Tag:Jake Locker
Posted on: November 21, 2011 2:15 am
Edited on: November 21, 2011 12:23 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

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

 

1. Bear Down

The only thing surprising about Chicago's 31-20 victory -- their fifth-straight win -- over the Chargers was that the Bears let San Diego keep it that close. But not all is good news in Chicago right now, as multiple reports indicate that quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb during Sunday's game, may need surgery and could be lost for the season.

At a minimum, Cutler's likely to miss six weeks, so let's assume he's done for the regular season. So can the Bears still make the playoffs? Well, surprisingly, yes, but it obviously won't be easy.

If the Bears beat three of their final six opponents (we'll guess the Vikings, the Seahawks and the Chiefs) they'll finish 10-6. No one from the NFC West will cause any damage and it looks like Chicago just has to fight off the Giants or the Cowboys, the Lions and the Falcons.

They've got the tiebreaker over Atlanta, although right now the Bears lose out to the Lions because of division record. (Fortunately for them, Detroit has to play Green Bay twice.)

And Chicago has a formula for winning games without a ton of offense. The Bears defense knows how to score and Devin Hester can alter the outcome of a game every time he stands back to return a kick. The passing game should all but disappear, however.

Which means that Chicago will lean heavily on a below-average offensive line and ... Matt Forte.

Perhaps they should reconsider their stance about paying him after all.

2. Little Giants

Everyone always expects the Giants to swoon late in the season (because it's something they do, which is fair I suppose) but this year looked different after New York's win over New England two weeks ago and a tough loss in San Francisco last week.

Until Sunday night, when the Giants coughed up a 17-10 loss to the Vince Young-led Eagles anyway.

"This is as big a disappointment as we have had around here in a long time," coach Tom Coughlin said Sunday.

It should be, because things aren't going to get easier for Coughlin's squad any time soon. They face the Saints in New Orleans next week and then welcome the potentially undefeated Packers to New York in Week 13 before squaring off against the Cowboys in Dallas in Week 14.

That's about as big a nightmare as a schedule can be for an NFC East that just kicked itself out of the playoffs, and the Jets still loom, as does a second matchup with Dallas.

The Eagles wanted to give away this game too. DeSean Jackson had a ridiculous taunting penalty that (also somewhat ridiculously) resulted in a loss of 50 yards for the Eagles. Vince Young had three terrible picks. LeSean McCoy never really got going (53 yards on 22 carries before his final 60-yard run to end the game). Riley Cooper was the top receiver.

But the Giants wanted it less, and couldn't get any offense going, as receivers egged on easy passes and the offensive line got no push. Some of the playcalling was suspect, and it put the Giants in a pretty untenable position late in the game.

Which is probably fitting since that's where their 2011 season stands as well.

And even though it's OK to anticipate a Giants swoon, let's hold off on talking about the Eagles running the table just quite yet, please. We were here three weeks ago when they handled the Cowboys too.


3. Missing Pieces

One look at Cincinnati's 31-24 loss to Baltimore, and it's pretty clear how much the Bengals missed wide receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Leon Hall.

Andy Dalton got a shot at boosting his Rookie of the Year stock on Cincy's final drive, but came up short when the Ravens defensive line stepped up in a big way in their own red zone. Dalton missed Andrew Hawkins on first down, was busted for intentional grounding on second, threw incomplete to Jerome Simpson on third and was sacked by Pernell McPhee on fourth. One has to wonder how the goal line playcalling changes if Green's in the game.

On defense, the previously stout Bengals unit was gashed by the Ravens own rookie, Torrey Smith. Smith notched six catches for 165 yards, one touchdown and a number of different catches where he was wide open but made some fantastic grabs on throws from Joe Flacco that was a bit off.

There were three big plays that stand out for Baltimore's passing game: a 35-yard touchdown catch by Anquan Boldin (he was wide open), Smith's 38-yard TD (also wide open) and a 49-yard bomb that Smith reeled in near the goal line, where he just torched Nate Clements (watch below).


It's clearly not a coincidence when a team loses its best cornerback and subsequently gives up a bunch of big passing plays the next week.

And lest we leave this game without pointing out the obvious, the Ravens won once again when Ray Rice was productive and got more than five carries. That's not a coincidence either.

4. Silent Bob Strikes Back

Three weeks ago, Kevin Smith was unemployed, sitting at home, doing nothing. Or signing himself to various Madden rosters, which is even more depressing. On Sunday, he piled up 201 all-purpose yards, revived the Lions rushing attack, and was the catalyst in a 49-35 comeback win for the Lions over the Panthers that kept Detroit at the forefront of the NFC Wild Card race.

It's an awesome story, and Smith deserves all the love he's getting from analysts and all the love he got from the Detroit sideline every time he scored on his three touchdowns.

Three questions stand out to me with respect to Detroit's playoff hopes. 1) Can they avoid early deficits? 2) Can Smith sustain this success? 3) Did Matthew Stafford get healthy at halftime?

With no running game and an injured Stafford, the Lions look like the walking dead against Chicago last week. It was much of the same story in the first quarter against the Panthers, as Stafford threw two picks, looked terrible and the Lions mustered less than 10 yards on four rushes. But a Keiland Williams fumble with 2:30 left in the first quarter gave way to Smith, and he started off his second-chance Lions career with a 43-yard run and followed it up with a 28-yard touchdown catch on the next play.

If Smith is the answer -- and I'm not completely sold yet, but only because a one-legged homeless guy off the street could put 100 yards on that Panthers defense -- and Stafford's healthy, the answer to question No. 1 should be "yes."

We'll find out when Detroit plays Green Bay (twice) and New Orleans over the next six weeks whether they can avoid needing comebacks to win. If they can, there won't be a question about whether or not the Lions are playoff-worthy.

5. More Like a Tropical Storm

For 149 consecutive weeks of NFL action, a former Miami Hurricane has scored a touchdown. Consider that there are 17 weeks in each NFL season, and it works out to more than eight and a half years since a Hurricane failed to score in the NFL. That's bananas.

