Tag:Dominic Rhodes
Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:05 am
Edited on: January 4, 2011 10:19 am
 

10 Wild Card stories worth your attention

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Momentum schmo-mentum

When a columnist or analyst starts talking about the momentum a team has or doesn’t have heading into the playoffs, really what they’re telling you is they don’t have anything to say about that particular team. Citing a team’s momentum is like citing a quarterback’s moxie or a head coach’s energy: it’s meaningless drivel.

The 2007 New York Giants lost two of their final three regular seasons games. How did momentum work out for them? Or what about the 2008 Arizona  Cardinals? They lost four of their last six regular season games, with three of those four losses by 21 points or more. They lacked momentum…heading into their Super Bowl run. Or there’s always the 2009 New Orleans Saints, who entered the playoffs on a three-game losing streak. If only they’d had momentum…they could have blown out the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, rather than beat them by a mere two touchdowns.

Momentum is relevant DURING games (we saw that early at rowdy Qwest Field in the Seahawks-Rams contest). But it’s not relevant week-to-week. It’s only logical that “momentum” would disappear after the game. After all, there are six days between games. And – just a guess – but the do-or-die scenario of an NFL playoff game changes the mood in the locker room over the course of those six days.

So here’s a promise: these next eight stories about the eight Wild Card teams will have nothing to do with “momentum”. The only references to what’s happened in recent weeks will pertain to actual events and tangible data – not that mythical force that lazy sportswriters have been allowed to pretend is real.



New Orleans Saints (No. 5 seed; 11-5) @ Seattle Seahawks (No. 4 seed; 7-9)   Saturday, 4:30, NBC


2.) Seahawks: undeserving

On Sunday night, many people saw the Seahawks play for the first time this season. Give them credit – thP. Carroll (US Presswire)ey deserved that win more than the Rams. The Seahawks got a solid game out of backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. In the second half they discovered their long-missing rushing attack, registering 141 yards (their third highest total on the season) They stifled the fruitless St. Louis passing attack and used the famous Qwest Field buzz to their advantage.

Now, let’s hope America doesn’t get short-sighted and say, “Sure, the Seahawks are only 7-9, but they actually looked pretty good Sunday night; maybe they deserve to be in the playoffs after all.”

Make no mistake: it is an embarrassment that this club is in the postseason tournament. The Bucs and Giants were both three games better than Seattle. Yes, it is an honor to win your division…but the old-timers who say winning a division warrants an automatic playoff spot are just plain wrong. Division titles meant more back in the five-team division format. But since realignment in 2002, a team now just has to beat out three other teams to win a division. The problem is, the NFL’s current playoff format was in place long before the 2002 realignment. A division title should warrant an automatic playoff bid…just as long as the division winner is ABOVE .500. Yes, there have only been three instances where a team with a .500 record or worse reached the postseason. But two of those instances have come since realignment. And in both of those instances, the outdated playoff system screwed over playoff caliber teams.

This time, it’s also screwing over NBC. The network pays the NFL $1.1 billion a year to cover the NFL. You think Dick Ebersol likes getting stuck with a losing team on the Sunday Night Football regular season finale? How about having to broadcast that losing team again the next week in the Wild Card opener?

If you’re wondering why the NFL would stick the Seahawks on NBC for a second consecutive week (not to mention give the Seahawks a short week after making them play late on Sunday), it’s because of the way the playoff television format shakes out. Here’s how it works (based on observation): the NFL views the Saturday night late game as the premier television slot and alternates between using an AFC and NFC game in that slot. Last year the league took the Philly-Dallas matchup from FOX and put it in NBC’s Saturday night slot. This year, it was CBS’s turn to give up its premium game. Thus, you get Colts-Jets (the NFL’s most marketable player against the biggest market team). Because the Colts-Jets is a 3 seed vs. 6 seed, the NFL chose the NFC’s 4 seed vs. 5 seed matchup to fill the other Saturday slot. D. Brees (US Presswire)

Why are we discussing the logistics of the broadcasting schedule rather than the Seahawks themselves here? Because this article is designated for true playoff teams.


3.) Saints: Unable to march in?

Last season the New Orleans Saints ranked sixth in the league in rushing. This season they ranked 28th. The Saints come into the postseason averaging just 68.3 yards per game on the ground over their last three outings. They have barely even bothered with establishing the run in any of those outings.

Injuries have likely factored into Sean Payton’s thinking here. Until this past Sunday, leading rusher Chris Ivory had been out with a bum hamstring. No. 1 running back Pierre Thomas has battled a bad ankle all season. Veteran midseason pickup Julius Jones is too inconsistent to feature, while Reggie Bush has stolen about $8 million from the team this season (Bush has often looked sluggish because he hasn’t been processing information well).

