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Tag:James Laurinaitis
Posted on: June 8, 2011 4:25 pm
Edited on: June 8, 2011 5:07 pm
 

Hot Routes 6.8.11: Way back in Saints history



Posted by Josh Katzowitz

  • The lockout isn’t all bad. For Bills assistant coach Dave Wannstedt, who spent the last six years as the head coach at Pitt, it’s a chance to catch up with what’s been going on in the NFL since he’s been gone.
  • If you were interested in knowing which 10 assistant coaches could have a shot at landing a head coaching job soon, CBSSports.com’s Pete Prisco has you covered.
  • If CBSSports.com’s Chuck Finder had his druthers, Steelers chairman emeritus Dan Rooney would be in the negotiating room helping to end the lockout.
  • Rams LB James Laurinaitis wishes people would stop saying nasty things about his former coach at Ohio State, Jim Tressell. "The fact that he's being vilified as some liar and backstabber and stuff," Laurinaitis told NFL.com. "That guy is about as genuine a person as you can meet. I've seen him be a father figure to plenty of players ... To see him get portrayed as the ultimate fake guy is disheartening."
  • Eric Crouch? Not giving up on the idea of playing pro football. He’s trying out for the UFL this week.
  • The NFL.com’s Albert Breer gives a good breakdown of how and why the players and owners suddenly have more motivation to get a labor deal done (pssst, probably because some people are saying that a lost season would cost the NFL $1 billion).

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.

Posted on: April 12, 2011 10:46 pm
Edited on: April 12, 2011 11:07 pm
 

Laurinaitis could follow in dad's footsteps

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Rams LB James Laurinaitis is pretty sure football will be played next year in the NFL – at least a 95 percent chance, he told the Lantern (Ohio State’s student newspaper).

But if he’s wrong and the NFL and NFLPA don’t come to terms on a new CBA, Laurinaitis will have to figure out a way to make some extra money. That’s why he said he might turn to the profession which made his father a famous (painted) face.

His father, of course, is professional wrestler Joe Laurinaitis, and you know him better as Animal of Road Warriors/Legion of Doom fame, and like his father, Laurinaitis thinks he could make an impact in the world of scripted sports entertainment*.

*I realize Laurinaitis is almost certainly saying this with his tongue in his cheek, but if pro wrestling is going to stay serious with its storylines, I should stay serious while writing about it, yes?


"I should take up pro wrestling. It'd be a natural transition," Laurinaitis said. "I might have to try to get in the ring a little bit, take on John Cena or Randy Orton."

Later in the story, he says he’d actually consider stepping in the ring, though it’s hard to imagine he’s really, really serious. That’s because he says he’s saved his money (he’s in the middle of a four-year, $5.09 million contract of which $3.29 million was guaranteed) and doesn’t need to risk injury for a payday.

"I don't spend my money on anything stupid. I get all my clothes usually from Nike, or I wear the stuff I've worn through college," he said. "The only thing I've got to worry about is taking care of myself and my dogs and paying a mortgage on a house that I can easily afford and buy off if I want to.

"Usually, we wouldn't have checks come in until about this time anyway. Guys will start hurting when you don't get those game checks, but I think we'll get them."



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Category: NFL
Posted on: April 7, 2011 11:38 am
Edited on: April 7, 2011 1:37 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: St. Louis Rams

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

 

Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups



The Rams were one of the most surprisingly successful squads in the NFL last season. Coming off a dreadful 1-15 season in 2009 – which netted St. Louis the 2010 No. 1 pick and, naturally, QB Sam Bradford – St. Louis won six more games than it had in 2009 and were a game away from taking home the NFC West division title and a postseason berth, falling instead to the Seahawks in the season finale.