And yet we sit here, heading into Monday night's Patriots-Chiefs matchup and no member of "The U" has scored in Week 11. (Yes, this is considerably ironic since the 'Canes announced Sunday they wouldn't accept a bowl bid.)

Complicating matters for fans of Miami is the fact that it's pretty unlikely that a Hurricane will score on Monday night. There are only two players left that went to school in Coral Gables: Allen Bailey, a rookie defensive end for the Chiefs who's played in nine games, started none and recorded four tackles, and Vince Wilfork, veteran defensive tackle for the Pats who's inexplicably got two interceptions this season.

Wilfork's the best bet to score, but it'll almost certainly have to come on a fumble in the end zone or a red-zone interception. We've already seen Wilfork try to take on to the house this season, and it didn't work well.

So if you see Bill Belichick trot Wilfork out in a goal line formation during a late-game blowout, you know why. Of course, that alone would totally be worth seeing "The U" continue to tout itself as a producer of fine athletics.

Perhaps the craziest part of Miami alums not scoring? As pointed out Monday by my colleague Bruce Feldman, ex-Cane Kellen Winslow scored a touchdown but it was called back because he pushed off a defender. That defender was Sam Shields ... also a Miami alum.

6. The Jermaine Gresham Rule

I understand that Gresham actually fell victim to the "Calvin Johnson Rule" but he might deserve his subsection at the very least if/when the NFL addresses this disastrous rule.

See, the rule got the nickname when Calvin Johnson lost possession in the end zone. But that's the key -- he was in the end zone. Johnson caught the ball there and then lost it there. (Watch here at the 2:20 mark.)

Gresham, on the other hand, actually crossed the plain with possession. He had his feet in-bounds.

If he was a running back, we wouldn't have this issue, right? I'm pretty sure we wouldn't. Because possession would've been established (vis-a-vis the handoff, etc).

Technically, the officials got the call right, because Gresham lost possession as he fell to the ground, and he didn't make a "football-related move" inside the end zone.

But if you are in possession of the ball and cross the plain with said possession, that should be a done deal, right there. That's the reason why the goal line extends in hypothetical perpetuity. If a running back dives into the end zone over a big pile of people and fumbles after the ball's crossed the plain, it's a touchdown.

But if a wide receiver crosses the plain with possession of the ball, gets a freaking foot into the end zone and then doesn't maintain control all the way to the ground -- even if he had possession before he got into the end zone! -- it doesn't count?

Come on. That makes no sense. Let's fix it, please.

7. Chris Johnson Is 'Back,' Alright

Over the last week, I was repeatedly blistered by people who didn't believe me when I said that Chris Johnson was not "back" to his CJ2K form, despite a 130-yard rushing effort against the Panthers.

I watched that game closely, and what stood out to me was that Johnson's effort and burst and general running ability didn't mesh with the statistics he produced.

After Sunday's 23-17 loss to Atlanta, well, there's no question that Johnson's 2011 season remains lost. The Titans leading rusher in Week 11 was Matt Hasselbeck (one carry, 17 yards). Matt Ryan had a higher yards-per-carry average than Johnson. There were nine -- NINE! -- quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Johnson in Week 11, and it was almost ten as well as two on his own team:


If you take out Johnson's "long" run of the day, he finished with seven rushing yards on 11 carries. That's just flat-out embarrassing and any opponent with a modicum of rush defense can shut him down and make him ineffective.

That's really quite a shame, too, because Hasselbeck's renaissance season would be a lot more interesting with a rushing attack.

And while I'm doing rookie Jake Locker a disservice by not pointing out how good he was in backup duty for Tennessee, it's not as big a disservice as Johnson is doing to the team and the rookie quarterback who might have to overcome one of the most-talented backs in the NFL getting paid and totally disappearing from relevancy.

8. Moore Please

There's a fun little debate about whether the Dolphins, on a three-game winning streak that seemed unfathomable just, um, three weeks ago -- or the Bills -- on three-game losing streak after holding with the AFC East lead as late as the middle of October -- are the bigger story after Miami knocked Buffalo around 35-8.

But maybe the bigger story is the convergence of these two teams on a metaphorical NFL elevator, with the Dolphins trying their best to get out of the lobby and the Bills falling like Dennis Hopper rigged their ride.

To me, it might just be more about these two teams playing closer to what we expected. Buffalo's early-season run was an awesome storyline, but it was unsustainable, particularly with the loss of Eric Wood at center and Kyle Williams on the defensive line. Add in defenses figuring out that the Bills don't have a legit deep threat, and it's no surprise that they're not winning anymore.

Although considering the ridiculous amount of money they handed Ryan Fitzpatrick, they'd probably like to see something resembling offense. At least there aren't a ton of great quarterbacks in this upcoming draft class!

The Dolphins will likely be taking a quarterback at some point in the upcoming draft, but the question is how high they'll be picking, and that largely depends on how sustainable Matt Moore's current level of play under center is. Well, history tells us it's actually possible for him to succeed the rest of the way in.

In 2009, while playing with the Panthers, Moore stepped in for Jake Delhomme and closed out a lost season with a shocking 4-1 record for Carolina that saw him average 16 of 25 passing (62.7 percent) for 198 yards and two touchdowns per game. And that was in a John Fox offense, no less.

Don't expect him to backdoor the Pro Bowl or anything, but don't be surprised when the once-hapless Dolphins keep playing spoiler because Moore keeps streaking.

9. Best Draft Class ... Ever?

I've noted in this spot a couple times in the past few weeks that the 2011 NFL Draft class is one of the best we've seen in a long time, and maybe, dare I say, ever.

The first seven picks of the draft have been outstanding thus far into the season, and that doesn't even factor in Andy Dalton or DeMarco Murray, who might be the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors.

Well, two more guys made their mark on Sunday for this class.