The lack of a run game is part of the reason Drew Brees threw 22 interceptions this year (Brees finished the season with a 12-game interception streak, the longest the NFL has seen since Jon Kitna in 2006).

Is this play-calling unbalance a major problem? Meh; there are worse things than relying heavily on the reigning Super Bowl MVP and his litany of receiving targets. But make no mistake: this is NOT the formula New Orleans used in its Super Bowl run last postseason.



New York Jets (No. 6 seed; 11-5) @ Indianapolis Colts (No. 3 seed; 10-6)   Saturday, 8:00, NBC

4.) Jets: Surprisingly under-hyped?

At least the New York Jets didn’t sneak into the postseason through the backdoor like last year. Though the 11-5 Jets are two games better than they were in ’09, and though the offense has opened up considerably in Mark Sanchez’s second season, no one seems to consider this club on the verge of taking that next step. Except their head coach, of course. “I think we’re going to win it [all] this year,” Rex Ryan said after his team’s easy Week 17 victory over the Bills.

Because the Jets gave up 45 points in primetime to the Patriots and 38 points on a widely-watched Sunday afternoon game against the Bears, there is the perception that Ryan’s defense has dropped off from a year ago. But look at the numbers:

2009 Jets
98.6 rush yards allowed per game (8th in the NFL)
153.7 pass yards allowed per game (1st)D. Revis (US Presswire)
51.7 percent completion given up (1st)
32 total sacks (tied 18th)

2010 Jets:
90.9 rush yards allowed per game (3rd in the NFL)
200.6 pass yards allowed per game (6th)
50.7 percent completion given up (1st)
40 total sacks (8th)

All in all, the numbers between the two years are nearly identical. And the ’09 Jets forced just one more turnover than the ’10 Jets. The major difference between the ’09 Jets and ’10 Jets is that the ’09 Jets were not on Hard Knocks, were not playing on national television every other week and were not filling the tabloids with stories about harassment of a female supermodel reporter or foot fetishes.

A more important difference between the two is that the ’09 Jets could control games with their rushing attack (which always buttresses a good defense) while the ’10 Jets cannot. Expected breakout running back Shonn Greene has come close to topping his Wild Card performance against the Bengals last season. Thus, the ’10 Jets are still relying heavily on 31-year-old LaDainian Tomlinson, who has not rushed for more than 55 yards in a game since Week 5.



5.) Colts: Peeking at the right time

Okay, so the Titans gave the Colts a tighter Week 17 contest at Lucas Oil Field than anticipated. Defensively, ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were neutralized by the stellar Tennessee tackles (Michael Roos and David Stewart). Offensively, Peyton Manning and company were held to just 23 points.
D. Rhodes (US Presswire)
Fine – go ahead and bet against Indy’s pass-rush and passing attack. A lot of you did earlier in the season (you know, when Manning showed he might be washed up by throwing 11 bad passes over a three-week stretch).

It’s easy to say these 10-6 Colts are not their usual dangerous selves. But the Colts failed to earn a bye in 2006, when they went on to win Super Bowl XLI. The Colts didn’t find momentum in the’06 playoffs – they found their run defense. That was the postseason in which Bob Sanders returned after playing just four regular season games.

Sanders won’t return again this time (IR, biceps), but that doesn’t mean the Indy run defense won’t progress. The progression is already underway, in fact. This past Sunday, the Colts held Chris Johnson to just 39 yards on 20 carries. The Titans as a whole managed just 51 yards on the ground. The week before, Indy held Oakland’s No. 2 ranked rushing attack to just 80 yards. The week before that, they held Jacksonville’s No. 3 ranked rushing attack to 67 yards.

What’s more, the Colts seem to have rediscovered their own rushing attack. Joseph Addai (who also helps tremendously as a pass-blocker) is back after missing eight games with a neck injury. Addai has rushed for 45 and 44 yards the past two weeks. More impressive has been veteran Dominic Rhodes. The soon-to-be-32-year-old locker room favorite was a member of the UFL’s Florida Tuskers just a few months ago. Since resurfacing in Indy, Rhodes has rushed for 172 yards in three games His quickness and veteran savvy give the offense everything it was missing when first-round bust Donald Brown was starting.

And, of course, the Colts still have Manning. And, while they’re without Austin Collie and Dallas Clark, they still have one of the league’s premier one-two punches at wide receiver in Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon.



Baltimore Ravens (No. 5 seed; 12-4) @ Kansas City Chiefs (No. 4 seed; 10-6)   Sunday, 1:00, CBS


6.) Ravens: Joe Flacco to come of age?

Last year in the Wild Card Round, the Ravens went into Foxboro and punched the Patriots in the mouth/nose/throat/gut/groin. They ran the ball 52 times for 234 yards, which is why few people crowed about Joe Flacco’s almost irrelevant performanJ. Flacco (US Presswire)ce. The then-second-year quarterback was 4/10 for 34 yards…on the day. An interception made Flacco’s passer rating an imperfect 10.

