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Tag:Carson Palmer
Posted on: February 17, 2012 2:54 pm
Edited on: February 17, 2012 3:38 pm
 

Bengals hire Hue Jackson as assistant

JacksonBy Josh Katzowitz

Whatever faults you  might find with Bengals owner Mike Brown -- and I haven’t been ashamed in pointing them out -- you never can begrudge the man his loyalty. And he made another example of that today as the Bengals have announced they’ve hired former Raiders coach (and former Bengals receivers coach) Hue Jackson as an assistant helping the secondary and special teams*.

Jackson, you might recall, was fired only one season into his Oakland tenure after leading the team to an 8-8 record and trading first- and second-round picks to the Bengals for quarterback Carson Palmer.

*It should be noted that Jackson doesn't appear to have ever coached defense, though he did work with special teams when he was at Cal State-Fullerton in 1990 and the World League's London Monarchs in 1991. So yeah, this totally seems like a loyalty hire.

After Al Davis’ death and the hiring of general manager Reggie McKenzie, Jackson’s stay with the Raiders was doomed. Particularly after he tore into his team following a Week 17 loss, saying he was pissed off and disappointed. “I’m going to take a stronger hand in this whole team, in this whole organization,” Jackson said at the time. “There ain’t no way that I’m going to feel like I feel today a year from now. I promise you that."

Well, that’s totally true now, because Jackson should be in Cincinnati in Week 17 of 2012.

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It’s a place where he spent 2004-06, helping mold Chad Ochocinco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh into two of the better receivers in the league. And while he had the Raiders in the race for an AFC West title this year -- until, that is, a guy named Tim Tebow emerged for the Broncos -- McKenzie decided to bring in his own coach after the season.

“A the end of the day, I didn’t win enough games, didn’t get to the playoffs,” Jackson said in January. “Once Mark (Davis, Al’s son) saw where the franchise was, after he hired Reggie, he gave Reggie the opportunity to bring in his own coach.”

There has been speculation on who actually brokered the trade that seems like it’ll pay off awfully well for the Bengals -- Jackson now says he only helped bring the Raiders and Bengals together and that those on a higher pay-grade made the final decision.

But now, Jackson is in the strange position to see how the deal works out from the opposite side of where he was when he first helped make it.

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Posted on: January 16, 2012 2:00 pm
Edited on: January 17, 2012 6:33 am
 

Hue Jackson says he didn't make the Palmer trade

Jackson's now denying he pulled the trigger on the Palmer trade. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Hue Jackson, it's widely believed, dug his own grave with the Raiders. His fiery end-of-season presser probably didn't endear him to new Oakland GM Reggie McKenzie. And neither did the midseason trade for Carson Palmer, which Jackson made the ultimate decision on.

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Or did he? Jackson, appearing on 95.7 The Fan in San Francisco, was asked if his role in the trade was unfairly portrayed in the media, and that he wasn't the guy who pulled trigger on bringing Palmer to Oakland.

"No it wasn’t," Jackson said, via SportsRadioInterviews.com. "I did coach and recruit Carson in college, I was with him in Cincinnati, I do know Mike Brown because I did work there so naturally everybody is going to say it was Hue that did it. Well no, Hue was the person when it was all said and done that was able to get the sides together. The decision was made as an organization. I don’t make a decision to give away draft picks, I didn’t make a decision on how much money someone was going to make. That’s not my domain. I don’t do that.

"But no I’m not the only person. I was just a player involved in it because I knew the two parties and I knew how to get the two parties together to see if we could potentially do a deal."

We don't know how true this is. We just don't; maybe all Jackson did was get two groups of people in the same room (or on the same phone line) and grease the wheels.

But in the wake of the Raiders getting Palmer, Jackson did call it "probably the greatest trade in football." This clearly wasn't the case, because the 4-2 Raiders finished the season 8-8 and in third place in the AFC West.

The point being, though, that those aren't words coming from someone who simply brought two parties together. It was the sort of trade that, depending on how 2011 played out, might not sit well with a general manager.

Whether or not that was actually the case is now apparently a he-said/he-said sort of thing.

