if they're going to pan out: you have to play them while you find out. Through six games, Kolb's struggling.

That said, he said after the Steelers loss that he felt he was making progress.

"When you have lost five games in a row, I don't think anybody is progressing at the rate we need," Whisenhunt said when apprised of Kolb's remarks.

"I think you're naïve if you say that. I'm not saying Kevin is naïve to say that. Kevin has made progress in some areas, but I think all know there have been some plays he's left out there."

We don't think Kevin's naive, either. Saying "I'm progressing!" is a coping mechanism.

Titans offense, defense
The biggest game of the season against a hated division rival and Tennessee decides to take the afternoon off. That sums up nicely what we can expect from this team the rest of the season. The Titans stumbled out of the gate losing to the Jags, then beat the Ravens in Week 2, got to 3-1 and then were smoked by the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Following their Week 6 bye, they came out wholly unprepared against a team they see twice a year every year, and following a 41-7 beatdown are now 3-3.

And there were no bright spots Sunday. Texans running back Arian Foster, not happy to just run all over the Titans, added an arial assault to the whipping. He had 115 receiving yards in the first half, including a 68-yard pitch and catch from Matt Schaub. By the time it was over, he had 119 yards receiving and another 115 rushing and three touchdowns.

“We got embarrassed in our own backyard. That’s the tough thing about it,” safety Michael Griffin said. “It can get worse. No team is going to look at us as a team that won three straight games. They’re going to look at us as a team that was 0-and-2 against good teams. We’ve got to turn this thing around.”

Luckily, Chris Johnson and his Amazing Disappearing Act, isn't to blame. At least according to Chris Johnson.

“Basically, if you are watching the game and you really can’t tell what is going on with the run game then I would say you really don’t know football,’’ Johnson said. “I wouldn’t say I am the issue. I am very confident I have been doing the things … I do.”

And in 2011, "doing the things I do" means rushing for 18 yards on 10 carries. Yes, Chris, keep doing that. It's a huge help.

Kyle Boller haunted the Ravens on MNF. (Getty Images)
Tie: Rams defense/Ravens offense
Lord have mercy on both these units. It's the unstoppable force and the immovable object having taken the shape of ridiculously bad football. The Rams, an admittedly dreadful team, got steamrolled by a Cowboys' run defense that, prior to Week 7, didn't exist. Remember: Dallas couldn't run the ball late in the game last week against the Pats' porous D. Against the Rams? It looked like Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith joined forces, hopped in a time machine, and went off.

Instead they just lived vicariously through rookie DeMarco Murray, Dallas' third-round pick. Murray's first touch of the game came on the Cowboys' first possession, on first and 19 from the Dallas nine-yard-line. Ninety-one yards later … touchdown. That set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Murray, who saw extended action because Felix Jones was out with an injury, rushed 25 times for 253 (TWO-HUNDRED FIFTY-THREE!) yards.

Jeff Gordon's Rams Report Card in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is … well, about what you'd expect: Defensive line - F, linebackers - F, secondary - D-minus (woo hoo! passing!).

Head coach Steve Spagnuolo got an "F" too. "Spagnuolo was supposed to build this team from the lines out . . . and yet the Rams keep getting manhandled in the trenches, despite heavy investments there. Overall sloppiness remains pervasive six games into this winless season. … The death march continued."

And that's about the best thing you can say about the 2011 Rams.

The Ravens, meanwhile, entered Monday night's game as one of the best teams in the AFC, with their always-stout defense and a young offense that was supposedly improving. Other than the Week 1 hurting they put on the Steelers (which included seven Pittsburgh turnovers and great field position for Baltimore's offense), and the hapless Rams, the Ravens' offense looks to be right out of the era prior to the invention of the forward pass.

And that's fine if offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is feeding the ball to Ray Rice, easily the team's best weapon. But against the Jags, Rice fumbled early and ended up spending much of the evening on the bench. Predictably, Baltimore's offense faltered. (By the way, if Joe Flacco was benched every time he had a turnover he'd be on the practice squad by now.)