We wont’ see another Pop Warner gameplan like this from John Harbaugh’s club. Sure, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will be enticed to attack the Chiefs’ 15th-ranked run defense– especially given that Ray Rice looks fresher than he did early in the season and that Oakland’s Michael Bush gashed the Chiefs for 137 yards in Week 17 (most of those yards came from attacking the undersized defensive ends on off-tackle runs). But the Ravens have been grooming Flacco for this opportunity. His 2010 numbers wound up being nearly identical to his 2009 numbers – just 10 fewer attempts, nine fewer completions and nine more passing yards overall – but the Ravens used less six-man offensive line formations and more spread receiver sets this season. In other words, they put more on Flacco.
This makes sense considering Baltimore traded a small ransom for wideout Anquan Boldin, signed veteran T.J. Houshmandzadeh, signed speedster Donte’ Stallworth and drafted tight end Ed Dickson. The Ravens have more aerial weapons than they’ve ever had, which is why this time they’ll ask their third-year franchise quarterback to be a weapon himself.



7.) Chiefs: Can coaches carry them?

For a man known for being difficult to work with, Todd Haley sure showed admirable humility this past offseason. The second-year head coach and respected offensive guru realized that clearing play-calling duties off his ultra crowded head coaching plate would ultimately help the team. So, Haley welcomed Charlie Weiss to his staff, knowing full-well that the former Patriots offensive coordinator would almost certainly get the lion’s share of the credit if, you know, Matt Cassel went from being a hot seat starter to 27 TD-7 INT passer.

Operating in Weiss’ familiar system (a system Cassel learned primarily from Josh McDaniels in New England), the 28-year-old ex-USC backup has been exactly what a team with the league’s best rushing attack needs: a caretaking quarterback capable of making the occasional big play. Much of the credit for Cassel’s success belongs to Weiss.

Weiss isn’t the only coach who has turned in a masterful season for the Chiefs. Offensive line coach Bill Muir has been fantastic with a callow unit that was originally thought to be very vulnerable at the tackle and center positions, while running backs coach Maurice Carthon has helped Jamaal Charles blossom into a 1,467-yard rusher (a 1,467-yard rusher who primarily comes off the T. Haley (US Presswire)bench, no less).

Defensively, coordinator Romeo Crennel’s system has flourished despite an undersized front seven and inexperienced secondary. That secondary, which has often featured dual rookies at the safety spots (first-rounder Eric Berry and fifth-rounder Kendrick Lewis) plus a rookie in the slot (cornerback Javier Arenas) has benefitted from the tutelage of Hall of Fame defensive back Emmitt Thomas. Finally, give credit to linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, who has overseen a unit that successfully transformed nickel inside ‘backers Derrick Johnson and Javon Belcher into starters. The emergence of the young safeties and those speedy linebackers has infused speed into the interior of Kansas City’s defense.

You could argue that no team maximizes its talent through a variety of personnel packages better than the Chiefs. But is the reliance on coaching a good thing? The Chiefs did not look very well coached in their season finale against the Raiders, particularly on offense. Cassel completed 11 of 33 throws and was under immense pressure the entire afternoon. One can’t help but wonder if the news about Weiss heading to Florida isn’t distracting (especially given that the relationship with Haley likely wound up having something to do with Weiss’ decision).



Green Bay Packers (No. 6 seed; 10-6) @ Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3 seed; 10-6)   Sunday, 4:30, FOX


8.) Packers: DE-FENSE! (boom, boom) DE-FENSE! (boom, boom)

Columnists and analysts will be most tempted to fall back on the moment myth when talking about the Green Bay Packers this week. They’re that team that “nobody wants to face heading into the playoffs”. It’s true, Green Bay is hot right now. But the reason isn’t momentum – it’s talent, deception and aggression on the defensive side of the ball.
C. Woodson (US Presswire)
Injuries have ravaged the Packers D, but only in the front seven. Coordinator Dom Capers has still be able to prove what Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams proved last season, and what Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau proved the season before that: you can basically do whatever you want with your front seven as long as you have an elite back four. In the NFL, an elite back four includes: a true cover corner (Tramon Williams, ala Jabari Greer/Ike Taylor), a rangy safety (Nick Collins, ala Darren Sharper/Ryan Clark) and a versatile playmaker (Charles Woodson, ala Roman Harper/Troy Polamalu).

What Capers has that Williams did not have (but that LeBeau certainly had) is a dominant pass-rusher. In fact, Green Bay might suddenly have two. Clay Matthews continues to punish teams with his speed off the edge (by the way, a side note, don’t listen to analysts who simply look at Matthews’ somewhat slender stature and determine he can’t anchor against the run – the guy has been a tremendous playside run defender the past few weeks). In addition to Matthews, undrafted rookie Erik Walden has exploded since filling in for injured Frank Zombo (another undrafted rookie who was filling in for injured Brandon Chillar….who was filling in for injured Brady Poppinga – seriously). Walden led the Packers with 11 tackles and two sacks Sunday against the Bears.

Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback. Or, given that he hasn’t yet won a playoff game, perhaps we have to say he’s a quarterback with great skills. Either way, Rodgers makes Green Bay’s offense capable of greatness. But the absence of an adequate running back also makes Green Bay’s offense vulnerable.

The reason the Packers are in the postseason is because of their defense. It allowed just three points in the make-or-break finale against the Bears, and it forced six turnovers in the make-or-break matchup against the Giants the previous week.



9.) Eagles: A quarterback change?

Hard to believe – maybe even impossible to believe – but according to ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio (via Pro Football Talk), Andy Reid may consider benching Michael Vick in Philly’s Wild Card game against Green Bay. The Eagles coaching staff is extremely alarmed by Vick’s inability to recognize presnap blitzes. As ESPN’s NFL Matchup Show pointed out, M. Vick (US Presswire)recognition problems are what led to most of the sacks Vick took against the Vikings in the Tuesday night loss.

Vick did not practice with the team prior to the meaningless Cowboys game (which he sat out in order to rest his battered 6’0”, 215-pound body). Instead, he spent the week studying Green Bay’s 3-4 defense. Vick torched that defense in his 2010 debut off the bench back in Week 1, but that was only because the Packers had spent the week preparing for quintessential pocket passer Kevin Kolb (whom they destroyed, by the way).

It’d be great to know how much time the Packers spend preparing for Kolb this week. Do they – or anyone – really believe Reid would have the gall to pull the league’s presumed MVP runner up in the playoffs? The backlash Mike Shanahan took for pulling Donovan McNabb in a regular season game at Detroit would be a mere blip compared to the backlash Reid would take for pulling Vick in the City of Brotherly Love.

The Eagles obviously hope it won’t come to this. And it probably won’t. But this Sunday will prove whether Vick has really become a student of the game. No question he’s putting forth the effort to study the film and playbook; the question is whether that effort will pay off.




10.) Quick Hits: The bye week teams

With so much focus on the immediate playoff matchups, it’s always amazing how far off the radar the No. 1 and 2 seed teams drop during Wild Card week. Here’s just a little something to help keep the bye week clubs in the back of your mind.;

**The Patriots finished with an NFL-best 14-2 record. It’s the fourth time in Bill Belichick’s career that he’s reached 14 wins. (Too bad this stat, like virtually all other regular season stats, will be rendered virtually moot in two years when the NFL decides to water down its flourishing product by adding two more games to the regular season).

**The Steelers will be as well rested as a BCS bowl team once they take the field for their Divisional Round matchup. Pittsburgh will have played the hapless Panthers on Thursday night in Week 16, rested for 10 days, played the hapless Browns in Week 17, then rested for another two weeks.

**The Falcons might be the most banal, methodical No. 1 seed in NFL history. Their season has consisted of nothing but 12-play, 77-yard drives capped with a Michael Turner/Tony Gonzalez/Roddy White touchdown.

**Lovie Smith was true to his word: the Bears played to win in Week 17. The Bears didn’t get the win, of course, but no player in that locker room regrets the effort. And doesn’t it just seem like ever since the Giants gave the undefeated Patriots all they could handle on that epic Saturday night contest at the end of the ’07 season, more teams have played to win in their meaningless games?

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Posted on: December 27, 2010 1:18 am
Edited on: December 27, 2010 1:19 am
 

10 stories worth your attention Week 16

Posted by Andy Benoit

1. The NFC’s new most dangerous team?

It took a little over three hours for the Green Bay Packers to become the favorites in the running for this year’s “Wild-Card team that nobody wants to face” moniker. Their 45-17 dismantling of the New York Giants was a showcase of explosion, bA. Rodgers (US Presswire)oth offensively and defensively. Aaron Rodgers completed passes of 36, 26 and 24 yards to Greg Jennings. He lasered an 80-yard catch-and-run score to Jordy Nelson (safety Deon Grant’s lack of burst helped the play) and later found the lanky slot receiver for a 38-yarder. Rodgers also found Donald Driver for a 33-yarder against cornerback Terrell Thomas, who was targeted all afternoon.

The Packers did not run particularly well. Brandon Jackson managed just 39 yards on 18 attempts; the rest of the team combined for a more-respectable 80 yards on 17 attempts. However, perhaps building off their rushing success from last Sunday at New England, the Packer offense at least showed balance early on, running on 10 of its first 20 plays and having 18 rush attempts vs. 23 pass attempts at halftime. (By the way, in what was perhaps the emptiest quote of the year, Mike McCarthy told FOX sideline reporter Pam Oliver at halftime that he’d like his team to have better run/pass balance in the second half).