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Posted on: January 12, 2012 4:27 pm
 

After 15 seasons, Jon Kitna to retire

J. Kitna will retire (US Presswire).By Josh Katzowitz

Though it comes as no surprise, backup quarterback Jon Kitna has told the Cowboys he will retire, according to Rapid Reporter Nick Eatman.

As Eatman writes, “Before the season, Kitna expected this to be his last and a back injury that forced him out for six weeks only strengthened his decision.”

Kitna had a solid career, becoming a full-time NFL starter with the Seahawks in 1999 and keeping that same position with the Bengals until Carson Palmer was ready to emerge before the 2004 season (Kitna actually won the NFL comeback player of the year award in 2003 as Palmer backed him up during his rookie season). After backing up Palmer for two years, Kitna went to the Lions and earned the No. 1 spot on the depth chart for another two years.

Eventually, he moved on to the Cowboys to be Tony Romo’s understudy and actually started nine games last season, leading the team to a 4-5 mark.

Although Kitna’s starting record is less than impressive (50-74), he finishes his career by completing 60.1 percent of his passes for 29,745 yards and more touchdowns (169) than interceptions (165).

Throughout most of his career, Kitna was seen as a clubhouse good-guy, somebody who could share his knowledge with anybody who asked. As he got older, he tried to be a role model for his younger teammates.

"When we run on Mondays after games, a lot of the veterans get to do half the running of a lot of the younger guys. Guys like myself, who don't play a lot or haven't played, do a little extra running," Kitna said this season, via the Dallas Morning News. "After that was over, I had a conversation with them, just saying, 'You have to be ready when your opportunity comes.' A lot of those guys came into the league the same way I did -- late-round draft picks or weren't drafted -- and you can get settled into your role sometimes. My message to them was, 'Don't settle into a role, because you might only get one opportunity. Not only might that be your only opportunity individually, but that's the opportunity that might be the difference between us winning and losing, so you've got to be ready.'"

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Posted on: January 12, 2012 9:51 am
 

Jackson thinks 'I could have done it different'

JacksonBy Josh Katzowitz

On the heels of Yahoo Sports’ Michael Silver’s initial interview with just-fired Raiders coach Hue Jackson, in which Jackson said he believed Oakland owner Mark Davis was the one who wanted him gone, Jackson participated in Rich Eisen’s podcast Wednesday to offer more insight into how and why he was let go.

While the Raiders are moving forward with the news that they’ll interview Todd Bowles for the head coaching job, Jackson and Eisen took a look back at what happened since general manager Reggie McKenzie was hired in Oakland.

A few highlights from the interview:

So, um, what happened? “A the end of the day, I didn’t win enough games, didn’t get to the playoffs. Once Mark saw where the franchise was, after he hired Reggie, he gave Reggie the opportunity to bring in his own coach.”

Did your comments after the Week 17 loss to the Chargers hurt you? “It could be. When you look at anything, it could have been the one thing that turned it the other way. Do I wish I could have done it different? Yeah. Normally after a game, I go in and shower and put on my suit and go talk. On that particular day, I didn’t do that. I was emotional. It was a big game for our football team for the opportunity to have a nine-win season for the first time since ‘02,  an opportunity to win the AFC West outright, to host a playoff game the next week, to honor Al Davis’ death. There was a lot riding on it and not to play like I thought we could, what spilled out of me was the emotional side.

“But I think everybody took that wrong. Was I disappointed and pissed off? Yes. But when I said I wanted to be involved in every aspect of the football game, I was saying that because I didn’t have the opportunity to do that. This was Al Davis’ team. This is what he wanted on the football team. The point I was trying to make moving forward, whether it be with the staff or schematically, I can now make those changes because the 2011 season had already been in place and wasn’t going to change.”

On how much impact he had on the Carson Palmer trade: “All I did was help facilitate that because I have a relationship with Carson and had a relationship with (Bengals owner) Mike Brown. There’s been so many reports that I did the deal. I don’t do deals. I’m not the general manager. I’m the coach. But I opened the line of communication, and the rest of it was done within our organization with our team of people.”

