Tag:Pittsburgh Steelers
Posted on: November 9, 2011 2:22 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 3:10 pm
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Ryan Clark fined $40K, Ray Lewis fined $20K

Posted by Will Brinson



Everyone knows that Ravens-Steelers games are a different (read: more violent) brand of football and that was exactly the case on Sunday night, when Baltimore snuck out a win in Pittsburgh. Ray Lewis and Ryan Clark delivered the most notable hits of the evening -- Lewis knocked Hines Ward with a clear helmet-to-helmet hit but wasn't flagged, while Clark picked up a 15-yard penalty for a hit on Ed Dickson.

Tuesday, Ryan Wilson told you to expect fines for both guys, and on Wednesday, they came down from the league. Lewis was fined $20,000 for his hit on Ward and Clark was fined $40,000 by the NFL for his hit on Dickson. Clark is especially unhappy about it.

Reviewing Week 9

"The hit wasn't malicious at all," Clark said, per Will Graves of the Associated Press. "i know how to knock somebody out if i want to knock them out. Am I supposed to let him catch it and then wait for him and hug him? Should I throw a pillow at him? Should I blow a whistle?"

And the Steelers safety had some choice words for Commissioner Roger Goodell as well.

"Somebody else needs to step in ... not that I respected Roger before this ... but this is ridiculous," Clark said. "I'm not going to sit across from [the Commissioner] unless they handcuff me. which is probably the next step anyway."

Lewis wasn't happy either, but had less aggressive words for the league office.

"Yeah, I heard from the league and like I said they fined me whatever they was going to fine me," Lewis said, via Aaron Wilson of the Carroll County Times. "The thing is you definitely respect them trying to protect player safety. At the same time, it won't change not one way I play this week no matter what the fine is. You can't stop playing defense the way defense has always been created to play. When the receiver has the ball, your job is to disengage him from the ball. You never want to hurt nobody.

"I've been in this business too long. I just think once you start getting into these fines I don't know how they come up with the numbers most of the time."

Well, actually, the NFL has a pretty standardized system for fines, though there is some confusion about the application. A fine for a hit on a defenseless player or impermissible use of a helmet (including illegal launching) is $20,000, which explains Lewis' fine.

And a repeat-offender fine is $40,000, which is why Clark, who's been targeted more than once by the NFL, got double what Lewis did, even though the safety claims the hit wasn't against league rules.

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Posted on: November 8, 2011 10:35 pm
 

Sanders will miss a few weeks after surgery

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who missed last week’s Ravens game because of the death of his mother and because of a knee problem, won’t be suiting up for a few more weeks.

That’s because, as the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports, Sanders underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee to repair the meniscus and, according to coach Mike Tomlin, he’ll miss the next few games.

Sanders is fifth on the team with 18 catches for 243 yards and two touchdowns.

In other Steelers news, receiver Hines Ward, who suffered from concussion symptoms after a nasty Ray Lewis helmet-to-helmet hit, should be ready to play this week, while linebacker LaMarr Woodley and his bum hamstring still are questionable.

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Posted on: November 8, 2011 4:14 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2011 4:20 pm
 

Lewis, Harrison, Clark could face fines

Several players could be lighter in the wallet following the Sunday night game. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

NBC color analyst Cris Collinsworth must've mentioned it a dozen times Sunday night: the Ravens-Steelers rivalry transcends the NFL's recent emphasis on player safety. It was old-school football, where people actually hit each other. And if that resulted in the league handing down fines then so be it.

Well, it sounds like that's exactly what will happen. Ray Lewis, Ryan Clark and James Harrison can all expect to be out some money after hits the NFL will almost certainly deem illegal, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Monday.

Lewis, the Ravens' ageless linebacker, had arguably the most egregious hit, a head shot to Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward that sent him to the bench with "concussion-like symptoms." Lewis wasn't flagged on the play.

Clark's open-field collision with tight end Ed Dickson was penalized at the time (unnecessary roughness -- hit on a defenseless receiver), and this could be his second fine for a personal-foul penalty in as many weeks. Against New England in Week 8, Clark incurred what turned out to be a $15,000 penalty for a late hit on Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

(Three years ago, Clark did this to Wes Welker. He was flagged on the play, but the NFL later admitted that it was a legal hit and he wasn't fined. Now look at us, fining guys for low blocks.)