At the end of the day, Rodgers sealed the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award with 404 yards and four touchdowns. Numbers half that good would have gotten a win considering Green Bay’s defense forced five turnovers. FORCED is the operative word here; Ahmad Bradshaw’s fumble was bad, but the story of that play was Charles Woodson getting in the backfield and punching the ball out. And Woodson’s punch out wasn’t as fierce as the one Clay Matthews had on Brandon Jacobs two possessions later.

Aside from a few uncharacteristic deep coverage blunders in man-to-man by cornerback Tramon Williams, Dom Capers’ unit was excellent. Injuries have left the Pack D with a few deficiencies this season, but as the ’09 Saints showed, personnel deficiencies can be masked with big plays generated by an aggressive, complex scheme.



2. A Giant meltdown unfolding?

The New York papers on Monday aren’t going to characterize Sunday’s game as a “Packers win” – they’ll characterize it as a “Giants loss”. And that will be accurate. The Giants were as sloppy as the Packers were great. Eli Manning tossed four interceptions, bringing his league-leading total to 24 on the season. If interceptions weren’t automatically credited to the quarterback but, instead, charged to culpable players the same way errors are charged in baseball, Manning’s pick total would be somewhere around 15 this season. No passer has been shafted by his receivers in the turnovers department quite like Manning this season. And it’s not just the tipped balls; improper route running as a result of bad reads have become a specialty with this group (Hakeem Nicks illustrated this on more than one occasion Sunday).
A. Bradshaw (US Presswire)
The Giants have also struggled to run the ball these past two weeks. You can’t help but wonder if the re-insertion of Shaun O’Hara at center is to blame. O’Hara is one of the best veteran blockers in the game, but the Giants found a rhythm when he was hurt and guard Rich Seubert was filling-in in the middle. That rhythm has been nonexistent in the two weeks since O’Hara returned.

Also non-existent is New York’s pass-rush – at least on paper. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck were able to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers, but only once did that pressure result in a sack. Rodgers’ mobility and natural playmaking prowess took over this game. A week ago, it was Michael Vick’s mobility and natural playmaking prowess taking over. Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has concocted two good gameplans the past two weeks, but given the breakdowns from his defense, it’s possible he’s now questioning whether his back seven is talented enough to handle the heavy doses of man coverage.

The New York media is going to turn all of these issues into a “Tom Coughlin hot seat” discussion, which is understandable but nevertheless silly. The Giants’ problems have not been schematic or strategic, they’ve been mental. And those mental problems have not been continuous like the problems we saw in Dallas or are currently seeing in San Francisco. Rather, the mental mistakes have just been of the spectacular variety. The Giants are fine for nine plays, but on the 10th, they’ll make the grand blunder. It’s easy for a columnist to chalk this up to Coughlin losing the team, but players don’t do things like fumble, miss tackles against amazing offensive athletes or punt the ball to the wrong spot because they’ve stopped listening to their coach. Coaching changes come about when teams stop playing hard. If anything, the Giants are playing too hard and pressing. Nevertheless, this rationale will hold little water in the Big Apple this week, as Coughlin’s seat is warming with his team now needings serious outside help just to reach the postseason.



3. As for that other New York squad…

No playoff worries for the Jets – they’re in. They have David Garrard to thank. The Jaguars quarterback gave the Redskins excellent field position with his overthrown interception to Carlos Rogers in the first quarter, leading to a Rex Grossman one-yard touchdown pass. Then, in overtime, Garrard did it again, only this time he went with an underthrow to complete the pick (cornerback Kevin Barnes as the lucky recipient). Barnes’ interception set up Graham Gano’s third successful overtime field goal on the season, which dropped the Jaguars to 8-7 and eliminated them as New York’s only chaser the AFC Wild Card race.

So the Jets are in despite losing 38-34 at Chicago. Not an ideal clinching scenario, of course. Perhaps there is reason to worry about the Jet defense. After all, Jay Cutler had three touchdown passes of 25-plus yards…in the third quarter alone. And Matt Forte needed just 13 carries to become the first player in 21 games to rush for 100 yards against Rex Ryan’s D* (Forte finished with 113 yards on 19 carries). The Jets got no pass-rush Sunday and looked totally unaccustomed to the concept of tackling players in frigid temperatures. But, as you’ll read about in Story 4, there was one factor that could tag a legitimate asterisk on this aspersion of the defense.
D. Keller (US Presswire)
The rest of Story 3 pertains to a Jets offense that posted 27 points (Dwight Lowery’s interception return provided the other seven). In short, it was spectacular. Pretty much everything that was predicted in my Week 16 Key Matchup feature proved to be 180 degrees wrong. Shonn Greene managed 70 yards on 12 carries (by the way, don’t be surprised if Greene once again becomes the featured back in the postseason; LaDainian Tomlinson, who has been a somewhat listless ballcarrier the past two months, had just 28 yards on 13 carries Sunday). Mark Sanchez completed 24/37 by throwing consistently over the middle of the field. His favorite target was Dustin Keller (seven catches, 79 yards).