But the biggest news since their loss to Seattle was the hiring of former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels as the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. He’ll work closely with Bradfo




Quarterback, new offensive coordinator

While McDaniels helped current Chiefs QB Matt Cassel to a surprisingly good season the year he had to replace Tom Brady – who also got a little bit of McDaniels when he was in New England – and comes to St. Louis with a strong reputation as an offensive coordinator, Bradford will have plenty of work to do. The Rams will forgo the West Coast offense they ran last year and run more of a shotgun, spread-based scheme. This is where an offseason workout schedule would be helpful.



1. Wide Reciever
One of the most impressive accomplishments by Bradford last season was to throw for 3,512 yards to a corps of WRs that screams unknown and unproven (Danny Amendola, you’re our breakout star!!). The team lost Mark Clayton (patellar tendon) and Donnie Avery (ACL) while Danario Alexander missed eight games while undergoing a fifth (!) knee surgery. The acquisition of Randy Moss – if he would have let it happen – would have helped last year, but overall, the Rams really need help in this area.

2. Defensive Line
Surprisingly, the Rams weren’t terrible there last season, and much of that had to do with Fred Robbins and James Hall – who registered double-digit sacks for only the second time in his career at the age of 33. Overall, St. Louis ranked 19th in pass defense and 17th in run defense, and as you probably know, there’s a plethora of defensive linemen in the draft that could get a call from St. Louis (although drafting a WR in the first round makes more sense).

3. Defensive Backs
The Rams released standout SS Oshiomogho Atogwe, a defensive captain last year, because he was due an $8 million roster bonus Feb. 21. As a result, he left for Washington and left a huge hole in the St. Louis secondary. And while the Rams had high hopes in James Butler, he’s been plagued by injury and lost his starting spot. St. Louis probably won’t want to count on him.




The Rams still have plenty of holes to fill, but they also have young standouts on each side of the ball, particularly Bradford and MLB James Laurinaitis. In any other division, you’d say the Rams might struggle a bit and could feel good about themselves if they finish at .500.

But in the weak NFC West, they’ll be one of the favorites to win the division and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed
Posted on: February 5, 2011 6:05 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2011 6:15 pm
 

Super Bowl Scene: Saturday (Playboy party recap)

Posted by Andy Benoit
Snoop Dogg (US Presswire)
DALLAS -- It feels like the last day of exams in college here at Super Bowl headquarters. Most people have their work done and are not around. The few who are here are working intently on final projects. Crews are taking down the stages and cleaning up all around Radio Row. Every hour or so a fire alarm goes off (presumably because equipment is being hauled out through backdoors). The athletes have been scarce, as well (it’s mid-afternoon and I’ve only seen Michael Irvin and Kurt Warner outside the Sheraton today).

There’s also a subtle aura of fatigue floating around. Virtually everyone in Dallas was at a Super Bowl party until the wee hours last night. There was the Commissioner’s party, the ESPN party, the Sports Illustrated party, the GQ party and the Playboy party, to name a few. Those of you who follow @CBSSportsNFL on Twitter or read Friday’s Super Bowl Scene late edition (which, by the way, has a picture of a perfect Troy Polamalu Jr. that’s worth checking out) knows that Sir Will Brinson and I attended the Playboy party.

How was it? In a word, agonizing. In another word, amazing. We began the night as part of the red carpet media, which meant our role was to stand around and wait to have quick, flimsy conversations with famous people before they walk in.  It’s something neither Will nor I had ever done. Fortunately, one of the four Playboy PR reps would come by and whisper the name of the celebrity if need be. (Or, they’d come by and have us whisper to them the name of the athlete who was coming by.)

There was A LOT of standing and waiting involved. This was especially brutal because the entrance was in an enclosed tent that contained just one heater. The temperature inside the tent was in the mid-40s. The festivities began at 9:00; the celebrities started trickling in at 10:15. At 10:30, sensing that it could be hours before the event gained significant action, Will and I decided that if no one showed up by 10:35, we’d bolt. At around 10:32, Darrelle Revis came in. Not long after him was Phillies slugger Ryan Howard.