The NFL also has an issue with Harrison's third-quarter helmet-to-helmet hit on running back Ray Rice, though replays show Harrison falling on Rice at the end of a play. At the time, it seemed innocuous -- and legal -- but the league's history of arbitrary punishments suggests that everything's fineable.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who received a Gatorade bath for the Week 9 win and later cut his chin celebrating with general manager Ozzie Newsome, didn't "want to get into that conversation right now" when asked about the hits leveled by Clark and Lewis.

"I mean, it's tough. There's no doubt about it, it's tough. It's fast and it's physical and all that, but the rules are in place for a reason, and that's the way it works," he said, according to the Baltimore Sun.

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Posted on: November 8, 2011 3:29 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2011 4:44 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 9



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 9 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman Manning Dolphins  W-ford Harbaugh
Judge Rodgers Peppers Peterson Coughlin
Prisco  Jones Harrison Peterson  Smith
Brinson McGahee  Peprah Peterson  Sparano
Katzowitz  Moore  Peprah  Cards  Smith
Wilson Rodgers  Peprah Peterson  Sparano
Week 9's wrapped up and it's hardware time. This week we've got some new faces ... but a couple old ones.

Aaron Rodgers continued to Aaron Rodgers the Aaron Rodgers Award. At this point, it's surprising when he doesn't win.

Speaking of winning, the Packers got a huge help in their dubya thanks to safety Charlie Peprah, who picked two passes and picked up our Eye on Defense Award for Week 9.

Patrick Peterson ran his third punt back of the year, and that resulted in his second-straight Eye on Special Teams Award.

And Tony Sparano was tied for Lovie Smith for our Eye on Coaching Award, but we gave the tiebreaker to Sparano since, well, you know.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Eli Manning Eli Manning, QB, Giants
Deja goober all over again. Sure, the younger Manning sometimes looks perpetually goofy but on Sunday he beat the Patriots -- again -- in exciting fashion. I think we're about to see Manning explode and go from good to great. Maybe not Aaron Rodgers great but top echelon great. Dare I say elite.
Aaron RodgersAaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
People tell me nobody could play better than Tom Brady last season, except Rodgers is. He just savaged San Diego for four more touchdowns and is on schedule for 48. Yeah, the Packers' defense has holes, but what difference does it make when this guy keeps dissecting defenses for yards, points and victories.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Julio Jones Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
He had two long touchdown catches, one of 50 yards and one of 80 yards. He showed why the Falcons traded up in the draft to get him. Jones was also in his first game back from injury, which makes it even more impressive. I could give this to Aaron Rodgers every week, but is that right?
Willis McGaheeWillis McGahee, RB, Broncos
Considering the Raiders D let Tim Tebow rumble for more than 100 yards too, McGahee's 163-yard day might be discounted by some. But the dude had surgery on his hand less than two weeks ago and he's the real reason the Broncos are just one game back of the division lead now.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Matt MooreMatt Moore, QB, Dolphins
The last Dolphins quarterback to throw three touchdowns in a game was Chad Henne in 2008. That, amazingly, was three years ago. Matt Moore did it at Kansas City in the week’s biggest upset. Moore was 17 of 23 for 244 yards and those three scores, and he actually played pretty damn well. He also did Tony Sparano a big favor by getting the deserving man a victory.
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
This was the most underwhelming four-touchdown performance I can remember. But that's what happens when you're consistently much better than everybody else: the spectacular appears mundane. Against the Chargers, Rodgers completed 81 percent of his passes for 247 yards, and rushed for another 52. His counterpart Philip Rivers threw six touchdowns on the day but loses out to Rodgers for the Week 9 hat tip because two of them were of the pick-six variety.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Cameron WakeDolphins DST
I'm going to violate the rules here and hope my man Will Brinson, who deftly organizes these, doesn't punch me in the face. And I'm taking the Dolphins as a whole. Jeez, they deserve an honor, any honor, after this season and what they did to Kansas City was joyous: they sacked Matt Cassel five times and forced him out of the pocket nine more. The Chiefs had allowed only 13 total sacks allowed up to that point
Julius Peppers Julius Peppers, DE, Bears
He didn't produce big numbers, but he led the Bears to an unexpected victory over Philadelphia. He had the team's only sack, he deflected a pass and, in general, was a thorn in the side of a Philadelphia offense that had trouble getting untracked all evening. Basically, he proved why he's worth the money Chicago pays him.
Prisco Brinson
James HarrisonJames Harrison, LB, Steelers
I know it came in a losing effort, but he had three sacks in his first game back from a broken orbital bone. The guy was a terror, with one exception. Where was he on the final drive?
Charlie PeprahCharlie Peprah, S, Packers
Peprah's supposed to be the weak link in a Packers secondary that hasn't been impressive this year, but on Sunday he picked off Philip Rivers twice. The first pick he took back to the house (providing the point differential for a win) and the second was to seal Green Bay's victory.
Katzowitz Wilson
Charlie PeprahCharlie Peprah, S, Packers
For as bad as the Packers secondary has been this season -- 31st in the NFL?!?! – Peprah played a huge part in Green Bay’s win in San Diego, intercepting Philip Rivers and then breaking five tackles to score. Then he ended San Diego’s chances by picking Rivers again in the final minutes.
Charlie Peprah Charlie Peprah, S, Packers
Peprah intercepted Philip Rivers twice Sunday, including a 40-yard pick-six in the first quarter and another on the Chargers' last drive which he returned 76 yards. That made him San Diego's second-leading receiver on the day behind Vincent Jackson.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Steve WeatherfordSteve Weatherford, P, Giants
On Sunday against the Giants, the Patriots started their drives at the five six, 17, 20, 11 and nine yard lines in the first half. They were fighting for their lives all day thanks to Weatherford.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Can we just retire the award with this guy? That's three punt returns he's taken to the house. They're not going to win many this year, anyway, right? So what happens if they have a chance for, say, Andrew Luck or Landry Jones? Peterson might have spared them that decision.
Prisco Brinson
Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, CardinalsPatrick Peterson
This was easy. He became only the second player to rip a punt for a touchdown to win a game in overtime. And it was 99 yards, no less. Peterson now has three punt returns for scores in his first eight games -- a rookie record.
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Peterson tied a rookie record with his third punt -- the 99-yard game-winner against St. Louis -- taken to the house, which means he's got eight more games to break that tie with Devin Hester. Speaking of Hester, maybe teams should stop kicking at Peterson, too.
Katzowitz Wilson
Patrick Peterson Cardinals DST
Calais Campbell blocked Josh Brown's 42-yard field goal attempt to win in regulation, and then Peterson stunningly returned a punt 99 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Afterward, Peterson said he doesn’t know why teams still punt to him. I don’t know why either.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Remember in the spring when there were concerns that, at 6-0, 220, Peterson might need to drop some weight to be effective in the NFL? Whatever the scale reads now, that's his optimum playing weight.

Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
John HarbaughJohn Harbaugh, Ravens
There were doubts about Harbaugh's quarterback, Joe Flacco. And there were doubts about his team's mental toughness then he goes into Pittsburgh and wins. That win means the Ravens swept the season series with the Steelers and put themselves in good position to win the AFC North.
Tom Coughlin Tom Coughlin, Giants
He went to Gillette Stadium, a place where nobody but Tom Bray and Bill Belichick win, and somehow, some way, pulled off a last-second upset. Of course, it always helps when Eli Manning is on your side, but Coughlin had his team ready for an improbable outcome. That's why the Giants are on top of the NFC East.
Prisco Brinson
Lovie SmithLovie Smith, Bears
Lovie took a team that was a heavy nine-point underdog into Philadelphia against a supposedly hot team in the Eagles and cooled them off. The Bears had a great scheme to slow down Mike Vick. 

Tony SparanoTony Sparano, Dolphins
2011 is a lost season for Miami, unless you're a big fan of Andrew Luck. But despite that, Sparano's done an incredible job of keeping his team motivated to play each week. They nearly upset the Giants in Week 8 and straight-up pummeled the Chiefs in Week 9.
Katzowitz Wilson
Lovie Smith Lovie Smith, Bears
Smith’s seat was growing warmer by the day with the Bears at 2-3, but now that Chicago has won three straight, Smith must be commended on the way his team dominated Minnesota, the way he set up his team for London to beat the Bucs and for the way the Bears beat the Eagles. Also, props to Mike Martz, who finally has figured out that his offensive line really should protect the quarterback.
Tony Sparano Tony Sparano, Dolphins
There's a very good chance Sparano's name will never again appear in our weekly awards so we're seizing the opportunity to recognize a man who could very well be out of a job before the new year. He beat the Chiefs in Kansas City, and he did it by getting the most out of Matt Moore, Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall.


