Tag:Detroit Lions
Posted on: October 13, 2011 11:37 am
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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 9:43 am
Edited on: October 12, 2011 10:51 am
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 5



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 5 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman     Cutler  Rogers  Janikowski  Harbaugh
Prisco     Best  Wilson  Novak  Jackson
Brinson Green-Ellis  Allen  Janikowski  Frazier
Katzowitz  R-berger  Wilson  Janikowski  Harbaugh
Wilson  R-Berger  Barnett  Janikowski  Schwartz
Week 5's in the books and so are our ballots -- let's recap exactly why people won what they won.

Jay Cutler got a vote because even though he lost, the Bears offensive line is embarrassing. But Ben Roethlisberger, who plays behind an inept line as well, got more votes for his ability to play through injury and do what Ben do.

On defense, beating the Eagles is still considered impressive apparently, because George Wilson (and Nick Barnett) were mentioned the most and pick up our Eye on Defense awards.

Sebastian Janikowski, aka the Polish Cannon, was nearly a unanimous selection for Eye on Special Teams -- he was one Nick Novak vote away from sweeping the award this week, and it's understandable given he bombed three fifty-yard field goals.

For Eye on Coaching, things were much different -- Hue Jackson was the emotional favorite heading in, but Jim Harbaugh's business-like beatdown of the Bucs garnered him enough support to pick up the award.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Ryan Wilson
Jay Cutler Jay Cutler, QB, Bears
He didn't the win game. His statistics weren't great but it's rare to see a quarterback get the living hell beat of him like that and keep fighting. Fighting. That's not a word commonly associated with Cutler especially since half of league went on Twitter and trashed his toughness during that debacle of a playoff game last season. The only guy I saw get beat up more was Mark Sanchez against Baltimore. Cutler and Matt Forte almost single-handedly kept the Bears in the game.
Darren McFaddenBen Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
It took a sprained left foot to the franchise quarterback and injuries up and down the roster, but the Steelers' offense -- and Roethlisberger -- looked crisp and efficient against the Titans. Big Ben finished with five touchdowns, and 24 of 34 passing, with many of the completions coming on three-step drops. Funny how that works.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Jahvid Best Jahvid Best, RB, Lions
Best ran for163 yards on 12 carries, including an 88-yard touchdown run against the Bears Monday night that helped give the Lions a 21-10 win. He averaged 13.6 per carry. Best has big-play ability that compliments the Lions' wide-open passing game.
BenJarvus Green-EllisBenJarvus Green-Ellis
"The Law Firm" was supposed to lose carries to Stevan Ridley heading into the Jets game. So much for that -- Ellis won on summary judgment against Rex Ryan's defense, running for 136 yards and two TDs on 27 carries, using a punishing physicality to help the Patriots seal a crucial division victory.
Josh Katzowitz
Ben RoethlisbergerBen Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers
We got word that Roethlisberger and his bad foot were limping around the locker room before the game. But after throwing for five touchdowns in Pittsburgh’s blowout win, Roethlisberger was either faking or it was just another “too tough to know any better” performances. He also did a nice job of adjusting in order to make up for a beat-up offensive line.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Wilson
Carlos RogersCarlos Rogers, CB, 49ers
He returned a Tampa Bay interception 31 yards for a touchdown. It was a good play but the truth is that entire 49ers defense deserved the award. They gave up just three points and you can see the 49ers start to take on the no-nonsense personality of the coach. This is what the 49ers had hoped to do when the organization hired Mike Singletary.
Nick Barnett Nick Barnett, LB, Bills
He intercepted Vick twice, including a pick-six. Of course, beating the Eagles isn't quite as prestigious as it was a month ago, but given the Bills' recent history, I'm guessing they won't quibble.