Jake Locker entered the game for an injured Matt Hasselbeck against the Falcons on Sunday, and proceeded to nearly lead the Titans to a comeback, completing nine of 19 passes for 140 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Atlanta was up 23-3 at the time, so it's not like they were playing their opening-game defense, but Locker looked darn good in relief duty and the Titans should be excited, even though Hasselbeck will remain the starter.

Prince Amukamara, who the Giants took at 19th overall when he fell past Houston, made his first start on Sunday and also picked up his first career interception, while generally looking like a veteran against the Eagles. And yes, it still counts as an interception, even if Vince Young threw it.

10. Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

Early in the season, the Thanksgiving games contained only a little bit of drama, thanks to the Harbaugh family reunion in Baltimore. But suddenly we've got three of the best games in the NFL taking place on Thursday, and one of the most memorable Turkey Day slates we've seen in a while.

All six teams playing on Thursday won on Sunday and, collectively, those six teams are on a 26-game winning streak this season.

The Lions and Packers square off with Detroit getting its first shot at ending the Packers undefeated season, the Cowboys have a shot at really generating some separation in the NFC East as they host the inexplicably hot Dolphins and the Ravens/49ers square off to determine who gets all the pie at the Harbaugh household.

It's a collection of three fantastic games and it's almost enough to make me boycott my family's lunch-time festivities away from electronics. Thank goodness for DVR. And 200-person pot-luck lunches.

MUFFED PUNTS

Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Cam Newton set the rookie record for rushing touchdowns on Sunday (twice, technically) as he's got nine on the season now.
... Aaron Rodgers is just the second quarterback in history to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in his team's first 10 games; the other was Tom Brady in 2007.
... 2011 is the first season in NFL history to feature three quarterbacks with 3,000 yards and 20 or more touchdowns through 10 games, as Rodgers, Drew Brees and Brady all met the criteria this year.
... The Dolphins became just the third team in NFL history to win three straight games after losing their first seven or more games.
... After Keloah Pilares' TD return, six 100-yard kick returns have happened so far in 2011, which is one short of the NFL record.
... The Lions became the first team in NFL history to record three comebacks of more than 17 points in a single season on Sunday.

WORTH 1,000 WORDS


GIF O' THE WEEK

No Michael Vick and too many Vince Young interceptions make Andy Reid go something-something.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Mike Shanahan: Six losses in a row for the Redskins, who showed some promise by only losing in overtime. Or something.
  • Norv Turner -- The Chargers keep collapsing and there's nothing promising about their schedule. Three games against Jacksonville, Denver and Buffalo have to mean 2-1 at worst, or it might be time for Turner to move on.
  • Todd Haley: If the Pats whip the Chiefs on Monday night while the Raiders and Broncos keep winning, his seat just gets warmer.
  • Jim Caldwell: The Colts were upset by their bye. What can I say?
  • Steve Spagnuolo: I don't really understand the heat, but it's there.
  • Tom Coughlin: Also don't understand this heat, but let's just go ahead and get out front on this before the fans do.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (-1000): Haha, but no really, they were upset by their bye. Do you see?
Vikings (+125): See: below.
Panthers (+150): The Colts have to win two games.
Rams (+250): Again, it would require the Colts winning games.
Redskins (+300): If only they hadn't won three games early.

MVP Watch

Despite playing -- ahem -- "poorly," Aaron Rodgers is still the clear-cut favorite to win the MVP at season's end. I'm not sure what it would take to derail him, but I think it's probably an injury and an injury only. Tom Brady's got a shot to come from the outside because he's Tom Brady and the Pats schedule stinks, but if the Packers go undefeated, he won't have a chance. Meanwhile, I still like Tony Romo to get darkhorse candidacy by Week 14. Maybe we should just talk about the other awards.
Posted on: November 21, 2011 2:15 am
Edited on: November 21, 2011 12:23 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

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

 

1. Bear Down

The only thing surprising about Chicago's 31-20 victory -- their fifth-straight win -- over the Chargers was that the Bears let San Diego keep it that close. But not all is good news in Chicago right now, as multiple reports indicate that quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb during Sunday's game, may need surgery and could be lost for the season.

At a minimum, Cutler's likely to miss six weeks, so let's assume he's done for the regular season. So can the Bears still make the playoffs? Well, surprisingly, yes, but it obviously won't be easy.

If the Bears beat three of their final six opponents (we'll guess the Vikings, the Seahawks and the Chiefs) they'll finish 10-6. No one from the NFC West will cause any damage and it looks like Chicago just has to fight off the Giants or the Cowboys, the Lions and the Falcons.

They've got the tiebreaker over Atlanta, although right now the Bears lose out to the Lions because of division record. (Fortunately for them, Detroit has to play Green Bay twice.)

And Chicago has a formula for winning games without a ton of offense. The Bears defense knows how to score and Devin Hester can alter the outcome of a game every time he stands back to return a kick. The passing game should all but disappear, however.

Which means that Chicago will lean heavily on a below-average offensive line and ... Matt Forte.

Perhaps they should reconsider their stance about paying him after all.

2. Little Giants

Everyone always expects the Giants to swoon late in the season (because it's something they do, which is fair I suppose) but this year looked different after New York's win over New England two weeks ago and a tough loss in San Francisco last week.

Until Sunday night, when the Giants coughed up a 17-10 loss to the Vince Young-led Eagles anyway.

"This is as big a disappointment as we have had around here in a long time," coach Tom Coughlin said Sunday.

It should be, because things aren't going to get easier for Coughlin's squad any time soon. They face the Saints in New Orleans next week and then welcome the potentially undefeated Packers to New York in Week 13 before squaring off against the Cowboys in Dallas in Week 14.

That's about as big a nightmare as a schedule can be for an NFC East that just kicked itself out of the playoffs, and the Jets still loom, as does a second matchup with Dallas.