Will and I decided again at 10:55 that if no celebrities showed up by 11, we’d once again bolt. At 10:58 or so, Jeremy Maclin (see video), Josh Freeman and Brandon Lloyd came through.

Eventually, we got picky and decided that if the next celebrity was not an A-lister, we’d depart. When Maria Menounos showed up, Will declared her A-list caliber on the basis that she tends to draw a lot of internet traffic. (Wonder why that is.) B. Sanders (US Presswire)

Even though much of the night involved standing in the freezing cold and waiting around, time actually flew by. It helped that Sports Illustrated media guru Richard Deitsch was with us. Discussing the sports media industry is something most in the sports media LOVE to do (Will and I especially).

As we neared midnight, Will and I gave in and just committed to waiting for Snoop Dogg’s arrival (the logic was, “hell, it’s already late anyway”). Many of the expected guests on Playboy’s list were no-shows (which was fine because plenty of big names who were not on the list showed up). By that point we had already encountered Landon Donovan, Craig Robinson (Daryl from The Office), Knowshon Moreno (Broncos), Flo Rida (rapper), Barry Sanders, the White House Crashers, Paul Scheer (TV Show The Leage), Vince Neil (Motley Crue…he was wasted out of his mind, by the way), Lawyer Milloy (Seahawks), Marcus Allen, Jared Fogle (Subway), Ryan Kwanten (actor), Phil Hellmuth (gambler), James Laurinaitis (Rams), Kyle Busch, Ryan Cabrera (rock star), Aubrey O’Day (singer/dancer/actress…i.e. hot girl), Hunter Parrish (actor), Dave Annable (Brothers and Sisters) and Sarah Ramos (actress). And maybe more.

Snoop was guaranteed to show because, as the headline entertainment, he was a big reason 2,500 people shelled out $1,000 to be there. (Plus, his dad, Papa Snoop had arrived earlier.)

Shockingly, Snoop Dogg is not the most punctual guy. He was expected at midnight. At 12:30 someone from his crew called to say that they were five minutes out. At 1:06, he arrived.

Will and I have seen and spoken with loads of celebrities this week. Either fortunately or unfortunately, you become somewhat immune to the excitement of it all. But admittedly, a conversation with Snoop was something we both craved and loved. After some photo ops he strolled over to us smelling exactly how you’d expect him to smell. We asked the standard red carpet questions (the simple, soft-hitting stuff is more appropriate and effective for events like these). The quality of Snoop’s answers was very solid – probably better than everyone save for Brandon Lloyd (by far the most engaging and entertaining star on the night), gambler Phil Hellmuth and maybe Lawyer Milloy.

From there we went into the party and watched Snoop tear down the house. The behavior of the patrons was what’d you’d expect at a Playboy gathering (we’ll leave it at that). Plenty of A-list sports media faces were there having a good time (again, we’ll leave it at that). And a handful of players –including Steelers left tackle Max Starks, who, remember, is on IR – were reveling in it all.

By the time it ended and we got back to the Media Center, it was 2:00 a.m. Poor Josh Katzowitz was sitting in the empty media workroom waiting for us. We had told him we’d be back no later than 9:30.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.

Posted on: December 30, 2010 4:26 pm
 

NFL Key Matchup Wk 17: Seahawks O vs. Rams D

Posted by Andy Benoit

This week’s Key Matchup looks at two teams that most people know very little about. We don’t have a choice, really – the NFL stuck by its word and put the game with the most significant playoff implications in primetime Sunday night. Thus, America is getting introduced to the 2010 Rams and the 2010 Seahawks this week. Combined, these teams have as many wins as the 2010 Patriots.

First thing to know about the Seahawks: they can’t run the ball. Their 85.5 yards per game on the ground ranks dead last in the NFL. Some thought the early season trade for Marshawn Lynch would spearhead the ground game. But those who thought that clearly hadn’t watched Lynch closely the past few years. The former first-round pick is not an explosive breakaway runner, and though he fights through tacklers with tremendous tenacity, he doesn’t have enough power to be considered a thumper. J. Laurinaitis (US Presswire)These limitations aren’t a major issue for an NFL runner, unless that NFL runner lacks vision and patience – which Lynch does.