Prisco Brinson
George WilsonGeorge Wilson, S, Bills
Wilson doesn't get a lot of due, but he should. He was all over the field against the Eagles. He had 11 tackles, three passes defensed, an interception and a tackle for loss. He was everywhere in the Bills upset of the Eagles.
Jared AllenJared Allen, DE, Vikings
Allen did what he's done all year -- disrupt the passer. But this time, the Vikings finally won. Allen harassed Kevin Kolb into an absolutely horrible game, sacking him twice, picking up three tackles, three QB hits and recovering a fumble. Give Minny's D credit for finally holding a lead.
Katzowitz
George Wilson George Wilson, Nick Barnett, Bills
The Bills just keep on winning, and Sunday’s victory was a credit to their D. Wilson was all over the field with 11 tackles and a pick, and Barnett returned a Vick interception for a TD and then picked Vick again in the fourth quarter as the Eagles were driving for a potential game-tying touchdown.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Wilson
Sebastian JanikowskiSebastian Janikowski, K, Raidersy K
Janikowski tied an NFL record with three field goals of 50 yards or more. Not bad for a former fat boy party dude. Few players not named Vick have improved their public image over the years better than Janikowski. He's always had a strong leg but these days he's more disciplined and his accuracy and ability to boot long kicks makes him a terrific scoring threat.
Sebastian Janikowski Sebastian Janikowski, K, Raiders
He was 4 for 4 on field-goal attempts, none closer than 42 yards. Janikowski also converted from 55, 54 and 50. We almost expected him to run on the field and intercept Matt Schaub in the end zone on the last play of the game, too.
Prisco Brinson
Nick NovakNick Novak, K, Chargers
When the Chargers lost Nate Kaeding for the season on opening day with a knee injury, there was great concern about the kicking game. Novak has alleviated those fears. He made all five of his field goals against Denver and hasn't missed this season.
Sebastian JanikowskiSebastian Janikowski, K, Raiders
As awesome as the Polish Cannon's headshot is, I might just name him special teams player of the week every week from here on out. But he deserved it in Week 5, accounting for 13 of the Raiders 25 points with a 4-4 day, including three field goals longer than 50 yards each.
Katzowitz
Sebastian Janikowski Sebastian Janikowski, K, Raiders
He kicked a 54-yard field goal and followed that up with a 55-yarder. Then, one from 50 and one from 42. It was fitting on this day in particular because he had been selected in the first round of the 2000 NFL draft. By Al Davis.
 
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Wilson
Jim HarbaughJim Harbaugh, 49ers
The 49ers are 4-1. Repeat: the formerly sorry ass 49ers and their formerly sorry quarterback Alex Smith are 4-1. Harbaugh has been able to make Smith into a viable quarterback threat. Repeat: Alex Smith is good. How'd that happen?: Harbaugh, that's how.
Jim SchwartzJim Schwartz, Lions
The Lions are 5-0, including Monday night's win over the Bears in their biggest game in more than a decade. For some perspective, Detroit won five games in a season or fewer six times during Matt Millen's eight-year reign of terror.

Prisco Brinson
Hue JacksonHue Jackson, Raiders
With the death of owner Al Davis hanging over this team, Jackson got his team ready to upset a good Houston team on the road. That takes keeping the focus. The Raiders are playing much better this season, and Jackson deserves the credit.
Leslie FrazierLeslie Frazier, Vikings
Good on Frazier for holding onto a lead and winning his first game as a full-time head coach in Minnesota -- Frazier's tenure with the Vikings started off ... interestingly, with the Vikings blowing a slew of double-digit leads. Sunday was a critical win for Frazier and the Vikes.
Katzowitz
Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh, 49ers
I thought about giving this award to Hue Jackson, just because of the emotion of the weekend with Al Davis’ death, but the 49ers are 4-1 and coming off a 48-3 destruction of pretty decent Buccaneers squad. You read that right: 4-1 and 48-3. That’s on Harbaugh.
 

Posted on: October 11, 2011 12:24 am
Edited on: October 11, 2011 9:15 am
 

Give Jay Cutler credit for managing to stay alive

Posted by Will Brinson

A few weeks ago, Tony Romo showed up on a Monday night with a couple broken ribs, beat the Redskins and was showered with praise for the next week. Jay Cutler didn't have anything broken (that we know of) before Monday night's 24-13 loss in Detroit, and he didn't win the game, but he should get some credit for his performance.