The Eagles wanted to give away this game too. DeSean Jackson had a ridiculous taunting penalty that (also somewhat ridiculously) resulted in a loss of 50 yards for the Eagles. Vince Young had three terrible picks. LeSean McCoy never really got going (53 yards on 22 carries before his final 60-yard run to end the game). Riley Cooper was the top receiver.

But the Giants wanted it less, and couldn't get any offense going, as receivers egged on easy passes and the offensive line got no push. Some of the playcalling was suspect, and it put the Giants in a pretty untenable position late in the game.

Which is probably fitting since that's where their 2011 season stands as well.

And even though it's OK to anticipate a Giants swoon, let's hold off on talking about the Eagles running the table just quite yet, please. We were here three weeks ago when they handled the Cowboys too.


3. Missing Pieces

One look at Cincinnati's 31-24 loss to Baltimore, and it's pretty clear how much the Bengals missed wide receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Leon Hall.

Andy Dalton got a shot at boosting his Rookie of the Year stock on Cincy's final drive, but came up short when the Ravens defensive line stepped up in a big way in their own red zone. Dalton missed Andrew Hawkins on first down, was busted for intentional grounding on second, threw incomplete to Jerome Simpson on third and was sacked by Pernell McPhee on fourth. One has to wonder how the goal line playcalling changes if Green's in the game.

On defense, the previously stout Bengals unit was gashed by the Ravens own rookie, Torrey Smith. Smith notched six catches for 165 yards, one touchdown and a number of different catches where he was wide open but made some fantastic grabs on throws from Joe Flacco that was a bit off.

There were three big plays that stand out for Baltimore's passing game: a 35-yard touchdown catch by Anquan Boldin (he was wide open), Smith's 38-yard TD (also wide open) and a 49-yard bomb that Smith reeled in near the goal line, where he just torched Nate Clements (watch below).


It's clearly not a coincidence when a team loses its best cornerback and subsequently gives up a bunch of big passing plays the next week.

And lest we leave this game without pointing out the obvious, the Ravens won once again when Ray Rice was productive and got more than five carries. That's not a coincidence either.

4. Silent Bob Strikes Back

Three weeks ago, Kevin Smith was unemployed, sitting at home, doing nothing. Or signing himself to various Madden rosters, which is even more depressing. On Sunday, he piled up 201 all-purpose yards, revived the Lions rushing attack, and was the catalyst in a 49-35 comeback win for the Lions over the Panthers that kept Detroit at the forefront of the NFC Wild Card race.

It's an awesome story, and Smith deserves all the love he's getting from analysts and all the love he got from the Detroit sideline every time he scored on his three touchdowns.

Three questions stand out to me with respect to Detroit's playoff hopes. 1) Can they avoid early deficits? 2) Can Smith sustain this success? 3) Did Matthew Stafford get healthy at halftime?

With no running game and an injured Stafford, the Lions look like the walking dead against Chicago last week. It was much of the same story in the first quarter against the Panthers, as Stafford threw two picks, looked terrible and the Lions mustered less than 10 yards on four rushes. But a Keiland Williams fumble with 2:30 left in the first quarter gave way to Smith, and he started off his second-chance Lions career with a 43-yard run and followed it up with a 28-yard touchdown catch on the next play.

If Smith is the answer -- and I'm not completely sold yet, but only because a one-legged homeless guy off the street could put 100 yards on that Panthers defense -- and Stafford's healthy, the answer to question No. 1 should be "yes."

We'll find out when Detroit plays Green Bay (twice) and New Orleans over the next six weeks whether they can avoid needing comebacks to win. If they can, there won't be a question about whether or not the Lions are playoff-worthy.

5. More Like a Tropical Storm

For 149 consecutive weeks of NFL action, a former Miami Hurricane has scored a touchdown. Consider that there are 17 weeks in each NFL season, and it works out to more than eight and a half years since a Hurricane failed to score in the NFL. That's bananas.

And yet we sit here, heading into Monday night's Patriots-Chiefs matchup and no member of "The U" has scored in Week 11. (Yes, this is considerably ironic since the 'Canes announced Sunday they wouldn't accept a bowl bid.)

Complicating matters for fans of Miami is the fact that it's pretty unlikely that a Hurricane will score on Monday night. There are only two players left that went to school in Coral Gables: Allen Bailey, a rookie defensive end for the Chiefs who's played in nine games, started none and recorded four tackles, and Vince Wilfork, veteran defensive tackle for the Pats who's inexplicably got two interceptions this season.

Wilfork's the best bet to score, but it'll almost certainly have to come on a fumble in the end zone or a red-zone interception. We've already seen Wilfork try to take on to the house this season, and it didn't work well.

So if you see Bill Belichick trot Wilfork out in a goal line formation during a late-game blowout, you know why. Of course, that alone would totally be worth seeing "The U" continue to tout itself as a producer of fine athletics.

Perhaps the craziest part of Miami alums not scoring? As pointed out Monday by my colleague Bruce Feldman, ex-Cane Kellen Winslow scored a touchdown but it was called back because he pushed off a defender. That defender was Sam Shields ... also a Miami alum.

6. The Jermaine Gresham Rule

I understand that Gresham actually fell victim to the "Calvin Johnson Rule" but he might deserve his subsection at the very least if/when the NFL addresses this disastrous rule.

See, the rule got the nickname when Calvin Johnson lost possession in the end zone. But that's the key -- he was in the end zone. Johnson caught the ball there and then lost it there. (Watch here at the 2:20 mark.)

Gresham, on the other hand, actually crossed the plain with possession. He had his feet in-bounds.

If he was a running back, we wouldn't have this issue, right? I'm pretty sure we wouldn't. Because possession would've been established (vis-a-vis the handoff, etc).

Technically, the officials got the call right, because Gresham lost possession as he fell to the ground, and he didn't make a "football-related move" inside the end zone.

But if you are in possession of the ball and cross the plain with said possession, that should be a done deal, right there. That's the reason why the goal line extends in hypothetical perpetuity. If a running back dives into the end zone over a big pile of people and fumbles after the ball's crossed the plain, it's a touchdown.