Posted on: November 7, 2011 3:45 pm
 

League looking use of 'concussion-like symptoms'?

Posted by Will Brinson

During today's podcast, I went on a bit of a rant about the need for the NFL to tweak the policy for handling in-game concussions. Not only can a player clearly suffering from a concussion like Hines Ward be classified as "questionable" with a "stinger," but the NFL doesn't have any objective sideline method of determining whether or not a player suffered a terminology brain injury (TBI).

The latest terminology teams are using to sidestep concussions? "Concussion-like symptoms," which is the diagnosis that the Steelers gave for Ward, even though the wide receiver took a clear shot to the head and was never even guaranteed to play on Sunday ... because of a concussion he suffered previously.

Fortunately, it appears the NFL will at least examine whether or not the term "concussion-like symptoms" is acceptable on an in-game medical report.

"We review these matters carefully each week," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk on Monday.  "That is as far as I can carry the discussion right now."

Hopefully the NFL will determine that teams need to stop skirting the concussion classification and mete out punishments to teams that try to circumvent the rules by calling blatant concussion injuries something that they're not. ("Neck injury" is the most ridiculous, although "concussion-like symptoms is just flagrant.)

And now also seems like a good time to point you in the direction of an article I penned back in February, about an objective, handheld concussion test that's being researched in North Carolina right now. It can determine -- with science! -- whether or not a player suffered TBI, and eliminate the risk of a team accidentally (or purposely) re-inserting a player in a game who's at serious risk for further brain injury.

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Posted on: November 7, 2011 2:20 am
Edited on: November 7, 2011 12:26 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 9

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

1. Deja Blue

Stop me if you've heard this before, but on Sunday Eli Manning managed to mount a comeback and lead the Giants to a four-point victory over New England.

Manning's stats are spooky similar to his Super Bowl victory -- in Glendale he was 19/34 for 255 yards, two touchdowns and a pick, and on Sunday Manning was 20/39 for 250 yards, two TDs and a pick -- and the result was exactly the same, as the Giants came away with a signature win that contrasted the expectation for Tom Coughlin's team as the second half of the season begins.

Of course, there was also the whole issue of where Eli ranks in terms of quarterbacks, a debate that was fueled by Manning's comments before the season that he ranks in the same class as Brady. Following Sunday's game, Manning did his best to deflect any of that talk.


But here's the thing: despite Manning's frequency of being incredibly inconsistent, he might be on the list of top five quarterbacks in the NFL right now. We've been searching for a few weeks to find the name that would fill the void Philip Rivers left with his performance this year, and Manning might be that name.

He's now sixth in the NFL in passing yards, sixth in passing yards per game, third in quarterback rating, seventh in touchdowns thrown, ninth in completion percentage and has only thrown six interceptions through eight games.

Manning is producing despite a slew of injuries to his defense, his wide receivers, and behind an offensive line that isn't elite by any stretch of the imagination.

Sunday was the 18th fourth-quarter comeback of Eli's career, and the fifth of this season. He could have another one too, if Victor Cruz hadn't bobbled a ball for a game-clinching interception against the Seahawks.

As my colleague Mike Freeman wrote Sunday, Manning simply outplayed Brady -- Eli was masterful against the Patriots on back-to-back touchdown drives in the fourth quarter during a game that went from a low-scoring affair to a thriller in short time, hitting Mario Manningham for a touchdown and then finding Jake Ballard in the end zone with just 19 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

It was all made that much more impressive after Eli's third quarter, no-look pick that gave the Pats all the momentum. For him to bounce back like he did on the road and sandwich a pair of touchdown drives around a would-be Brady comeback proves exactly what Manning said this summer.

He's in the same class as the best in the league, even if he won't tell you that.

2. Reality Bites

Every freaking year, the Jets, like leaves and and Pete Prisco's weekly picks, manage to turn in the right direction, get hot, and make a run. And despite some serious struggles in 2011, after a 27-11 blowout of Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Rex Ryan's crew find themselves in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East with a critical division game against the Patriots in New York next week on the horizon.

The Jets haven't done much right this year, statistically speaking, and as they struggled through a three-game losing streak it looked like their identity of pounding the rock and stopping the run was starting to dissipate.