Cutler fought against a fierce Lions pass rush and an offensive line determined to start him behind the eight ball and/or leave him on the floor of Ford Field.

The offensive line committed a whopping nine false starts, and missed many more blocks, looking completely inept against Detroit's front four. At one point, a stat showed that in 33 dropbacks for Cutler, he was hurried 11 times and knocked down nine times.

Give credit to the Lions defensive line, of course, because they came at a patchwork offensive line with power (Kyle Vanden Bosch), speed (Cliff Avril and Willie Young), and potentially superhuman strength (Ndamukong Suh).

And give credit to a very rowdy and very loud home crowd at Ford Field that disrupted the Bears and remained screaming loudly 30 minutes after the game ended with Matthew Stafford doing on-field interviews.

"Nine false starts -- I don't know if I've ever been a part of that," Jim Schwartz said afterwards. "So, our hats are off to the fans here in Detroit."



Schwartz is right, but the fact of the matter is that the Bears, now 2-3 with losses to both the Lions and the Packers, don't have the offensive personnel to operate against defenses with any whiff of a pass rush.

Detroit sacked Cutler three times for a loss of 12 yards, but that doesn't begin to show the number of hurries and pressures that the Bears quarterback endured during the 39 minutes that the Bears held the ball.

Cutler rolled left, he rolled right, he ducked flying tacklers and he made a slew of fantastic plays with his feet to keep the Bears alive throughout the night, piling up 227 yards and a touchdown (with no interceptions) while going 28 for 38 on the night.

He'll catch grief from the media because the Bears continue to struggle on offense, but he shouldn't -- Mike Martz couldn't seem to realize the obvious fact that three-step drops created bigger problems for Detroit's defense, and continued to let Cutler drop deep into the pocket and get hammered by the Lions front four.

Somehow, Cutler hung in all night and almost gave the Bears a chance to win. He won't get the praise he deserves, because the Bears lost. And that's fair. But he'll probably end up catching grief because everyone seems willing to point fingers his way and/or make up fake newspaper headlines when the Bears struggle.

And that's just unreasonable, given what the absolute lack of protection Chicago gave him.

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Posted on: October 10, 2011 2:48 pm
 

Podcast: Tebow talk, Week 5 Review, MNF Preview

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Week 5 of NFL action is almost over and what a week it was. For starters: Tim Tebow, Tim Tebow, Tim Tebow.

And let's not forget: Tim Tebow, Tim Tebow! Sorry, had to get it all out. We do talk about Tebow, natch (should he start???) but we also discuss whether the Eagles are done and whether Andy Reid is on the hot seat with his team at 1-4.

Then we wonder whether or not the Texans can hang onto their division, if the Steelers are back, whether or not the Packers can go undefeated and if Ken Wisenhunt is also on the hot seat.

Finally, Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk joins the show to break down the Monday Night Football matchup between the Lions and the Bears.

All that and much, much more -- just hit the play button below to listen (and did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes?). If you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.


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Posted on: October 9, 2011 11:32 am
Edited on: October 9, 2011 11:32 am
 

DJ Moore on Calvin Johnson: Make sure you hit him

(US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Last week, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan opted to single cover Lions other-worldly wide receiver Calvin Johnson on the most important play of the game. Quarterback Matthew Stafford did what he always does in the red zone: he threw a jump ball in Johnson's direction and he out leapt Terence Newman. Touchdown. Game over.

This week, the Lions will play on the national stage when they host the Bears on Monday Night Football. Chicago's defense is quite familiar with Johnson, and while they respect him more than Ryan did last week, they're not going into the game thinking he's unstoppable. In fact, the Bears have a plan to slow Johnson down.

“Make sure you hit him,” nickel back D.J. Moore told CSNChicago.com. “Hit him.”

Moore, by the way, is listed at 5-9, 180 pounds. Johnson, whose nickname is Megatron, is 6-5, 230.

"I don’t think people should be thinking somebody is too good, have somebody come in and you give them too much credit, over-think about what you’re doing,” Moore said. “I think we’ll be fine.” And unlike Ryan's strategy, Moore understands how to approach the Megatron matchup.