But if a wide receiver crosses the plain with possession of the ball, gets a freaking foot into the end zone and then doesn't maintain control all the way to the ground -- even if he had possession before he got into the end zone! -- it doesn't count?

Come on. That makes no sense. Let's fix it, please.

7. Chris Johnson Is 'Back,' Alright

Over the last week, I was repeatedly blistered by people who didn't believe me when I said that Chris Johnson was not "back" to his CJ2K form, despite a 130-yard rushing effort against the Panthers.

I watched that game closely, and what stood out to me was that Johnson's effort and burst and general running ability didn't mesh with the statistics he produced.

After Sunday's 23-17 loss to Atlanta, well, there's no question that Johnson's 2011 season remains lost. The Titans leading rusher in Week 11 was Matt Hasselbeck (one carry, 17 yards). Matt Ryan had a higher yards-per-carry average than Johnson. There were nine -- NINE! -- quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Johnson in Week 11, and it was almost ten as well as two on his own team:


If you take out Johnson's "long" run of the day, he finished with seven rushing yards on 11 carries. That's just flat-out embarrassing and any opponent with a modicum of rush defense can shut him down and make him ineffective.

That's really quite a shame, too, because Hasselbeck's renaissance season would be a lot more interesting with a rushing attack.

And while I'm doing rookie Jake Locker a disservice by not pointing out how good he was in backup duty for Tennessee, it's not as big a disservice as Johnson is doing to the team and the rookie quarterback who might have to overcome one of the most-talented backs in the NFL getting paid and totally disappearing from relevancy.

8. Moore Please

There's a fun little debate about whether the Dolphins, on a three-game winning streak that seemed unfathomable just, um, three weeks ago -- or the Bills -- on three-game losing streak after holding with the AFC East lead as late as the middle of October -- are the bigger story after Miami knocked Buffalo around 35-8.

But maybe the bigger story is the convergence of these two teams on a metaphorical NFL elevator, with the Dolphins trying their best to get out of the lobby and the Bills falling like Dennis Hopper rigged their ride.

To me, it might just be more about these two teams playing closer to what we expected. Buffalo's early-season run was an awesome storyline, but it was unsustainable, particularly with the loss of Eric Wood at center and Kyle Williams on the defensive line. Add in defenses figuring out that the Bills don't have a legit deep threat, and it's no surprise that they're not winning anymore.

Although considering the ridiculous amount of money they handed Ryan Fitzpatrick, they'd probably like to see something resembling offense. At least there aren't a ton of great quarterbacks in this upcoming draft class!

The Dolphins will likely be taking a quarterback at some point in the upcoming draft, but the question is how high they'll be picking, and that largely depends on how sustainable Matt Moore's current level of play under center is. Well, history tells us it's actually possible for him to succeed the rest of the way in.

In 2009, while playing with the Panthers, Moore stepped in for Jake Delhomme and closed out a lost season with a shocking 4-1 record for Carolina that saw him average 16 of 25 passing (62.7 percent) for 198 yards and two touchdowns per game. And that was in a John Fox offense, no less.

Don't expect him to backdoor the Pro Bowl or anything, but don't be surprised when the once-hapless Dolphins keep playing spoiler because Moore keeps streaking.

9. Best Draft Class ... Ever?

I've noted in this spot a couple times in the past few weeks that the 2011 NFL Draft class is one of the best we've seen in a long time, and maybe, dare I say, ever.

The first seven picks of the draft have been outstanding thus far into the season, and that doesn't even factor in Andy Dalton or DeMarco Murray, who might be the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors.

Well, two more guys made their mark on Sunday for this class.

Jake Locker entered the game for an injured Matt Hasselbeck against the Falcons on Sunday, and proceeded to nearly lead the Titans to a comeback, completing nine of 19 passes for 140 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Atlanta was up 23-3 at the time, so it's not like they were playing their opening-game defense, but Locker looked darn good in relief duty and the Titans should be excited, even though Hasselbeck will remain the starter.

Prince Amukamara, who the Giants took at 19th overall when he fell past Houston, made his first start on Sunday and also picked up his first career interception, while generally looking like a veteran against the Eagles. And yes, it still counts as an interception, even if Vince Young threw it.

10. Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

Early in the season, the Thanksgiving games contained only a little bit of drama, thanks to the Harbaugh family reunion in Baltimore. But suddenly we've got three of the best games in the NFL taking place on Thursday, and one of the most memorable Turkey Day slates we've seen in a while.

All six teams playing on Thursday won on Sunday and, collectively, those six teams are on a 26-game winning streak this season.

The Lions and Packers square off with Detroit getting its first shot at ending the Packers undefeated season, the Cowboys have a shot at really generating some separation in the NFC East as they host the inexplicably hot Dolphins and the Ravens/49ers square off to determine who gets all the pie at the Harbaugh household.

It's a collection of three fantastic games and it's almost enough to make me boycott my family's lunch-time festivities away from electronics. Thank goodness for DVR. And 200-person pot-luck lunches.

MUFFED PUNTS

Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Cam Newton set the rookie record for rushing touchdowns on Sunday (twice, technically) as he's got nine on the season now.
... Aaron Rodgers is just the second quarterback in history to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in his team's first 10 games; the other was Tom Brady in 2007.
... 2011 is the first season in NFL history to feature three quarterbacks with 3,000 yards and 20 or more touchdowns through 10 games, as Rodgers, Drew Brees and Brady all met the criteria this year.
... The Dolphins became just the third team in NFL history to win three straight games after losing their first seven or more games.
... After Keloah Pilares' TD return, six 100-yard kick returns have happened so far in 2011, which is one short of the NFL record.
... The Lions became the first team in NFL history to record three comebacks of more than 17 points in a single season on Sunday.