They've snuck out two wins this year (against the Cowboys and Chargers), they've beaten a pair of bad teams (the Dolphins and the Jaguars) and they've looked overmatched against better squads (the Patriots and the Ravens).

But on Sunday, the Jets handled the upstart Bills offense, limiting Ryan Fitzpatrick to 191 yards passing, Fred Jackson to 82 yards rushing and forcing three turnovers.

What we saw in Buffalo was the formula that's taken Rex Ryan to two-straight AFC Championship games. If it keeps rolling through next week against New England, there's going to be chatter about a third one.


3. We Want Rex?

I'm starting to feel bad for Redskins fans. Sunday's 19-11 home loss to San Francisco wasn't as embarrassing as Week 8's shutout in Toronto against the Bills, but the 49ers effectively manhandled Washington, and John Beck's 63.8 percent completion percentage is incredibly misleading, considering that he hit running back Roy Helu for 14 of those passes on Sunday.

That's how you end up with the tragedy of Helu breaking Art Monk's single-game reception record, as well as a dinky as all get out 5.2 yards per attempt. Shanahan defended the decision to turn Beck into Captain Checkdown by pointing out that the 49ers zone defense forced Washington to "methodically to move the football down the field and get first downs" which would be a viable excuse except the Redskins crossed midfield only four times the entire game.

No matter, as Beck will continue to get snaps for Washington going forward.

"Yeah, we’re going to stick with John," Shanahan said Sunday.

Of course, the other option is Rex Grossman, so it's not like Shanahan is being outrageously stubborn with his week-to-week decision making. The Redskins are terrible either way, and it's nearly impossible to imagine them finishing somewhere other than dead last in the NFC East.

But the difference might be that Grossman actually gives Washington a chance to win, even if the chance at going out in a flaming ball of train-wreck is amplified exponentially.

4. Raiders < Tebow

This past week, a funny little meme erupted over at another little sports website -- the "X > Tebow" craze was centered around all the attention Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow receives from the media. But perhaps "Raiders < Tebow" or "Carson Palmer < Tebow" might have been more appropriate, given that Tebow helped the Broncos roll their division rivals 38-24.

Or maybe the notion Wilson talked about earlier on Sunday, that Tebow's numbers aren't that different than Eli's to start his career, isn't that far off. Whatever, not many people saw this coming -- although at least one handsome expert did -- and few people would have guessed that Tebow would out-rush the Raiders all by his lonesome.

And he wasn't even the Broncos top rusher, as Willis McGahee's resurgent day, with 163 yards on 20 rushes and two touchdowns (scope his 60-yard scamper here), outpaced Tebow's 117 yards on 12 carries.

Tebow wasn't fantastic as a passer, going just 10 for 21 and and 124 yards, but he did have some bright spots, including a 27-yard laser to Eric Decker in the first quarter. And whether or not you care to believe Tebow will be a good quarterback is irrelevant after Sunday.

He hung in the pocket when he needed to, was more than just effective on the ground, didn't turn the ball over, took some monster shots from the Raiders, got bloodied and still managed to lead the Broncos to a win.

Not to get ahead of ourselves and make with the crazy talk, but Denver's just one game out in the AFC West now, thanks to everyone else in the division losing Sunday. If the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers continue to be consistently inconsistent and the Broncos get an all-around team effort like they did Sunday, well, weirder things have happened, right?

5. It's a Trap

Big props again go out to Tony Sparano, whose Dolphins team simply refuses to give up on a season that's already over -- on Sunday, Miami smacked down Kansas City 31-3 at Arrowhead to pick up their first win of the season.

But how the hell did the Chiefs get trapped by the most obvious trap game we've seen in a while? They were coming off a monster win at home against San Diego on Monday night, the Chargers had to deal with the Packers, the Raiders were playing in the division and KC has Denver next on the schedule; all Kansas City had to do was fend off a winless Dolphins team.

Seems simple, right?

"This was not the kind of performance we expected or wanted," Todd Haley said Sunday. "This was a very dangerous team that was playing a lot better than their record. It's hard to win in the NFL and they just did a better job than us."

That sort of vague talk is typical of an NFL coach coming off a loss. But here's where that sort of loss gets inexplicable: the Chiefs, left for dead by everyone three weeks into the season, stormed back into a tie for first in the AFC West with the win over San Diego. Games against the Dolphins and Broncos set Kansas City up nicely for a legit shot at repeating as division champs.