“When you’re big and fast like that, you’re going to catch balls,” Moore said. “Jump balls, he’s probably going to win those. But timing routes, you can still break on the ball like you would any other ball.”

About those jumb balls…

“He does a lot of things well, but there’s one thing you can’t game plan for, and that’s that he is bigger than everybody,” fellow Lions receiver Nate Burleson told the National Football Post's Dan Pompei. “That’s what he does great.”

Johnson, who has a 44.5-inch vertical, clearly gets this, too. “You have to time the ball up, and then you have to catch it. It’s really all timing. The defenders don’t know when it’s coming, so you can’t key on it. It’s reaction by both parties.”


The Chicago Bears will travel to Ford Field to take on the Detroit Lions on Monday night. James Brown, Dan Marino, Bill Cowher, Shannon Sharpe and Boomer Esiason preview this game. Watch The NFL Today Sundays at 12 p.m. ET throughout the NFL season.

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Posted on: October 7, 2011 9:43 pm
Edited on: October 7, 2011 9:43 pm
 

Barry Sanders replaces Hank Williams Jr. on MNF

Hank Williams Jr. is out and for this week, Barry Sanders is in. (AP/US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

On Thursday, ESPN fired Hank Williams Jr. as the guy who sings the Monday Night Football intro. And this Monday, for the first time since 1989, someone else will rhetorically ask us if "We're ready for some football."

CBSSports.com's Will Brinson went through the painstaking effort of listing 10 acts who might replace Williams, although it appears that ESPN will be going in a different, less musical direction, at least for the rest of the 2011 season.

Minutes before Monday night's Bears-Lions game, former Lions great and Hall of Famer Barry Sanders will narrate the introduction.

Sanders spilled the beans on Twitter Thursday. As for future MNF games, ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz said that "This is the format we'll likely use the remainder of the season. We haven't made any decisions beyond that."

As long-suffering Lions fan and PFT.com contributor Michael David Smith wrote earlier Friday, "Regardless of what you think of Williams’ comments and ESPN’s response to those comments, we can all agree on this: There’s no one better than Barry Sanders to welcome America to football in Detroit."


The Detroit Lions haven't hosted a Monday night game in a decade. Will their return to Monday night end in a victory over the Bears? NFL.com's Pat Kirwan joins Jason Horowitz to preview this NFC North showdown.

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Posted on: October 7, 2011 8:52 am
 

Fairley getting closer to returning

FairleyPosted by Josh Katzowitz

The last time we talked about Nick Fairley, he had just returned to practice after suffering a foot injury in training camp and was getting close to returning to the field for an actual game. That was Sept. 29.

Today, we get the news from the official Lions site that Fairley returned to practice Thursday and is getting close to returning to the field for an actual game.

But hey, maybe it’s serious this time.

“It felt real good (to be back in practice),” said Fairley. “I have been getting better each and every day, working with the trainers and the strength and conditioning guys. They have been working with me real good throughout the whole process.”

Fairley was limited in practice Thursday, but considering it’s only the second time he’s practiced since Aug. 1, that qualifies as fantastic news for Detroit.

Fairley is supposed to bring another dimension to a Lions defensive line that already includes Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril. Detroit ranks No. 11 in defense, but it wouldn’t be a bad assumption to make if you said the addition of a healthy Fairley would push the Lions into the top 10. All along, we’ve been waiting to see how Suh and Fairley play off each other, and it looks like we’re getting closer to actually seeing that in person.

"I’ve been wanting to be out there since I got hurt,” said Fairley. “It has just been a long process that I have been going through. I feel pretty good where I am right now and when I get back out there I will try to bring a lot more success to the team.

“I can’t tell you (what I bring). They’ll have to wait to find out. We’ve got to put it on film first. I can’t let them know my things before I get out there.”


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Posted on: October 5, 2011 8:57 am
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 4

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 4 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  Blount  Texans Crosby Schwartz
Judge Rodgers   Osi  Hester Harbaugh
Prisco Rodgers Williams  Hester Harbaugh
Brinson Rodgers  Ngata  Hester Harbaugh
Katzowitz Johnson  Maybin Succop Schwartz
Wilson Rodgers  Ngata  Hester Harbaugh
For such an insane week of NFL action, there was a surprising amount of consensus from our experts on who deserves the hardware.