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Posted on: January 10, 2012 6:56 pm
 

Jay Gruden not interviewing, staying with Bengals

Dalton and Green should be pleased Gruden's staying in Cincy. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Jay Gruden, thanks to the work he did with Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, was a hot name in coaching circles for open positions with a number of teams. But he's not going anywhere in 2012.

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Gruden's decided to stay with the Bengals and continue working with Dalton and the young Cincinnati offense in 2012.

"I’m happy here," Gruden said, per Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I like working for Marvin (Lewis) and with the team. I feel like we’re just scratching the surface on offense, but we have a lot of good, young players and have the potential to do even better next season."

Gruden was believed to be a possibility for the Jaguars opening, and the Rams called the Bengals seeking permission to speak with Gruden, but he declined any opportunities to interview for anything other than his current job.

This is curious for a couple of reasons. One, Gruden wasn't taking a job -- he was just interviewing, and there's nothing illegal, immoral or otherwise about that. Two, though the Bengals made the playoffs and Dalton had a great season, Cincy got lucky with their schedule.

In 2011, they played the AFC South and NFC West, two of the weaker divisions in football. In 2012 they'll play the NFC East and AFC West, which is substantially tougher. (Although, hey, bonus: Carson Palmer plays the Bengals!)

That being said, Dalton and A.J. Green, along with the two first-round picks Cincy has in 2012 (thanks Carson!), it's possible that the Bengals could continue developing into a potent offense.

If that happens, Gruden's name will continue to be mentioned in the coaching rumor mill, and it's possible he'll have more opportunities for a coaching gig than he had this offseason.

As we've said on the podcast time and time again, just because there are only 32 NFL coaching jobs doesn't mean you have to take one when it's open.

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Posted on: January 7, 2012 3:49 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 1:18 pm
 

Is Hue Jackson in danger of getting fired?

JacksonBy Josh Katzowitz

With the Raiders hiring former Packers director of football operations Reggie McKenzie as their new general manager, one has to wonder what, if anything, that means for coach Hue Jackson.

Yes, Jackson has only been in Oakland for one season and nearly made the playoffs (he was Tebowed out of the postseason), but according to Pro Football Talk, there’s a clause in his contract that gives McKenzie the right to fire Jackson.  

As Mike Florio writes, “It’s believed that Jackson has damaged his stock in Oakland via statements[*] made in the wake of Sunday’s home loss to the Chargers, which caused the Raiders to miss the postseason for the ninth straight year.  To stay, Jackson will have to submit to the new structure and accept the fact that his influence as to football matters necessarily will diminish.”

*Here’s what Jackson said after the Raiders lost last Saturday to eliminate themselves from the postseason: "I'm pissed at my team. At some point in time as a group of men you go in the game and you can say whatever you want about coaches, you win the game. Here's your time. Here's your time to make some plays. We didn't get them stopped and we didn't make enough plays. Yeah, I'm pissed at the team. Like I tell them, I always put it on me, but I am pissed at my team because when you have those kind of opportunities, you've got to do it and we didn't do it."

Also potentially damaging his credibility: Jackson’s decision to bring in quarterback Carson Palmer and when he called it the greatest trade ever made.

Yahoo Sport’s Michael Silver, though, believes Jackson is safe, writing, "My Raiders sources believe Hue Jackson will NOT be fired, despite rumors...”

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Posted on: January 1, 2012 11:39 pm
Edited on: January 2, 2012 8:53 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 17: Brees for MVP?

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Week 17 recap below and don't forget to
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Drew Brees for MVP?

Over the next month, until the MVP is announced before the Super Bowl, there's going to be an intense debate about whether or not Drew Brees' incredible hot streak to close out the season vaulted him past Aaron Rodgers for the MVP award.

Four weeks ago, this wasn't a debate. Even with Brees having a monster year, the Packers were undefeated and Rodgers was eviscerating defenses on a weekly basis.

Their numbers were close enough to tell anyone suggesting a debate to kindly close their piehole.

Now? Well it's a lot closer than it was. The numbers (below) make that much obvious even though the actual premises behind the argument are just frustrating from the sense of measuring a season by its full extent.