Instead, they're still in a three-way tie with the Raiders and Bolts, with the Broncos just one game back and looking feisty. After playing Denver, the Chiefs travel to New England and then welcome in the Steelers, while the Chargers get Oakland/Chicago/Denver and the Raiders get San Diego/Minnesota/Chicago.

Things are supremely easier over the next three weeks for whatever team wins between the Bolts and the Raiders next week, and it's hard to wonder how the Chiefs, in a tie for first despite a negative-seventy point differential, managed to blow such an easy shot at having first place all to themselves.

6. That's So Not Raven

For the first time under John Harbaugh, the Ravens swept the Steelers in the regular season and by virtue of their 23-20 win in Pittsburgh, have (again) secured the always-tenuous position of favorite to win the AFC.

There's still plenty of games left for Baltimore, but to sit at 6-2 with a pair of wins against their arch-rival, it's impossible not to peg them for the top spot in a wide-open conference.

As I noted in this space last week, there's reason to be concerned with the Ravens, because Joe Flacco doesn't always bring his A game and that's led to a rollercoaster ride for the Ravens this season, as well as plenty of criticism directed Flacco's way.

"Oh I don't know, I don't care," Flacco said when asked what he expected people to say about him on Monday. "We're excited we won the football game."

He shouldn't care, because Flacco was outstanding on the final drive for Baltimore, a 92-yard march that featured a number of drops from receivers, including a whiff of a touchdown catch from rookie Torrey Smith.

Five plays after the drop, though, Flacco fired right back at Smith, and the Ravens took the lead with eight seconds left. What was confusing about that play -- and the previous two plays before that -- is that the Steelers seemed fine leaving the end zone open for shots from Flacco, even though a field goal wouldn't have helped the Ravens as the clock ticked down.

Dick LeBeau doesn't make many mistakes, and the Steelers were short on defense because of injuries, but he might have made a few at the end of the Ravens game. And thanks to some excellent work by Flacco, it cost the Steelers the status of conference favorite.


7. Nit-Packing

When a team's 8-0, there's not a whole lot to complain about. Especially if that team, as is the case with the Packers, features a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers playing some of the best football we've ever seen.

But I agree wholly with what my colleague Clark Judge wrote on Sunday from San Diego, in pointing out that the Packers secondary has some serious problems. They allowed the Chargers to pile up 38 points in their win Sunday, and they did their part in the 45 points scored by the Packers when they took two of their three interceptions of Philip Rivers to the house.

"We're not going to turn a blind eye to the negatives that went on today," said coach Mike McCarthy. "But we're 8-0. That's the facts. And 5-0 on the road. That's huge. We're excited about that."

McCarthy's got plenty of reason to be excited, and there's still a good shot of the Packers going undefeated this year. (Friend of the blog RJ Bell of PreGame.com estimates a 17 percent shot of the Packers running the table based on the way Vegas looks at their schedule.)

But if Rodgers isn't firing on all cylinders, the Packers are more vulnerable than they were during their Super Bowl run last year. And all it takes in the playoffs is a single loss to erase anything that matters about an unbeaten regular season.

8. Cruise Control

Two teams that won handily on Sunday -- the 49ers and the Texans -- look like the biggest locks to win their division nine weeks into the season.

The Niners are still 7-1. That means they've got more wins in 2011 than the rest of the division combined. There's really no reason to think that anyone can remotely contend in either of these divisions.

San Francisco might not be the most explosive team on offense, and I think we'll see Alex Smith play more like, well, Alex Smith when they match up against the Giants and Ravens during two out of the next three weeks. But they almost look like they're locked in for 12 wins minimum at this point.

Houston's lead isn't as comfortable as San Francisco, but the AFC South is pretty weak too. Indy won't do anything of note this season outside possibly losing every game, the Jaguars can't do anything offensively and Tennessee's freefalling after a hot start.

Given that the Texans have an impressive defense, a passing game that will get Andre Johnson back and two guys who can rumble for 100-plus yards in Ben Tate and Arian Foster. If they can limit the wear and tear on Foster en route to taking that division, they'll be especially dangerous come the playoffs.