By the time it was over, Rice had eight carries for the night. In related news: the Ravens scored seven points, and that came on the next-to-last drive. Ironically: Flacco threw one of the worst interceptions you'll ever see on the last drive, sealing the win for the Jags.

“It's about as bad as you can play on offense,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said afterwards. “I don't know if we could play any worse than that until that [late] drive."

You can't. We checked. The Ravens didn't get their first first down until the third quarter.

“If we don't get the consistency on offense, we're not going anywhere," Harbaugh continued. "You can't play like we played tonight on offense and expect to win. We all know it. We got our butts handed to us from that sense, and we'll go back to work just like we always do.”

Linebacker Terrell Suggs, like everybody else, has no idea what the offense was doing.

"I don't really know what the game plan was," he told CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco after the game. "When I have a Pro Bowl running back, and he's not getting his touches, I'm going to feel some kind of way about it. He wants the ball. And I think we should feed him. Ray Rice is a phenomenal player. You have to use your phenomenal players. I have to question how many touches Anquan [Boldin] had. We've got guys on this team that can do some great things. We have to use those guys. It's that simple."

And this is why the torch-and-pitchfork crowd will be mobilizing this week and calling for Cameron to be fired (it's a weekly occurrence, but the cries should be especially loud this week after losing to the previously 1-5 Jaguars).


Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 105 yards against the NFL's best run defense, Josh Scobee kicked four field goals and the Jaguars snapped a five-game slide with a 12-7 victory over the Ravens on Monday night.

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Posted on: October 25, 2011 12:38 am
 

Ravens can't contend with offensive inconsistency

Posted by Will Brinson

If you want to sum up Monday night's stinker of a matchup between the Ravens and Jaguars, here you go: Joe Flacco completed a pass to Joe Flacco for negative eight yards.

No, really. That happened.

Both Jacksonville and Baltimore were absolutely abysmal on offense, but eventually the Jaguars prevailed enough to win a super-sloppy 12-7 game at Everbank Field. Maurice Jones-Drew fumbled three times, Jack Del Rio made an inexplicable decision to give Josh Scobee a 51-yard field goal with 1:43 left on the clock and up 9-7, and an even more inexplicable decision to challenge whether or not Flacco stepped out of the back of the end zone.

It might have been -- no hyperbole -- the worst challenge in NFL history. But the Jaguars still won and are somehow only two games back of the Texans in the AFC South. Good on them, but I don't think it matters, because surely no one's going to do as poor a job of showing up as Baltimore.

Which leads us to this: the Ravens, as I wrote last week, have an advantage over most other contenders in the NFL because of their stout defense. All they need is Joe Flacco to take a step forward and become a good-to-great quarterback, and there's no reason why Baltimore can't win the Super Bowl.

Welp, Baltimore's got a problem, because the monstrosity -- Pete Prisco correctly called it "offensive" for the bad reasons -- of a game that Flacco produced on Monday night against the Jaguars was as ugly as they come and exactly why Flacco is so abhorred by many a Baltimore football fan.

"It's about as bad as you can play on offense," John Harbaugh said after the game. "I don't know if you can play any worse than that."

The Ravens picked up their first third-down conversion with 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter. Flacco had eight -- eight -- passing yards with nine minutes left in the third quarter.

On the season, Flacco's now vacillated wildly in his performances throwing up his second road stinker against an inferior team, and making it anyone's best guess as to whether or not he'll show up on offense. Flacco's passed for 224 yards, 197 yards, 389 yards, 163 yards, 305 yards and now 137 yards.

That's only consistent in that he's predictably down after he's been up. And, yeah, the Ravens won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer at quarterback and a historically impressive defense.

But the Jaguars were begging for Baltimore to take this game away from them, and the Ravens simply refused. That's not on the defense. That's on Flacco and the offense.

Just like the Ravens hopes for the rest of the season.