Credit Brian Schottenheimer for devising one of the shrewdest offensive gameplans we’ve seen this season. Schottenheimer used a host of presnap gyrations and postsnap misdirections to get the speedy Bears linebackers flowing away from the play and to enabled Sanchez to make simple reads and short, comfortable throws. Even most of the plays in which Sanchez went downfield and hit his second or third target were a result of brilliant design (the one that comes to mind is Santonio Holmes’ 23-yard touchdown in which safety Danieal Manning was forced to abandon his deep zone and pick up Keller’s drag route over the middle).

Last Sunday, the Jets got their first offensive touchdown since Thanksgiving. This Sunday, they got their first passing touchdown since Thanksgiving. Even in a losing effort, they’ve all but run out of statistical droughts just in time for the playoffs.
*It was believed that Rashard Mendenhall had 100 yards rushing against the Jets last week. However, the powers that be went back a day after the game and ruled that Mendenhall actually had 99 yards.




4. Soldier Field Quagmire

Here’s a prediction: in an upcoming postseason game the Bears will give up a bunch of big plays and lose at home to a team they’ll believe they were better than. They’ll come away realizing that the atrocious field conditions at Soldier Field will always do what they did in Week 16 against the Jets: create an enormous advantage for the offense. On a sloppy field, pass-rushers can’t get enough traction to fire off the ball (this is part of the reason New York’s athletic but inexperienced right tackle Wayne Hunter singlehandedly shutout Julius Peppers) and defensive backs can’t recover quickly enough to handle a receiver’s double move.

Realizing that they’re still a defensive team even though Jay Cutler has blossomed in Mike Martz’s well-crafted and well-taught system, the Bears will look to ensure that a sloppy field never costs them another Super Bowl run again. Thus, in 2011, out with the mud and sand painted to look like grass and in with the ultra-consistent field turf.

You might be thinking that the Bears should actually enjoy their sloppy field. After all, the field is the same for both teams, and at least the Bears, unlike their opponents, are familiar with it. That’s a valid concept, but in this case, the conditions are so extreme that no team can render an advantage. Only offensive players benefit, and even they would like a more reliable playing surface. This is why the Bear players have been vociferously griping about the field conditions this season.

Of course, the Bears don’t necessarily have to risk learning a tough lesson in the playoffs here. They can install FieldTurf tomorrow if they want. The Patriots did that in the middle of the ’06 season. And the Cowboys replaced their Astroturf with FieldTurf in the middle of the ’02 season.



5. Chargers make us kick ourselves
P. Rivers (US Presswire)
Have you ever found yourself counting on a close friend to come through big for you but doubting that they actually will? Perhaps you are working on an important project together. Or maybe you need the close friend to give you a ride to the airport. Or loan you something of necessity. Or just be a sidekick at a special event. Anyway, as the big moment draws nearer, you have a feeling that your close friend is not going to come through. But because they’re a close friend and because they’ve come through before, you ignore your intuition.

Then, sure enough, when the moment comes, your close friend doesn’t come through and you’re left wondering why you didn’t act when you thought you saw it coming.

This is what watching the 2010 San Diego Chargers has been like. We figured the Chargers would win the AFC West because they always win the AFC West. When they stumbled out of the gates with a 2-5 record, we started to worry. When they rebounded but then suffered an ugly loss to the Raiders a few weeks ago, we got nervous but ultimately assumed everything was still cool.

Then, sure enough, on Sunday, the perennial AFC West champs went to Cincinnati and got pummeled by a Bengals team that, as it turns out, is probably better without its divisive star receivers. The loss dropped San Diego to 8-7 and officially out of the postseason. The team that we worried would let us down but assumed would somehow not let us down wound up letting us down.

It’s shocking that it was THIS Charger team that finally fell short in the end. Yes, the bumbling special teams put the club in a 2-5 hole. And yes, injuries and holdouts pocked the offense. But it’s still an offense that ranks second in total yards. Oh, and by the way, the defense ranks FIRST in total yards. In any year, it would be unusual for a No. 2 offense or a No. 1 defense to miss the postseason. For a No. 2 offense and a No. 1 defense to be of the same team AND miss the postseason? Unbelievable.