9. Down By the Schoolyard

During the 2011 NFL Draft, the Falcons swung a monster deal with the Browns to move all the way up to the No. 6 overall spot and select Julio Jones out of Alabama. We've seen Jones' freaky physical nature several times this year, but he's yet to really make his mark for Atlanta. Until Week 9 anyway, when Jones exploded for 131 yards and two touchdowns on three catches.

Jones is now only the second player in the NFL to catch two touchdown passes of 50 or more yards this season (one was 50 on the dot, the other an 80-yard score), with the other being Pierre Garcon ... of the Colts. Garcon had no such luck on Sunday as the Falcons eviscerated the league's worst team 31-7 in Indy.

So does this justify the draft-day trade for Atlanta? Well no. Of course not, even. But Jones ability to stretch the field -- his first catch, the 50-yarder was just flat-out mind-blowing, as Jones beat triple coverage and made a ridiculous adjustment to come back and snag the ball.

The second play was completely different but exactly what the Falcons love about Jones, as he caught a quick 10-yard slant and ended up in the end zone 80 yards and a couple of joystick moves later.

Granted it was just the Colts, but if Jones stays healthy and the Falcons figure out how to appropriately integrate him into the offense, they're going to become dangerous in the second half of the season.

10. Pretty Good Weekend for LSU

First there was the win against Alabama on Saturday (you may have seen this slugfest on CBS) and then there was alum Patrick Peterson blowing up an opponent for a touchdown return for the second-straight week. The Ravens were able to overcome Peterson's jock-dropping run to the house; the Rams weren't as lucky as Peterson walked them off in overtime to help provide the exclamation point for one of the better endings to a group of games I've seen in a long time.

Peterson's score (the second-longest punt return in NFL history at 99 yards) came, oddly, after he committed the unforgivable sin of catching the ball on his own one-yard line while returning a punt.

"I don't know what made me catch the ball on the one-yard line," Peterson told Peter Brown of Yahoo Sports after the game. "I saw the two players doing a great job on their gunners and saw the interior guys on the 20, so that's the main reason why I took a chance and the rest speaks for itself."

Though he's struggled playing in the secondary some, his production as a kick returner's more than making up for any immediate issues at cornerback. And Peterson's got a shot at entering some rarefied air -- with his return on Sunday, he tied Devin Hester for the most number of punt returns by a rookie since the merger with three.

At his current pace, he'll get another 20 or so looks at returning a punt for a teeter; one more to the house puts him in the record books. Although teams might just want to wise up and give him the Hester treatment by not kicking to him.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... The Colts were held to 10 first downs by the Falcons on Sunday, the fewest total by an NFL team since 2005.
... Roy Helu broke Art Monk's record for most receptions in a game by a Redskins with 14. That's just depressing.
... The Rams became the only team in NFL history to score exactly four points in one quarter.
... Chris Johnson crossed 100 total yards for the second time this season. It's embarrassing that this is impressive.
... The Cowboys are 2-0 when DeMarco Murray runs for 130 or more yards. Go figure right?
... Drew Brees is the first player in NFL history with 3,000 or more passing yards through nine weeks of the season, and the Saints are the first team in NFL history to have a tight end (Jimmy Graham) and running back (Darren Sproles) with 50 or more catches through nine weeks.
... Packers are now just the third Super Bowl champion to start 8-0 the following year, along with the 1990 49ers and 1998 Broncos.
... Seven NFL teams have won the same number of games (or more) than they won in 2010. The Panthers, Bills, Bengals, Broncos, Lions, 49ers and Texans are in that group.

Worth 1,000 Words



GIF O' THE WEEK

Over/under on number of times I watch Drayton Florence scare Mark Sanchez this week is set at 4,532,453. Via Bruce Arthur/CJ Zero.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Tony Sparano: If the Dolphins keep giving it their all, he could survive the season. But he's still done in South Beach.
  • Jack Del Rio: Made it to the bye, and he's got the Colts taking the heat off him. Maybe.
  • Mike Shanahan: Could the Redskins really lose out? Because I think they could.
  • Steve Spagnuolo: Peterson's return drove a dagger in what would have been a much-needed two-game winning streak.
  • Ken Wisenhunt: And his spot's cooler now because of it.
  • Jim Caldwell: I don't care what Irsay says.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (-750): Absolutely the prohibitive favorite to lose out this season. RJ Bell says it's close to 16 percent they go 0-16.
Dolphins (-325): Showing too much spunk to get Stephen Ross the quarterback he wants.
Rams (-225): Easy schedule should keep them out of the top spot and racing for Justin Blackmon.
Jaguars (-225): Week 10! Jaguars! Colts! This is not our CBS game of the week.
Redskins (-125): Bet they regret those early season wins now.
Panthers (-100): The defense is bad enough to lose games, but it's hard to imagine them not sneaking out a few.