Backup Justin Forsett is one of the hardest players in the game to tackle, but the Seahawks coaching staff insists he is built to only be a third-down back. Still, with this being a make-or-break game, don’t be surprised if quick, slippery Forsett gets a bulk of the carries.

With Seattle unable to run, Matt Hasselbeck’s status for this game is all the more crucial. Hasselbeck, at this point, can probably be considered a true “questionable” with a left hip strain. If the stakes weren’t so high, he’d likely be doubtful. But a gimpy Hasselbeck is superior to a healthy Charlie Whitehurst, as a gimpy Hasselbeck at least has the trust of play-caller Jeremy Bates (Bates recently called Hasselbeck the team’s “best player on offense”.)

Prior to the season, one figured that any team in football would be able to throw at will against this St. Louis secondary. Cornerbacks Ron Bartell and Bradley Fletcher are better in zone than man (this is a polite way of saying they’re average). And strong safety Craig Dahl doesn’t have the greatest range (he’d be a special teamer for most clubs).

But the Rams have mustered a fairly respectable 21st-ranked pass defense, thanks to a surprisingly effective pass-rush, highlighted by a front line that, like the Titans of ’09, constantly features four solid player but boasts no star. Former No. 2 overall pick Chris Long has been near star status, thanks to his career-high 8.5 sacks. But Long’s damage comes from his motor more than his athleticism. Guys like that are difficult to play against but not nightmarish to gameplan for. Nevertheless, Long will be a major test for rookie left tackle Russell Okung, who is playing with an ankle that is not 100 percent. Veterans James Hall and Fred Robbins have also been major surprises for Steve Spagnuolo’s unit.

Finally, no player is more important to the Rams’ defense than James Laurinaitis. The second-year linebacker has dispelled the notion that he lacks the range and lateral agility to patrol the middle in coverage. A year ago, such criticism was accurate. But Laurinaitis has drastically improved his recognition, which has made him a more explosive player. If the Rams choose to dedicate his services to primarily stopping tight end John Carlson on Sunday, the Seahawks will have no choice but to try to win via the big play from their wide receivers. If that’s the case, the issue becomes whether Seattle’s front five can keep that potent Rams front four at bay.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 1, 2010 6:40 pm
 

Hot Routes 11.1.10 box score tidbits

Hot Routes

Posted by Andy Benoit

We read through all the box scores so that you wouldn't have to. Here's what was pulled out.

Neither quarterback was very good in the Bengals-Dolphins game. Carson Palmer struggled with distance-based accuracy, completing just 17/38 passes. Chad Henne was 24/37 with no touchdowns and an awful interception to Morgan Trent.

M. Stafford returned to Detroit and helped lead his squad to a victory against Washington (Getty). For the seventh time in seven games this season, Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams were both held to 80 yards or less on the ground.

Davone Bess, who started ahead of Brian Hartline for the first time this season, caught seven balls for Miami. The shifty slot receiver is on pace for 89 receptions and nearly 1,000 yards in 2010.

Maurice Jones-Drew had his best game of the season against the Cowboys, rushing for 135 yards on 27 carries.

In his first game since injuring his shoulder in Week 1, Matthew Stafford was 26/45 for 212 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. (DeAngelo Hall, who was outplayed by Calvin Johnson for most of the afternoon, snagged the interception on a brilliant first quarter play.)

The box score shows Washington gaining 80 yards on the ground, but 45 of those yards came on four Donovan McNabb runs. The Redskins never came close to sustaining a true rushing attack on Sunday.

Ndamukong Suh is running away with the Defensive Player of the Year award. The behemoth DT recorded two more sacks Sunday, bringing his total to 6.5 on the season. Suh also had five tackles and a game-sealing touchdown off a fumble return.

Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril also recorded a pair of sacks for the Lions.