6. A head coaching career headed to the Singletary – errr, cemetery

In a small (and rare) victory for justice in the NFC West, the Cardinals beat the Cowboys on an improbable finish Christmas night (as meaningless games go, that one was as entertaining as it gets). The Cardinals’ win makes it possible for the 49ers to finish last in football’s worst division (Arizona just needs to beat San Fran next week).
M. Singletary (US Presswire)
No team deserves a basement finish more than San Francisco. Mike Singletary has been a lame duck since virtually Halloween – and the players have known it. Twice this season Singletary has questioned a quarterback on the sideline only to have the quarterback shout back in his face: Alex Smith in the Sunday night loss against Philadelphia and Troy Smith most recently in the 25-17 loss at St. Louis.
Not long after shouting at Singletary, Troy was benched for Alex. Alex will be remembered this game for showing horrendous pocket awareness on the final fourth quarter drive low-lighted by his second down sack and Ted Ginn’s inexplicable failure to get out of bounds after converting a fourth down in the waning seconds.

It’s not fair to criticize either Smith for shouting at their head coach because we don’t know what was being said. But it IS fair to ask: Can you imagine Belichick/Cowher/Tomlin/Dungy/Parce
lls etc. having a quarterback shout in their face? Sure, it’s a competitive, emotional game. But you just don’t see head coaches get shouted at by quarterbacks. Even when Rich Gannon and Jon Gruden would bicker, all that was was bickering. The Smiths and Singletary haven’t been merely bickering. Neither Smith has a reputation for being an insubordinate guy (though some believe Alex Smith helped run Mike Nolan out of town). On the surface, it looks like not all the Niner players, and not these quarterbacks in particular, truly respect the head coach.

It might not matter, as Singletary is out now. Jed York will likely hire a GM before he hires a new head coach. Too bad Bruce Allen is already locked up in Washington; Allen’s presence wouldn’t hurt San Francisco’s chances at coaxing Jon Gruden back to the Bay Area.
Whoever the new GM is, he’d better have an eye for quarterbacks. That seems to be all the 49ers are truly missing. San Francisco’s defensive front seven is borderline outstanding (just ask the Rams, who managed 60 yards on 28 rushing attempts Sunday). There are playmakers at all the offensive skill positions. And, though the offensive line has struggled, it’s a unit that features two first-round rookies (left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Anthony Davis).



7. The all-important meaningless games

A side effect that had to be unforeseen when the NFL decided to schedule only divisional matchups for Week 17 is the bizarre scenario of teams still chasing playoff berths but having a meaningless game in Week 16. The Colts and Seahawks both experienced this Sunday. Because the Jaguars lost early to the Redskins, the Colts did not technically need to win at Oakland. All that matters is that they beat the Titans next week. For the Seahawks, the same situation played out at Tampa Bay because of the Niners’ loss to the Rams.

The Seahawks played like a team that fully understood this scenario. The Bucs did whatever they wanted against them. Josh Freeman tossed five touchdowns, which matched the number of incompletions he had on 26 pass attempts. LeGarrette Blount racked up 164 yards on 18 carries. Tampa’s defense held Seattle to 179 yards. Seattle scored only eight points after Matt Hasselbeck left with a non-contact hip injury. The 38-15 loss means the Seahawks’ average D. Rhodes (US Presswire)margin of defeat this season is an astonishing 21 points. The closest of their nine losses was 15 points (Week 11 vs. the Saints).

The Colts, on the other hand, played like a team that had no idea it was partaking in a meaningless game. For starters, they did not roll over and put Curtis Painter on the field. They did, however, put Dominic Rhodes on the field, but only because they think the veteran journeyman might end up being their featured back in the playoffs. Joseph Addai returned after missing eight weeks with a neck injury. The first-round pick of ’06 was brought along fairly slowly, finishing the game with 45 yards on 12 carries.

For the past two months, another former first-round pick, Donald Brown, has been filling in for Addai. However, the Colts brass may finally be admitting what they’ve likely been grumbling all along: Brown lacks the necessary quickness and vision to be a quality NFL back. Brown got only six carries against the Raiders; Rhodes got 17. But wait! Brown was coming off a career-best 129 yards rushing against the Jaguars! He was snatched off the waiver wires in all my fantasy leagues! He’s a young first-rounder! No way the Colts would choose Rhodes over him!

But that seems to be the case. The reality is the NFL is not a gaping-holes league. What Brown did against Jacksonville was a product of Jacksonville’s poor linebacking and safety play. Rhodes has better shiftiness and awareness than Brown. Rhodes’ return to relevance may end up saving the Colts. Indy rushed for 191 yards against the Raiders. If they can muster even a modest threat running the ball, they’ll be a tough out.



8. A higher power in Denver

Tim Tebow’s second NFL start was a Testament – err, testament to the value of mobility for a young quarterback. John Madden always said that it’s important a young passer be able to move because, inevitably, a young passer is going to panic under duress and be inclined to flee the pocket. Tebow did not show a whole lot of panic facing Houston, owner of the league’s worst pass defense (if not worst defense overall….did you know the Texans have now set an all-time NFL record by allowing 24 points in 14 games this season?).