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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 9:58 am
 

Leach: I wasn't appreciated in Houston

V. Leach is happy in Baltimore (US Presswire).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

When Vonta Leach signed his three-year, $11 million deal with the Ravens, leaving Houston behind for good, Ray Rice happily texted him, "Let the fun begin."

For the most part, the two have had fun, with Leach opening holes for Rice and helping the Ravens to a 3-1 record and the top spot in the AFC North.

But when asked about his departure from the Texans, where he had played the past five years of his career, it turns out Leach wasn’t so pleased with the way he felt he was treated. In effect, he felt he was taken for granted.

"It worked out for them and it's worked out for me. It's a win-win situation,” Leach said, via the Houston Chronicle, referring to the Texans use of James Casey in his old spot. “I had five good years in Houston, and I did leave on a bad note. When I was there, I laid it all on the line for Houston, whether I was hurt or not. During my time there, they paid a lot of players I felt didn't necessarily deserve to get paid. What disappointed me was when it was time for me, maybe my last contract, to get a good deal ... I didn't have to be the highest-paid fullback.

"I just wanted to feel appreciated. I didn't. I was not appreciated."

Leach said the problem began last year when he made his first Pro Bowl -- one of his long-term career goals -- and Leach said the Texans knew his price tag was going to rise. That could be why Houston declined to re-sign him and instead is now using Casey,  who’s making $480,000 compared to Leach’s $6 million guarantee from Baltimore.

Leach said he just wanted a fair deal. He didn’t get it.

"The deal that was offered to me was disrespectful to me and my family," he said. "It was a lesser deal than I just got finished playing for them for. … All I wanted was to be wanted," he said. "I wanted to stay with the Texans. When I heard the offer, I picked up the phone and called (Texans general manager) Rick Smith myself. I said, 'Rick, what's going on?' He said, 'Vonta, we had to give away all of our money. We don't have any more.' I said thanks, and that was it."

Now, Leach is having fun with Rice and his new team. And he’s getting paid what he feels he deserves.

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Posted on: October 13, 2011 11:37 am
 

Keep an Eye On: Week 6's finer points of analysis

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Raiders vs. Browns
Keep an eye on: Raiders passing game
The Raiders are a run-first team, no doubt. That shouldn’t change against the Browns.

Cleveland can stop the run well enough, especially if middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson stays clean from blockers. But at some point, Jason Campbell will have to make a play or two through the air. Expect Darren McFadden to be the primary receiving weapon out of the backfield.

Throws to McFadden have easy, defined reads for Campbell (who often flounders late in his progressions and when his pocket gets too crowded for him to take a full step into his throw) and they should be available given the way Cleveland’s linebackers have struggled in underneath coverage. Most of those struggles have come against athletic tight ends.

The Raiders, however, are more inclined to run tight end Kevin Boss down the seam and swing McFadden underneath. The Browns will likely commit a safety (perhaps T.J. Ward) to tight end coverage and allow Scott Fujita to cover McFadden (expect zone principles since Fujita doesn’t have a prayer at running with McFadden in man coverage).

This isn’t to say Campbell won’t go to his wide receivers. He’s been attacking deep more in October than he did in September. That’s a response to the new speedy duo of Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Both are raw but potentially lethal. (No. 3 receiver Jacoby Ford is also a burner.) They’re not a potent one-two punch yet, though. Moore’s only big game came against the Bills, when Heyward-Bey was out of the lineup.

We may find out which receiver the Raiders like better this Sunday. Campbell has avoided throwing at top-flight corners this season (he hardly looked to Darrelle Revis’ side in Week 3 and rarely challenged Houston’s Johnathan Joseph in Week 5). Browns second-year sensation Joe Haden is most definitely a top-flight corner (he may have the most natural change-of-direction ability of any defensive player in football).

If Haden returns from his sprained knee, he’ll likely line up on the defensive left side. Whoever Oakland puts on the offensive left side (i.e. away from Haden) figures to be the go-to target. That could tell you what wide receiver pecking order the Raiders prefer.