Player
Comp % Pass Yards
Pass TDs INT
W-L
Aaron Rodgers
68.3 4,643 45 6 14-1
Drew Brees
71.2 5,476 46 14 13-3

The bigger problem for Rodgers may be a confluence of events around 4:00pm ET Sunday afternoon: as Brees was throwing his fifth touchdown pass (hey, just one more than Rodgers!), Packers backup Matt Flynn was going absolutely bananas against the Lions, slicing up Detroit's secondary for six touchdowns and 480 yards, a Packers franchise record.

Take a look at the list of the guys who've thrown for six teeters in a game since the merger. Spoiler alert: it's short, and full of awesome quarterbacks.

Flynn's on the list now and as a result, he's blatantly going to cost Rodgers a ton of "Well if the backup can do that" votes, while Brees staying in much longer than needed against the Panthers netted him a significant boost in the eyes of "What have you done for me lately?" voters.

But let's get one thing out of the way first: Aaron Rodgers is not a "system quarterback." Yeah, there's actually a debate raging as to whether he is or not. And if you believe that Rodgers is only successful because of the Packers "system" then you're as foolish as anyone who thought Tom Brady was a system quarterback when Matt Cassel had a big year filling in for the Patriots.

Every team has a "system" on offense and some -- the Packers and Patriots stand out -- are better than others. But Flynn's a good quarterback who's succeeded before (he nearly beat the Patriots in prime time last year), has a great pedigree (BCS title anyone?) and has spent multiple years working behind Rodgers. That's not going to make him worse. There's a reason the Packers, winners of 21 of 22 games since LAST Christmas, have him on the roster. And it's not because he makes a mean gumbo.

Look, less than two weeks ago, Rodgers carved up a very (very) good Bears defense on Christmas night. All season long he commanded the Packers offense like a conductor, made ridiculous throws that no one else in the NFL can make and generally let the world pencil his name in for MVP. 

His season's been so magnificent that it's somehow getting railroaded by the Packers losing to the Chiefs late (but don't forget, the Saints lost to the Rams and, uh, the Packers), sitting out Week 17 (a smart move with homefield clinched) and Sean Payton and Brees running up the score in order to break records (which is fine, but let's call it what it is).

There's no question that Drew Brees is a viable MVP candidate. He's had an all-time season in 2011. But judging the MVP race based on a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude is shortsighted, and it diminishes the incredible season Rodgers had in Green Bay.

Winners

Tom Coughlin: Coughlin won the NFC East, despite sitting on the hot seat most of the season, and the Giants suddenly have a look of a team that could absolutely be a playoff sleeper. They can rush the passer mercilessly when they get hot, Victor Cruz is turning into a salsa-dancing monster and Eli Manning's smoking hot right now. Given the success wild-card teams have had in recent years -- hello, 2007 Giants! -- it would be foolish to count them out.

Maurice Jones-Drew:
"Mojo" ripped off a season-high 169 rushing yards on Sunday against Indy. That not only gave him the NFL rushing title for 2011, but also gave him the Jaguars single-season record for rushing yards, as he broke Fred Taylor's previous high of 1,572 in 2003. In a very dismal season for Jacksonville's offense, MJD's been an absolute workhorse. He's up there with Tony Boselli, Fred Taylor and Jimmy Smith in terms of all-time greats for the Jaguars.

Jason Taylor
: The only way Taylor's exit -- as a Dolphin, on the shoulders of his teammates after taking down the Jets -- could have been better is if the fumble he returned for a touchdown wasn't overturned. Taylor's a classy dude, a gamer, a hell of a dancer and at sixth all-time on the sack-leader list (not to mention a media favorite!), he'll find his way into Canton. Awesome career.

Matt Flynn: As noted above, Flynn had a decent day on Sunday. That's going to translate well when he becomes an unrestricted free agent and potentially becomes the most desirable quarterback on the market. There are lots of teams that need a quarterback and Flynn will be on everyone's radar just as much as Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck. If someone falls in love with him, he might get Kevin Kolb money.