Aaron Rodgers, for example, was a pretty stone-cold lock for the Eye on Offense award after he scored six touchdowns against the Broncos. That's just what six touchdowns will do for you.

In terms of defensive selections, there was a little more variation, and Mario Williams could have walked away with the hardware, but Haloti Ngata ended up winning the Eye on Defense award for terrorizing Mark Sanchez.

There wasn't a whole lot to wonder about in terms of Eye on Special Teams -- Devin Hester was just the difference maker against the Panthers. And in coaching, it always helps to come from 20-plus points behind on the road if you want to win the Eye on Coaching award, which is what Jim Harbaugh did.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
LeGarrette Blount LeGarrette Blount, RB, Buccaneers
It was only the Colts. If the Colts' defense had any more holes it would be a script for "Lost." They're still an NFL team, though, and what Blount did at times in that Monday night game was ridiculous. He was a plow and the Colts were fertile soil. He's the size of a small apartment building, has some speed and thank God hasn't punched anybody this season.
Aaron RodgersAaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
He throws for four touchdowns runs for two more and looks more and more like the next great quarterback. Thank you, San Francisco. The 49ers could've taken Rodgers with the first pick of the 2005 draft. Instead, they chose Alex Smith. Life is not fair ... unless, of course, you're Mike McCarthy. He was the 49ers' OC then; he's the Packers' head coach now.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Anytime a guy can throw for four touchdowns and run for two more, like Rodgers did in helping the Packers blow out the Broncos,f it's an easy choice. He can win this award every week.
Aaron RodgersAaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
After 2010, we expect Rodgers to be good. Maybe even great. What he's doing this year is filthy, and the things he did to the Broncos were just dirty. I don't have many rules in life, but one of them is "if a guy accounts for six touchdowns in one game, he's my offensive player of the week."
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Calvin JohnsonCalvin Johnson, WR, Lions
Early in the Cowboys-Lions game, it looked like Rob Ryan was partially correct when he said that Dez Bryant and Austin Miles were better receivers than Johnson (though we all knew better, didn’t we?). But who remembers now what Bryant did? That’s because Johnson caught two more touchdown passes, including a jump-ball in triple coverage, and led Detroit to a huge comeback victory.
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Yes, the Packers were facing the Broncos, but unless something's changed, Denver's players still get paid and they are considered "professionals." But we suspect Rodgers would put up similar numbers against the 1985 Bears. He finished the day 29 of 38 for 408 yards, four touchdown passes, two touchdown runs, and the inevitably awesome championship belt end-zone routine.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Mario WilliamsHouston Texans, DST
Yeah, I'm picking the whole damn group. I've never seen the Pittsburgh Steelers during the Tomlin/Roethlisberger era get so physically outmatched. I mean, the Texans. Who would have believed this group could be so tough. Defense and the Texans rarely appear in the same sentence but after they battered Ben, shut down Pittsburgh's running game and intimidated their receivers, those two words might be associated a great deal this season.
Drayton Florence Osi Umenyiora, DE, Giants
In his first game since returning from knee surgery Umenyiora produces two sacks, forces a fumble and makes a case for why the Giants should keep him, pay him and make him happy. You can never have enough pass rushers, and Umenyiora is one of the best in the game. If the Giants were auditioning him for the next trading partner, color me interested.
Prisco Brinson
Mario WilliamsMario Williams, DE, Texans
He had two sacks and made a great tackle on a run for a loss. He is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Got both sacks with his hand on the ground.
Haloti NgataHaloti Ngata, DL, Ravens
The Ravens destroyed the Jets, their second-closest AFC rival, on Sunday night. Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense had nothing to do with, really. Ngata did though -- with Nick Mangold out, the Baltimore lineman was an absolute terror, limiting the Jets in every facet of their offense.
Katzowitz Wilson
Aaron Maybin Aaron Maybin, DE, Jets
There might be better candidates this week -- like, somebody who played for a team that won -- but give credit to Maybin. After his disastrous stint with the Bills ended before the season started, he was cut by the Jets, then re-signed with New York, and he responded with snappy play and his first NFL sack. Which means he’s already one-up on Vernon Gholston.