Ravens vs. Texans
Keep an eye on: Brian Cushing
The third-year pro has been arguably the best inside linebacker in the AFC this season. That’s significant considering how mightily Cushing struggled as the middle linebacker in Houston’s 4-3 scheme last season.

But the inside duties are different in Wade Phillips’ new 3-4. With less field to cover, Cushing has been able to be more of an attacker than a reader-and-reactor. That’s a style best suited for his speed and ferocity.
 
Cushing hunts down outside runs extremely well and shows vigor when tasked with clearing out a lead-blocker. Both are critical traits for containing a Ravens ground game featuring a dynamic B-and C-gap runner like Ray Rice and a fullback like Vontae Leach.

Cushing is also noteworthy because of what he means to Houston’s pass-rush. Against the Raiders last week, Phillips resorted to frequent inside blitzes in an effort to instill panic in Oakland’s pass protectors and command one-on-one matchups for the rushers outside. Cushing continuously stood out for timing his blitzes well and executing them with reckless abandon.

With Mario Williams out, Phillips may feel compelled to be even more aggressive with linebacker blitzes. And he’s certainly seen the Week 4 film of Joe Flacco and the Ravens struggling to sort out many of the Jets’ inside blitzes.

Lions vs. 49ers
Keep an eye on: the tight ends
The 49ers and Lions are very different offenses. The Lions run a modern, semi-spread, aerial attacking offense. The 49ers run a 1980s, compact, ground-pounding offense.

That’s primarily a function of the quarterbacks. Though both are former No. 1 overall picks, Matthew Stafford is gun-slinger while Alex Smith is, comparatively, a spitball shooter. (To be fair, Smith did have a terrific game against the Bucs. He diagnosed coverages well and made a few stick throws.)

Though vastly different, both offenses are built around the same base personnel package: two tight ends. The Lions frequently line up with Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew while the Niners often feature Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. The conundrum that two tight end personnel presents for a defense is in deciding what personnel to respond with.

Go with nickel and you risk getting run on (especially when facing the Niners, given that Davis and Walker are both solid run-blockers). Go with a base defense and you risk getting thrown on (especially with the Lions since Scheffler often splits out as a third receiver in the slot).
 
All four tight ends are weapons. For the Lions, Brandon Pettigrew is surprisingly mobile given his 265-pound frame and ’09 knee injury (from which he’s seemingly gained mobility through rehabbing). Scheffler is a swift downfield target.

For the Niners, Vernon Davis is as athletic as they come. No one save for maybe Jermichael Finley is as dangerous down the seams. Delanie Walker is not as good as Bay Area fans think, but he’s versatile in patterns and can block from a standstill position, off of motion or in a lead out of the backfield.

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Posted on: October 12, 2011 9:11 pm
 

Patricia Modell dies at 80

Art and Patricia Modell (AP).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Patricia Modell, a longtime TV actress and the wife of former Browns/Ravens owner Art Modell, died Wednesday at the age of 80.

Patricia had been hospitalized for the past five months with pancreatitis, and she was pronounced dead at 1:30 p.m. ET Wednesday.

She and Art Modell married in 1969, but before that, she appeared on General Hospital, Peyton Place, the Twilight Zone, Perry Mason and Maverick, and according to the Associated Press, she once held the title for appearing on more TV shows than any other woman in history (Lucille Ball eventually broke that mark).

After she married, she put her focus into philanthropy. From the AP:
In Cleveland, Mrs. Modell served on the board at Ursuline College and was active in the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the Cleveland Musical Arts Association, the Cleveland Ballet, the Playhouse Square Foundation, and the Cerebral Palsy Association. She actively supported the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, and she started and funded, along with her husband, the Hospice of the Western Reserve in Cleveland.

After Art Modell moved his football team to Baltimore in 1996, his wife served on several boards, including: House of Ruth, Gilchrist Hospice, Kennedy Krieger Institute, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and The Walters Art Museum. In addition, the Modells contributed money to the St. Vincent's Center and the Baltimore Museum of Art.

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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