Cincinnati Bengals: Nothing like losing and still ending up in the winner's column, huh? The Bengals played the Ravens well on Sunday but Ray Rice was too much for them. Fortunately, KC beat Denver (or, if you prefer, San Diego beat Oakland) and the Bengals backed their way into a playoff matchup against a Texans team that will either start T.J. Yates or Jake Delhomme.

Sanchez is no lock for the Big Apple in 2012. (AP)

Losers

Mark Sanchez: The Jets never even got a shot at backdooring their way into the playoffs, as Sanchez picked apart his own offense and gave the Dolphins nine points off of three interceptions, two of which were to defensive lineman Randy Starks. It wouldn't ultimately matter, because the Titans won and eliminated Rex Ryan's crew, but anyone who justified Sanchez' performance with the old "He just wins!" argument has packed up their shanty and moved to Denver to make that argument. He didn't play like a $14 million quarterback this year -- even though he got paid like one -- and it would almost be surprising if the Jets didn't make a swap at the position.

Detroit Lions: They haven't won at Lambeau since 1991 now, dropping a mind-blowing 20 consecutive games at the Packers homefield. Of course, that's not why they're on this list, although it doesn't help. They're on this list because they just gave up 480 passing yards to the Packers backup and losing in Green Bay (coupled with Atlanta rumbling over the Bucs) means Detroit's next game will be in New Orleans. Against Drew Brees. You should go ahead and put your mortgage on the over.

Raheem Morris: I'm hesitant to include Morris because I'm pretty sure he'll have already been fired by time I hit publish. I mean, if there was ever a time not to let your opponent get out to a 42-0 lead it's definitely the final game of the season when you're riding a nine-game losing streak and barely clinging to your job.

Rob Ryan: Dallas looked absolutely flat early on Sunday night and somehow managed to storm back on the Giants, only to have the secondary shredded by Eli Manning when they cut the lead to seven points. Ryan's defense hasn't backed up his mouth all season long and even though you want your coach to make better late-game decisions and you don't want your quarterback turning the ball over late, there

John Elway: Kyle Orton didn't do anything crazy like throw for 500 yards to beat the Broncos on Sunday, but they win that game against Tyler Palko. Not that it mattered, because the Broncos made the playoffs anyway when the Chargers topped the Raiders. But Elway put himself in the position to miss the postseason by releasing Orton and even if it helped the team's chemistry they're barely hanging on right now and look like a lock for a first-round exit.

The Big Questions

 
The Broncos didn't exactly storm into the playoffs. (AP)

1. Is the Tim Tebow magic finally gone?
It just might be. The Broncos still made the playoffs, of course, and anything can happen once you get to the postseason. But Denver limped their way there, backing into a title at 8-8 on a three-game skid. Teams seem to have figured out that playing press-man coverage against Tebow severely limits what he can do on offense (he's much better at picking apart zones and makes fewer mistakes) and Denver proved that if they can't generate turnovers, they're in trouble. It's hard to imagine them beating the Steelers, even at home.

2. Who's the AFC favorite going forward?
The Ravens are my pick. They get homefield up to the AFC Championship and only lose it then if they have to play the Patriots. They've beaten the Bengals twice and they've beaten the Steelers twice. They've beaten New England in New England in the playoffs before, and the Pats have no defense. And the Ravens are nightmare matchups in Baltimore for Houston and Denver, neither of whom can keep pace if the Ravens start scoring.

3. How about the NFC?
Say what you want about how hot the Saints are -- and they are white hot -- but the Packers are still the favorites. They've got homefield throughout, they have two weeks to rest their starters and they can score on anyone. One bad week against the Chiefs does not a 15-1 team unseat. Their defense isn't great, but few teams do have a good defense and if they matchup against New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game, it's going down at Lambeau Field.

4. Who're the most dangerous non-playoff teams in 2012?
Eagles, Panthers and Chargers for me. The Snooze Buttons finished 8-8 and if they'd had a full offseason, they might have won the NFC East. Their dominant defense down the stretch is reason for optimism if you're an Eagles fan. Carolina needs defense, but they suffered an insane amount of injury-related attrition in 2011 and if they draft all defense and get healthy, they can contend in the NFC South. Plus: Cam Newton. And the Bolts showed this year they could be as good as playoff teams but just made stupid mistakes. A new coach could clear those problems up.