The first-round rookie threw for 308 yards, completing 16/29 passes. Tebow also scrambled for 27 yards on 10 runs, including his game-winning six-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Brandon Lloyd was responsible for 111 of Tebow’s yards. Most enchanting was Lloyd’s spectacular 41-yarder in which he elevated to show off his otherworldly suppleness.

Bronco fans were happy with Tebow, but Panther fans were thrilled. Denver’s win locked up the No. 1 pick in the 2011 Draft for the lowly Panthers.



9. Business as usual for Baltimore

Ray Lewis vowed that the Ravens would not let Peyton Hillis run over them again. (Hillis rushed for 144 yards against this club in his Week 3 NFL coming out party.) There isn’t a soul alive who didn’t believe all week that Lewis was good for his word here. Which is why there isn’t a soul alive who is the least bit surprised with Baltimore’s matter-of-fact 20-10 win at Cleveland.

Ed Reed had a pair of interceptions in this game (Colt McCoy struggled with accuracy and had too many balls hang up in the air); the Ravens are now 10-0 when Reed has a multi-pick game. Some might say Reed was on fire Sunday. I’d love to, except doing so would, at this point, be a sorry, obvious joke given what happened with Reed’s jacket on the sideline late in the fourth quarter.



10. Quick Hits

**Santonio Holmes vowed to the CBS broadcast crew earlier in the week that he’d never wears sleeves during a game because sleeves caused him to fumble once at Ohio State. Then Holmes wore sleeves against the Bears. And, sure enough, he fumbled early in the first half.

**Hard to believe that the upper bowl at Arrowhead Stadium was only half full fJ. Flacco (US Presswire)or the Chiefs division-clinching win against the Titans. The Chiefs, remember, sold out a record 156 straight games from December 1990 through December 2009.

**I have heard from a few people recently about the outstanding play of Bills NT Kyle Williams. I’ll have to watch the film closer after the season, but on a surface level glance, I have trouble believing any members of the league’s worst run defense is playing very well. Every time I looked over at the Patriots-Bills game Sunday, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead were picking up five yards on runs that should have gone for one or two. It’s been that way all season with the Bills.

**Despite being a game manager his first two seasons as a pro, on Sunday Joe Flacco became just the sixth player in NFL history to throw for 10,000 yards in his first three years.

**Aaron Rodgers debuted his new, safer helmet against the Giants. My question is if the NFL is so concerned about concussions, why aren’t more players, whether they’ve had a concussion or not, being forced to make this helmet switch?

**The Raiders-Colts final score (31-26) was only close because the Raiders got an opening kickoff touchdown return from Jacoby Ford and 59-yard and 54-yard field goals from Sebastian Janikowski.

**The Chargers ought to be worried about first-round rookie Ryan Mathews. Besides being injury prone and inconsistent, the Fresno State product has been downright inexplosive. Mathews’ 24-yard touchdown scamper against the Bengals marked his longest run on the season.

**Will Brinson and I reviewed all of the major Week 16 stories in the CBSSports.com Football Podcast Sunday night. Click here to check it out.


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Posted on: December 7, 2010 4:30 pm
 

Hot Routes 12.7.10: Rex says, "Look at me!"



Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel writes that New England coach Bill Belichick gloated over the 45-3 win by his team against the Jets by expressing almost no emotion afterward. Writes Wetzel, “For Rex Ryan, the only thing more frustrating than getting humiliated by Belichick on the field is the fact Belichick hardly dignifies the rivalry off of it. Ryan can’t make any more noise than he already does. He can’t beg any harder for attention from Belichick. He can’t declare war any clearer. He’s done everything he can to make this personal – coach v. coach. … And yet all he gets from Belichick is the outward exuberance of a preseason win.”

CBS Sports’ own Mike Freeman writes about a heated argument that occurred on the Jets sideline after they fell behind 17-0.

Lawrence Taylor is asking for a dismissal in his rape case, because his lawyers say police did not have a warrant when they arrested him in his hotel room.

The Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla says any coach considering the Broncos job has to be a fool. He also calls former coach Josh McDaniels a scapegoat.

Bears C Olin Kreutz wasn’t especially upset with Ndamukong Suh’s hit on Chicago QB Jay Cutler last Sunday. Kreutz said he didn’t think it was a dirty play.

Ravens LT Michael Oher tweeted during a game, got caught and took a $5,000 fine. He’s not sure if he’ll appeal it.

At least one McDaniels brother will keep his job in Denver.

Packers DE Cullen Jenkins aggravated a strained calf last Sunday, and coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that Jenkins will be out for next week’s game vs. the Lions. He could be out even longer than that.

The Colts have re-signed RB Dominic Rhodes. Most recently, Rhodes played in the UFL. Considering three Indianapolis RBs – Joseph Addai, Mike Hart and Donald Brown – are banged up, Rhodes might find some immediate playing time.

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