MVP Watch

It's all Aaron Rodgers all the way, folks. At 8-0, Rodgers has the Packers looking like the best team in the NFL in large part to the fact that he's playing quarterback at the highest level we've seen in a while. There's honestly no one even close, though a monster game from Matt Forte on Monday could change things a bit.
Posted on: November 7, 2011 12:19 am
Edited on: November 7, 2011 12:20 am
 

Are the Ravens the best the AFC can offer?

T. Smith catches the game-winning pass from J. Flacco to beat Pittsburgh (AP).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

For most of Sunday night’s game, it looked like Joe Flacco was going to be just good enough to lead the Ravens to an important AFC North defeat. A Baltimore loss that would have put Pittsburgh in a great position for a run in the second half of the season that would make the Steelers the AFC conference title favorite.

Joe Flacco fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter, and then, after the Steelers scored to take the lead, the Ravens went three and out. They were done. And it wasn’t the least bit surprising.

Then, the Ravens -- and Flacco -- redeemed their season.

Despite the fact receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin dropped passes late in the fourth quarter on Baltimore’s final drive, Flacco, who seems to have regressed as a quarterback this year, never lost his poise. He threw a gorgeous 26-yard touchdown pass to Smith with eight seconds to play to provide the game-winning score and beat the Steelers 23-20.

And now that Baltimore has won, sweeping the season series with Pittsburgh, are we silly to consider the Ravens the class of the AFC? It’s hard to say. Baltimore has played some horrendously bad games, losing to the Titans and the Jaguars. But they’ve also beaten the Steelers twice and knocked off the Jets and Texans. At this point, who else could be the AFC’s elite?

Not the Steelers. They’ve taken two bad losses to the Ravens, and that’s going to be a big problem if these two squads end up tied in the standings at the end of the year. The Patriots? It’s hard to take them seriously when their pass defense is so bad. The Bills? No, they looked shaky today in losing to the Jets. The Jets? Just not seeing it this year. The Texans? Maybe, but they still have to win their division and they’ve never done it before.

But what about -- and I would have laughed at this a few weeks ago -- the Bengals? Cincinnati and Baltimore play Nov. 20 and Jan. 1, and with their win at Tennessee today, the Bengals are 6-2, tied with the Ravens for first place in the AFC North.

The Ravens have a great defense, but so do the Bengals. As far as offensive skill players are concerned, the teams are evenly matched, but Cincinnati has been more consistent in playing solid football this season.  Still, I’m not convinced about Cincinnati quite yet.

The question: are the Ravens good enough to challenge the Packers for the title of NFL best? You could say yes after watching tonight’s game, but I’m not seeing yet, mainly because I don’t trust Flacco as an elite quarterback. Even with his 92-yard game-winning drive in the final 2:13, even with his 14 third-down conversions (the most against the Steelers since the 1970 merger), and even with his poise on the final drive, I’m not sure the Ravens are the AFC’s elite simply because I don’t believe in Flacco.

But you know what? “I don’t care,” Flacco said on NBC after the game. “We’re excited we won the football game.”

He should be. It was a hell of a win. But showing us that Baltimore is the AFC’s best? I’m just not ready to buy in yet.

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Posted on: November 6, 2011 9:20 pm
Edited on: November 6, 2011 9:43 pm
 

Hines Ward out of game after head shot

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Steelers receiver Hines Ward has left the Ravens game early in the second quarter after Ray Lewis smacked him in a helmet to helmet hit while Ward tried to make a reception across the middle on third down.

With trainers attending to him afterward, Ward looked wobbly and his eyes appeared glassy as he left the field, and considering Ward suffered a concussion last month, it seems unlikely that he’ll return to the game.

Even though the hit wasn’t penalized, Lewis almost certainly will be fined for his illegal hit.

Ward has been diagnosed with a stinger, and his return to the game is listed as questionable.

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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