WORTH 1,000 WORDS


GIF O' THE WEEK

No Michael Vick and too many Vince Young interceptions make Andy Reid go something-something.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Mike Shanahan: Six losses in a row for the Redskins, who showed some promise by only losing in overtime. Or something.
  • Norv Turner -- The Chargers keep collapsing and there's nothing promising about their schedule. Three games against Jacksonville, Denver and Buffalo have to mean 2-1 at worst, or it might be time for Turner to move on.
  • Todd Haley: If the Pats whip the Chiefs on Monday night while the Raiders and Broncos keep winning, his seat just gets warmer.
  • Jim Caldwell: The Colts were upset by their bye. What can I say?
  • Steve Spagnuolo: I don't really understand the heat, but it's there.
  • Tom Coughlin: Also don't understand this heat, but let's just go ahead and get out front on this before the fans do.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (-1000): Haha, but no really, they were upset by their bye. Do you see?
Vikings (+125): See: below.
Panthers (+150): The Colts have to win two games.
Rams (+250): Again, it would require the Colts winning games.
Redskins (+300): If only they hadn't won three games early.

MVP Watch

Despite playing -- ahem -- "poorly," Aaron Rodgers is still the clear-cut favorite to win the MVP at season's end. I'm not sure what it would take to derail him, but I think it's probably an injury and an injury only. Tom Brady's got a shot to come from the outside because he's Tom Brady and the Pats schedule stinks, but if the Packers go undefeated, he won't have a chance. Meanwhile, I still like Tony Romo to get darkhorse candidacy by Week 14. Maybe we should just talk about the other awards.
Posted on: November 20, 2011 8:53 pm
 

Munchak: Hasselbeck still the starting QB

J. Locker did a nice job replacing M. Hasselbeck (AP).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Just because rookie quarterback Jake Locker, while replacing the injured Matt Hasselbeck, led the Titans to 14 unanswered points and nearly led a comeback against the Falcons before Tennessee fell 23-17, that doesn’t mean a quarterback controversy is brewing in Nashville.

That’s because Titans coach Mike Munchak said after the game that there was no doubt that a healthy Hasselbeck is still the starting quarterback.

Hasselbeck was unimpressive today, completing 13 of 25 passes for 124 yards and an interception and leading Tennessee only to a field goal (he didn’t, um, get too much from Chris Johnson, who carried the ball 12 times for 13 yards). But after a Falcons defender hit Hasselbeck in the arm, causing a sprained elbow, Locker gave the team a spark, throwing both touchdown passes to Nate Washington.

As Rapid Reporter Matt Rybaltowski wrote, Locker made plays with his athleticism and his ability to extend plays, and he looked good while throwing on the run.

Hasselbeck will undergo tests to determine the extent of his injury, but Munchak doesn’t expect it to be serious.



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Posted on: August 31, 2011 5:53 pm
 

Report: Positive movement between Johnson, Titans

Posted by Ryan Wilson

It's something. And at this stage of the proceedings, with the regular season barely a week away and the Titans' offense in dire need of a playmaker, any indication that Chris Johnson could return to Tennessee with a new contract is reason for optimism.

On Wednesday night, the Tennessean's Jim Wyatt is the bearer of potentially good news (via Twitter, naturally):

"Now for Johnson's contract news, and it's better. Sources say there has been positive movement for the 1st time between Titans and Johnson."

Pretty vague, yes, but it's certainly better than the headline we saw exactly a week ago: "Titans, Chris Johnson end meeting without deal."

And since the Titans have made it clear that they won't trade Johnson, there was only one of two ways this standoff would end.

One, Johnson could remain on his couch, as the Titans began the season with a rookie quarterback a play away from taking the field, only willing to budge if the team made him one of the league's highest paid players. Or two, the two sides could continue to negotiate a new contract, one that would pay Johnson somewhere between what the top NFL player pulls down and what the top running back makes.

For now, at least, the latter scenario appears to be prevailing. Whether it continues is contingent on, well, money.

We talked about it on Wednesday's Pick-6 Podcast, but why are talks heating up now, days before the season opener? It's not like the Titans didn't know games started on September 11. Or that their offense, as currently constituted, features Matt Hasselbeck and not much else. (Kenny Britt is working his way back into shape and Johnson, obviously, is resting comfortably at the crib.)

Chris Johnson's Holdout

On the other hand, Johnson knows the offense and if Tennessee really does plan to back up the Brinks truck (we've gone on record at least a dozen times but, yeah, we're against it), there's no need to have him hurt himself in training camp or preseason games.

Whatever happens this much is certain: the Titans' offense is better with Johnson. How much better … well, that remains to be seen. Don't forget, Tennessee was 8-8 and 6-10 the last two seasons.

On the upside: Johnson hasn't yet told the organization to "STFU" so the two sides are still communicating. And for now, that's a good thing.

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Posted on: August 24, 2011 5:03 pm
Edited on: August 25, 2011 7:13 am
 

Titans, Chris Johnson end meeting without deal

Posted by Ryan Wilson

On Tuesday, Titans running back Chris Johnson was headed to Nashville to meet with the organization, ostensibly to discuss a new contract. As for what he was expecting, Johnson was both cryptic and pragmatic, tweeting "Could get better or worst."

Well, according to reports, the two sides have gone their separate ways Wednesday afternoon, no deal has been announced, and no update given as to the status of Johnson's ongoing holdout. Neither Johnson nor his agent Joel Segal, or Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt, were immediately available for comment, the Associated Press reported.

This is the latest chapter in a saga that has dragged on since training camps began in late July. Johnson hinted during the offseason that he wanted a new contract, and two weeks ago Reinfeldt announced that the team was willing to make Johnson the league's "highest-paid running back." He'd just need Johnson to show up to camp and negotiations would proceed from there.

Seemed reasonable except that Johnson wanted to be one of the NFL's highest-paid players. And even after a face-to-face meeting Wednesday, the impasse continues.