Haloti Ngata Haloti Ngata, DL, Ravens
This could go to the entire Ravens defense, but Ngata absolutely obliterated Mark Sanchez on a sack-and-fumble play that ended with Jaret Johnson doing a touchdown dance in the end zone. A lot of big-name defenders got new contracts in recent weeks but Ngata has probably done the most to earn his substantial pay bump.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Mason CrosbyMason Crosby, K, Packers
He may be the best at onside kicks in the league. The Packers detroyed the Broncos and while there is no key moment in such an obliteration Crosby's onside kick was the closet thing. The Packers were up 14-3 when Mike McCarthy called for it and Mason was perfect. The Broncos never saw it coming.
Devin Hester Devin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
He returns a punt 69 yards for a touchdown. He returns a kickoff 73 yards to set up another score. Basically, he beats the Carolina Panthers by himself, and where's the surprise? I mean, his punt return was his 11th for a touchdown, setting an NFL record. So why in the world would anyone kick to the guy? Carolina coaches must be asking the same question.
Prisco Brinson
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
Hester had a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown and also had another long return (a kickoff he took back 73 yards). Plus, the Bears won, which is why I give him the edge over Joe McKnight.
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
It was Hester's effort -- a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown and a 73-yard kickoff return that nearly went to the house -- that changed the outcome of this game. Ron Rivera managed to forget that Bears coaches sit back and laugh at anyone who kicks his way.
Katzowitz Wilson
Ryan Succop Ryan Succop, K, Chiefs
The Chiefs scored their first win of the season, and their kicker was the one who did most of the scoring. Succop went 5-for-5 on field goals, including a career-high 54-yarder. Kansas City wasn’t great, but its field goal kicker was.
Devin Hester Devin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
We'll never understand why any team thinks kicking to Hester is a good idea. But the Panthers threw caution to the wind and were predictably  burned. Hester had a 69-yard punt return for six, and added a 73-yard kickoff return for good measure. The Panthers ended up losing by five.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Jim SchwartzJim Schwartz, Lions
Lions fell behind big but still won. Schwartz is one mentally tough dude and his Lions showed the same. Sure, Tony Romo threw his usual lazy pick sixes and kept the Lions in it but coming back from that type of margin is still impressive and says a lot about Schwartz. I would expect no less from a Mt. St. Joe grad.
Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh, 49ers
Not only does he have the 49ers on top of the NFC West, he just scored a huge victory in Philadelphia after overcoming a 20-point second-half deficit. What that win told me was that Harbaugh is changing the culture there; that the 49ers are learning to close games. A couple of years ago they would've given up and gotten drilled by 30. Instead, they fight back and win. Trust me, this will have a ripple effect for the rest of the season.
Prisco Brinson
Jim HarbaughJim Harbaugh, 49ers
Harbaugh kept his team over on the East Coast -- they stayed in Ohio after playing the Bengals -- for a week and it paid off. Their rally against the Eagles on the road was impressive. He also gets points for making Alex Smith look good.
Jim HarbaughJim Harbaugh, 49ers
Harbaugh's done amazing work with the 49ers, even if the comeback against the Eagles isn't something you can count on every week. His postgame speech and his willingness to give up a first-class plane ticket are indicative that this isn't a fluke -- he's somehow got an Alex Smith-quarterbacked team on a winning streak.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jim Schwartz Jim Schwartz, Lions
It doesn’t matter how far behind Detroit falls to its opponent. 24 points vs. the Cowboys? 20 points to the Vikings? When Schwartz is your coach, none of that matters, because your team can do nothing but win. That zinger on Cowboys DC Rob Ryan in the postgame presser was nothing short of awesome.
Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh, 49ers
Not sure if we should be giving this award to Andy Reid and Juan Castillo, but the fact remains that the 49ers are 3-1, and did what so many west coast teams struggle to do: travel east and win a 1 p.m. start.

 
 
 
 
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