5. Any chance Jerry Jones changes his mind on Jason Garrett?
Jones has been incredibly supportive of Garrett so probably not. But someone's taking the fall for the Cowboys not making the playoffs and the best guess here is that it's Rob Ryan. He runs his mouth constantly and his defense doesn't back up all the talk -- their secondary got absolutely shredded by Eli Manning right after they got back into the game Sunday night.

6. What is Stevie Johnson thinking with his celebrations?

He's not thinking, actually. Johnson's scheduled to be a free agent in what's a really, really deep wide receiver class in 2012 and reportedly wants $7.5 million. The only problem is he's now developed a stigma for dropping really important catches and oftentimes costing his teams 15 yards with penalties like he did on Sunday. Wishing everyone "Happy New Years!" is a cool thing to do ... when it's not bad for your job and you're looking for a raise. Johnson's one of the most fun and interesting guys in the NFL but he has to be smarter than that.

7. How smart do the Steelers look for that Santonio Holmes trade now?
You don't even know the half of it. Not only did the dump a guy who's clearly a locker room distraction (Holmes) and not LaDainian Tomlinson-approved as a captain, but Pittsburgh allowed Mike Wallace to emerge as one of the best wideouts in the game and let someone else (the Jets) pick up the tab for Holmes' long-term deal. Oh, and in case you didn't know, they used the pick they got from the Jets to draft 2011 breakout wide receiver Antonio Brown

8. Should my team draft a running back early this year?
Negative, ghostrider, the pattern is full. Full of guys who weren't drafted in the first round leading the league in rushing anyway.

Player
2011 Rush Yards
2011 Rush YPG
2011 Rush TDs
2011 YPC
Year/Round/Pick
Maurice Jones-Drew
1,606 100.4 8 4.7 2006/2/60th
LeSean McCoy
1,309 87.3 17 4.8 2009/2/53rd
Arian Foster
1,224 94.2 10 4.4 2009/None/UFA
Frank Gore
1,211 75.7 8 4.3 2008/2/55
Ray Rice
1,173 78.2 10 4.4 2005/3/65

This doesn't mean teams should avoid drafting someone who's a special talent in college (see: Adrian Peterson) but there's a real sweet spot developing in the draft for undersized, pass-catching running backs (go ahead and add in Jamaal Charles too) who turn out to be a lot better than where they were drafted.

9. How's that Carson Palmer trade working out now?
Not so good. The Raiders could have arguably won the trade if they made the playoffs. All they had to do was beat a downtrodden Chargers team at home and they couldn't, so they miss the postseason and give up a first-round pick and a second-round pick to the Bengals (who made the playoffs, naturally). With Palmer, the Raiders were 6-4 and he threw 13 touchdowns and 16 picks. Whoops. Add in the fact that Hue Jackson just coached the most-penalized team in NFL history and he has some explaining to do.

10. Is Romeo Crennel the Chiefs next head coach?
Hard to imagine he's not. KC finished 6-9 on the season and two of those wins were with Crennel in charge; they also nearly beat Oakland in Week 16 too. Surely Scott Pioli thinks that with Crennel in charge this season and better injury luck the Chiefs would've won the division. He might be right, actually, and that's why Crennel will get the gig.

11. How many records did the Saints break on Sunday?
Eleventy billion or thereabouts. Brees and Sean Payton were basically rubber-stamping their signatures all over the NFL's offensive record books. They set the record for points scored in a season, most points scored at home in a season, most passing yards in a season (Brees' own record), best completion percentage in a season (again, Brees'), most completions in a season, most all-purpose yards in a single season (Darren Sproles owns it) and most receiving yards by a tight end in a season (only Rob Gronkowski broke that one a little while later). I can't confirm it, but I'm pretty sure the Saints broke the record for most broken records as well.

GIF O' THE WEEK

Bryan Braman is going to get fined for a helmet-to-helmet hit that he made ... without a helmet.