We've argued that Tennessee shouldn't pay Johnson. Not because he's not a great player, but because running backs are fungible. In the Titans' last preseason game, Jamie Harper rushed for 83 yards on 11 carries, and Stafon Johnson added 68 yards on 11 carries.

Chris Johnson's Holdout

While we shouldn't make too much of one preseason game, there are countless examples from the regular season, too. Willie Parker, Chris Ivory and Arian Foster immediately come to mind as undrafted backs who got opportunities after players ahead of them were injured.

It's rare that a player holding out for more money has leverage over the team, but the Titans have a rookie quarterback in Jake Locker (though Matt Hasselbeck will likely start the season under center) who will need all the help he can get. And there's the very real chance that the league suspends wide receiver Kenny Britt, Tennessee's second-biggest offensive weapon.

Whether it's enough to force the Titans' hand is another story, especially since the team -- with Johnson on the field -- won six games in 2010 and eight games the year before.

And if he does return before the regular season? Head coach Mike Munchak says Johnson can't just show up and expect 30 touches a game

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Posted on: August 19, 2011 3:32 pm
 

Podcast: Vick, Pryor, Tebow and Rookie QBs

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Doug Farrar of Yahoo.com's Shutdown Corner blog and FootballOutsiders.com (buy FO's 2011 Almanac now!) joins the podcast to talk about Terrelle Pryor's newfound supplemental draft eligibility, Michael Vick's GQ interview, and commissioner Roger Goodell's role in all this.

There is actual football going on, as well. Farrar gives us his take on the rookie quarterbacks, including the revelation that he thinks Jake Locker could be the Titans starter even though the team paid Matt Hasselbeck $9 million. We discuss whether Chris Johnson is worth what he thinks he's worth, and which rookies (at any position) will have the biggest impacts for their teams this season. And, of course, there's a gratuitous Cam Netwon name-check.

Oh, and there were games Thursday -- the Pats played the Bucs and the Steelers hosted the Eagles. We talk about that, too. (Down goes the Dream Team!)

Yapping starts … now (and while we have you, remember to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes).




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Posted on: August 17, 2011 4:24 pm
 

Roundtable: Which rookie QB will help the most?

C. Newton could be one of the breakout rookie QBs this year (Getty).

Posted by Eye on Football staff

Well, we're a week into the preseason and that means we know everything about everyone. Or nothing at all. Whatever, we got our first glimpses of the NFL's newest rookie quarterbacks and that leads us to the question: What rookie quarterback will help his team the most?

Will Brinson: Go ahead and cue up about 15 "Panthers homer" comments in the next few paragraphs, but I don't care: Cam Newton. The guy's a freak-a-deak athlete with a firehose attached to his right shoulder and he's going to get a chance to produce. Unfortunately, that firehose thing can also be bad if Newton can't control his accuracy. And it's possible that Jimmy Clausen -- who looked better than terrible after he threw a pick six on his second passing attempt -- could be the safer option for Carolina. But Newton gets the fanbase amped and he's already shown exponential growth since we last saw him throwing passes. Putting him in the proverbial fire's the way to go and he'll be a difference maker for Carolina in both the stands and the field.

Josh Katzowitz: Will, I couldn't agree with you more. I don't know if Newton will help his team that much more on the field than Clausen would have -- I'm willing to bet heavily on the odds that there are going to be games when Newton is ABSOLUTELY terrible and people are going to be saying, "Yeah, buddy, the NFL is a little different than the limited offense you ran at Auburn, eh?" (these people, of course, will be Canadians who care way too much about SEC football) -- but as far as starpower is concerned, Newton is the one. I don't care if he privately looks at himself as an entertainer and an icon. He's got that huge smile and he's got that charisma, and eventually, the stink of whatever NCAA rules his dad might have violated will wash away.

That said, I don't think he's going to contend for any rookie of the year honors, because as the season goes along, defenses are going to begin to figure out Newton. Actually, I think the real answer to your question about which rookie will help his team the most will end up being Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco, assuming he stays healthy behind that poor offensive line. Alex Smith will continue to be Alex Smith, and midway through the season, Jim Harbaugh will call upon Kaepernick to replace Smith and win a few games for the 49ers. And I think he'll do it, especially in the NFC West, hastening Smith's departure (which, when you think about it, might be the single biggest reason how Kaepernick impacts the team). Newton will help his franchise the most, but Kaepernick will help his team the most.

Ryan Wilson
: We talked about it (at length, I might add) and Newton was impressive. I know, it's just one preseason game, but the guy's come a long way since February, the Auburn scandal, and the silly comments about being an entertainer and an icon.

And let's be honest, he's energized fans that had every reason to lose all hope and commit their energies to supporting NASCAR full time. That can't be understated. Winning is obviously the goal, but Panthers fans will find reasons for optimism if the Panthers can win five or six games. So in terms of therapeutic value for a downtrodden fan base, Newton is this season's most valuable QB.

A. Dalton could be the starting QB in Cincinnati (Getty). But if we're talking about a QB who has a chance to play and help his team win enough games to battle for a playoff spot, I'm going with Christian Ponder. Partly because Myron Rolle thinks he's a genius, but also because Donovan McNabb has become a punchline in recent years. How long until he's yanked in favor of Ponder? Four weeks? Remember: this is the guy who not only lost his job to Rex Grossman last season, he was eventually demoted to third string behind John Beck, he of four career starts, all losses, all coming in 2007.

Brinson: Well, we're one full turn around the table and the only person we haven't talked about is the only guy who's virtually guaranteed to start Week 1: Andy Dalton.

So, um, yeaaaaaaah.

What does that say about the Bengals? (And why do I have the feeling Josh will try to defend them?) I guess it says either that "We don't respect Andy Dalton," "We forgot about Andy Dalton," or "Even if Andy Dalton was Peyton Manning, he wouldn't be saving the Bengals from certain doom in 2011."

Perhaps it's all three?

Wilson: I didn't mention Andy Dalton for the same reason I don't think about paying my mortgage every day: if I ignore it, it don't exist. It's a coping mechanism. In Dalton's case, it means I'm not constantly reminded of what the 2011 season inevitably holds for him: pain, misery, disappointment -- all words that have become synonymous with the Bengals in recent years.

(Just look what the madness did to even-keeled Carson Palmer -- it drove him right into retirement in what should be the prime of his career. Think about that for a minute. Things were so god-awful in Cincinnati that Palmer would rather sit around the house doing crosswords than get caught up in tiger-striped maelstrom for another season.)

While we shouldn't put too much stock in first-ever preseason performances, Dalton's got his introduction to big-boy football from, fittingly, Ndamukong Suh. And I feel that was just a preview of things to come in 2011 (for both Dalton and Suh). So, yeah, it's pretty easy to be down on Dalton, more because he's a victim of circumstance. Which is why I don't want to think about it.

Brinson: Thanks for the reminder on the mortgage payment, jerk. Speaking of which, if there's one thing that the Panthers, 49ers, Titans, Vikings, Jaguars and Bengals have in common it's that they mortgaged their future on the talents of the 2011 NFL Draft class. With that in mind, let's wrap up this puppy up by making a list -- how do you gents rank the rookies in terms of impact on the 2011 season? Here's mine. Don't copy it.

1. Cam Newton
2. Blaine Gabbert
3. Andy Dalton
4. Christian Ponder
5. Jake Locker
6. Colin Kaepernick
7. Ryan Mallet
8. Terrelle Pryor

PonderWilson: No matter the list -- or the topic -- one thing is assured: Brinson will put Cam Newton at the top of it. Panthers fan solidarity and whatnot.

Back on Earth...

1. Christian Ponder (He'll be starting before the end of Sept.)
2. Colin Kaepernick (See above)
3. Blaine Gabbert (He'll be starting before Halloween)
4. Cam Newton (The next Jimmy Clausen? JOKE. Clearly, he's the next Chris Weinke.)
5. Andy Dalton (Must've been a serial killer in a previous life to get stuck with this fate.)
6. Jake Locker (Should only play if Hasselbeck gets injured.)
7. Ryan Mallett (Bill Belichick is a genius. That is all.)
8. Terrelle Pryor (But he's a first-round pick!)

Katzowitz: Just in case, Will needs a reminder: Here's my takedown of Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis in that ridiculous news conference they called to announce that Lewis would return for another season, and here's what I wrote about the Bengals' lack of a practice bubble. I lived in Cincinnati for six years, but believe me when I say that I think the Bengals are an incompetent mess (though, personally, I think Mike Brown is a nice man).

My list (the correct one):

1. Colin Kaepernick (If Mike Singletary thought about replacing Alex Smith with David Carr (!) last season, Jim Harbaugh shouldn't have a problem replacing Smith with Kaepernick)
2. Christian Ponder (Because he's better than Rex Grossman, and since Grossman is better than Donovan McNabb ...)
3. Cam Newton (How disturbing would it be if Clausen actually won the starting job?)
4. Andy Dalton (He still has Cedric Benson to lean on)
5. Blaine Gabbert (I'm not sure he can beat out David Garrard, and I'm not sure Garrard will be bad enough this year to warrant starting Gabbert)
6. Jake Locker (Locker will get tons of help from Hasselbeck)
7. Ryan Mallett (He won't even beat out Brian Hoyer to be Brady's backup)
8. Terrelle Pryor (I don't know, maybe, he could be an effective NFL TE?)

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Posted on: August 11, 2011 5:15 pm
Edited on: August 11, 2011 7:21 pm
 

Titans ready to make Johnson 'highest-paid RB'?

Posted by Ryan Wilson

UPDATE 6:30 p.m.: Via the Twitter feed of Titans' beat reporter Jim Wyatt: "Asked about being offered a deal after lockout, Johnson said: 'Maybe they talked, but I guarantee we never received any offer.'" 

-------

Titans running back Chris Johnson wants a new contract. Given that he's one of the two best running backs in the league and is set to make just $800,000 in 2011, he's right. The problem, at least until Thursday, is that Tennessee general manager Mike Reinfeldt said that the club wasn't willing to negotiate with Johnson until he ended his holdout. As of this writing, Johnson has been a no-show at training camp, even when faced with the possibility of losing a year of accrued free agency.

We've long been of the opinion that the Titans shouldn't pay Johnson "Adrian Peterson money," even if he's worth it because, in general, running backs are fungible. You can find productive players for a fraction of the cost with either late(r)-round draft picks or the waiver wire.

CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyel disagrees with us, and luckily for Johnson, it sounds like Reinfeldt does, too.

According to the Associated Press Thursday, Reinfeldt wants to make Johnson the NFL's highest-paid running back, he just needs Johnson to show up first.

The AP also reports that Johnson's agent was the first person Reinfeldt called once the lockout ended, and Reinfeldt says that the two sides have already talked about the parameters of a new deal for Johnson, and they'd like to get him in training camp to learn new head coach Mike Munchak's new offense while negotiations are finished.

We're not sure if Reinfeldt is performing the one-man version of "Good Cop, Bad Cop," or if he suddenly felt compelled to take his message public, but either way, the timing seems odd.

Surely, Johnson and his agent knew that the Titans wanted the running back in camp before any new deal was drawn up, but at the same time, if Tennessee deems Johnson so important to their future, why don't they go ahead and, you know, make him the "NFL's highest-paid back?" Especially when Johnson made it clear that last year was the "last time (I'll report to camp) without me having a long-term deal. … It won't happen again."

And so far, he's kept his word.

The problem for the Titans, assuming they consider Johnson an integral part of their offense (and it sure seems that they do), is that either Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker will be under center. One's a grizzled veteran; the other the franchise's future, and both are in dire need of a running game to insure they don't get clobbered on a regular basis.

It's seldom the case that a player has leverage in a drawn-out contract dispute, but Johnson seems to be in pretty good shape right about now.

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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