Worth 1,000 Words


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Posted on: December 14, 2011 6:15 pm
 

Keep an Eye on: Week 15's finer points

Palmer and Netwon face stiff tests this week. Suggs, meanwhile, has been a beast in 2011. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Lions vs. Raiders

A few weeks ago, Carson Palmer was throwing interceptions but still playing great football for his new team. Lately, Palmer has just been throwing interceptions. What’s changed?

For one, Oakland’s pass protection. It has been shaky the last two games, particularly when it comes to sorting out blitz pickups. Also, general protection on the right outside has been an issue. Even when the Raiders go with a six-man line – which they do frequently – Palmer knows that Khalif Barnes and Stephon Heyer don’t consistently move their feet well. Consequently, Palmer has started to anticipate, and even perceive, pressure. This makes him jittery in the pocket.

What’s interesting is that one of Palmer’s brightest shining traits earlier this season was how firm he was in the pocket even when there was pressure closing in on him. You’d think that the time away from football would have made Palmer more frenetic in the pocket, and that he’d settle down after getting more games under his belt. Instead, the opposite’s been true.


A lot of Palmer’s interceptions have come when he’s trying to force a play. He’s made some careless decisions outside the pocket and on third-and-long situations. That may partly be a function of not knowing his own personnel (no other quarterbacks have found Darrius Heyward-Bey as trustworthy as Palmer has).

Things won’t get easier this week. The Lions picked off Christian Ponder three times last Sunday and, with Ndamukong Suh back, have a pass-rush that Palmer can legitimately worry about.

Panthers vs. Texans

Cam Newton is facing his most difficult test yet. The sensational rookie has gone up against some good cover corners (Charles Woodson, who played exclusively outside against the Panthers in Week 2, Cortland Finnegan in Week 10 and Aqib Talib in Week 13). He’s also faced some aggressive pass-rushes (Ray Horton’s blitzing Cardinals in Week 1, Gregg Williams’ blitzing Saints in Week 5 and Gunther Cunningham’s tireless Lions in Week 11).

He’s yet to face a combination of both, though. That’ll change Sunday. The Texans’ pass-rush is as fast and relentless as any in football. Their four-man linebacking unit might be the only group capable of chasing Newton down. Behind them, Johnathan Joseph is not just a good cover corner, he’s a great corner period. Joseph is one of just three players in the league this season who appears to possess the skill set necessary for shutting down Steve Smith (the others are Darrelle Revis and Champ Bailey, though strong arguments could also be made for Ike Taylor, Corey Webster and Patrick Peterson).

What sets Joseph apart is his acumen for defending the deep ball. And it’s the deep ball that has set Newton and Smith apart (they’ve hooked up for a league-high 25 passes over 20 yards). Aside from in the Week 3 monsoon at Jacksonville, Newton has not yet faced a defense that could wipe Smith out of the equation with just one player. We’ll find out just how much the young quarterback has really grown as a progression passer this Sunday.

Chargers vs. Ravens

Ray Lewis is an icon. Ed Reed is perhaps the greatest free safety who ever lived. Haloti Ngata is unblockable. But the best player on Baltimore’s No. 3 ranked defense is Terrell Suggs. In fact, one could argue that Suggs has been the best player on any defense this season. We’ve highlighted him in previous Film Room posts, but not with an outright endorsement for his Defensive Player of the Year campaign.

Last week against the Colts, Suggs forced three fumbles and recorded his second three-sack game in 17 days. He has a career-high 13 sacks on the season. Great as he’s been rushing the passer, his impact has been larger in other areas. His dropping back into coverage to take away quick slants played a big role in Baltimore’s win at Cleveland two weeks ago. In all games this season, Suggs has been a demon against the run. His length and speed are critical in backside pursuit, and his leverage and sheer physical force have long made him the best playside run defending linebacker in the game. Right now, there isn’t a better all-around defensive player than the ninth-year pro out of Arizona State.

Suggs is in perfect position to make a late push for Defensive Player of the Year this week. He has a game on Sunday Night Football, where you can bet Cris Collinsworth will share with the national television audience many of the items we’ve covered here. That game happens to be against a Chargers team that, because of Marcus McNeil’s neck injury, is starting recently signed journeyman Jared Gaither at left tackle.

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