Only 42,339 people paid to see the Lions defeat the Redskins.

The Bills became the fourth team in NFL history to lose back-to-back overtime games on the road. (Of course, that kind of heartbreak is nothing for a franchise that once lost back-to-back Super Bowls back-to-back times.) The last team to lose two straight road overtime games was the ’09 Steelers (remember them?).

For what it’s worth, Kansas City’s Thomas Jones became the first player in NFL history to rush for 500 yards for a fifth different team. Jones had 77 of the Chiefs’ 274 yards rushing. (Jamaal Charles led the way with 177; he also led the Chiefs with 61 yards receiving.)

C.J. Spiller seemed to spend as much time at wide receiver as running back. And not at slot receiver – split out WIDE, as in outside the numbers. Spiller finished with four catches for 28 yards and six carries for 17 yards. (It’s apparent that the first-round rookie is still doing too much reading and not enough reacting.)

Paul Posluszny led the Bills with 18 tackles. He has extra chances to tackle because none of Buffalo’s defensive linemen can get off blocks.

Steven Jackson played with a broken finger against the Panthers. He came out in passing situations (one catch, four yards), but rushed for 59 yards on 23 carries (his performance looked better than the numbers suggest).

You can call off the search party for Carolina’s running game – not because the run game was found but because it’s safe to declare it dead. Jonathan Stewart managed just 30 yards on 14 carries against the Rams. DeAngelo Williams stayed home with a foot injury.

James Laurinaitis is putting together a Pro Bowl season. On Sunday the second-year linebacker had eight tackles, a sack, three tackles for a loss and an interception (which came on a horrendous decision and throw by Matt Moore).

The Packers told Aaron Rodgers all week not to worry about his completion percentage – just make sure he didn’t turn the ball over. Rodgers listened. He was 15/34 passing with zero interceptions and fumbles.

Mark Sanchez was equally inaccurate, going 16/38 but with two picks (one of which was Charles Woodson plain ripping the ball away from Dustin Keller.)

LaDainian Tomlinson is clearly the No. 1 back for the Jets. He got 16 carries against Green Bay; Shonn Greene got six. Neither player was particularly effective (LT got tripped up on several shoestring tackles).

After catching a pass in 133 straight games, Donald Drive was held without a catch for a second straight game. He was still hampered by a quad injury.

Troy Smith was an efficient 12/19 for 196 yards and a touchdown in his 49ers starting debut. Looks like Mike Singletary may have a new starting Smith to threaten with a benching.

Brandon Lloyd hauled in seven passes for 169 yards. Lloyd has had triple-digit receiving yards in five games this season.

Justin Smith led the Niners with two sacks and two tackles for a loss.

The trio of Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert and Darren Sproles combined for 145 yards rushing for San Diego.

Some guy named Seyi Ajirotutu (save some vowels for the rest of us, pal) had three catches for 48 yards for the Chargers. Ajirotutu is an undrafted rookie from Fresno State.

The Seahawks were 1/16 on third down against the Raiders.

How’s this for consistency: Adrian Peterson carried the ball 25 times for 92 yards Sunday, with his longest run going for just nine yards.

Danny Woodhead turned in five catches for 45 yards against the Vikings.

LeGarrette Blount had 22 carries for 120 yards and two touchdowns in Tampa Bay’s win at Arizona. (Cadillac Williams had just four carries for 10 yards.)

In his first game since Week 3, Steve Breaston caught eight passes for 147 yards.

No one for the Steelers had more than 43 yards receiving at New Orleans Sunday night.

Robert Meachem and Marques Colston both had six catches and at least 75 yards receiving for the Saints.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .


Posted on: October 4, 2010 4:01 am
Edited on: October 4, 2010 12:40 pm
 

10 Sunday stories deserving your attention Week 4

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Conspiracy in Philadelphia

Until Sunday, it hadn’t dawned on me that Trent Edwards and Kevin Kolb are the same person. That’s why they’re never in the same place at the same time. Kevin “Trent Edwards” Kolb was a master of the safety outlet pass against the Redskins. Including what we saw in the first half against Green Bay in Week 1, Kolb is officially the most consistent dumpoff thrower in the game today (the consistency being, he dumps it off on every play).
K. Kolb (US Presswire)
DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin became nonfactors once Kolb replaced the injured Michael Vick. And somehow, tight end Brent Celek dropped out of the picture as well (until the final few minutes, anyway). Running back LeSean McCoy took 16 handoffs Sunday (64 yards rushing), which was just one more than the number of passes thrown his way. At least the emerging second-year pro was productive, turning those 15 passes into 12 receptions for 110 yards.

You wonder if Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg really trust their offensive line. Many believe Vick won the starting job because his legs allow him to elude the frequent pass-rushing pressure Philly’s makeshift front five has surrendered. On Sunday, the coaches were awfully willing to call screen passes and keep Kolb in simple check-down scenarios. Perhaps they knew Jason Peters couldn’t block Brian Orakpo without holding (which Peters got called for twice).

Futile as the offense was, Jason Avant actually had a shot at a go-ahead hailmary touchdown at the end of regulation. That play was made possible by a 15-yard double-hook-and-ladder play.

Quick Tangent

Inst’ it surprising that the hook and ladder is not a more common play? You’d think someone from the Mike Martz school of thought would realize that it’s a potentially lethal play that not only can trick opponents but also give defenders something to think about. You have to figure defensive backs and linebackers would pursue the ball a little less aggressively if they had reason to believe that a hook and ladder could be in the works.

Eventually, football will evolve to where the hook-and-ladder is mainstream. There are just too many possibilities for it. Some team that has a former college quarterback plaing receiver (think Brad Smith of the Jets, for example) will incorporate it. But, for whatever reason, we’re not there yet.

2.) Back to Kolb and the Eagles

By now, every NBC executive has hit his or her knees and pleaded with God to heal Michael Vick’s upper rib cartilege. If Vick has to sit out next week, we might officially have the most uninteresting matchup in the five-year history of NBC’s Sunday Night Football: Kevin “Trent Edwards” Kolb’s 2-2 Eagles visiting Alex “Too Bad for a Nickname” Smith’s 0-4 Niners. Instead of looking forward to the night cap, football fans will spend all of Sunday trying not to think about going back to work tomorrow.

See, it’s not just that Kolb appears to be an iffy quarterback (and I realize it is very, very early in his career, so I say “iffy quarterback” with the proper grain of salt), it’s that he is boooorrrrrrrring. Kolb doesn’t have a rocket arm. And he’s not mobile. Moxie is something we attribute to guys whom we like but can’t figure out why. I, like you, do not really know what moxie is. But I do know Kolb doesn’t have it.

It seems the best case scenario is that Kolb becomes a great West Coast system quarterback. That’s fine – Joe Montana obviously did well in a similar role. But it’s miserable for fans to watch the early development of a West Coast quarterback after they’ve already gotten a taste of the electrifying Vick. That’s like going back to just holding hands and occasionally kissing someone whom you’ve already….well, you get what I’m saying.

If Kolb starts against San Francisco, the NFL should call for a special flex schedule in which they move the Niners-Eagles to CSPAN and give us Redskins-Packers on SNF. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Redskins again now that they’ve discovered they can run the ball.

Washington came into Week 4 having gained only eight first downs on the ground; against the Eagles, they rushed for 10 first downs. (And since we’re on the topic of Skins running game, I’ll say once more that Ryan Torain will wind up being this team’s top rusher in the second half of the season.)

P.S. Eagles fans….perfect job welcoming Donovan McNabb back. Treated him to a well-deserved standing ovation before the game, then treated him like the enemy visitor he was after that.

3.) Are the Rams for real?

This question is usually a leading one. We tend to ask if a team is for real only after we’ve already decideS. Jackson (US Presswire)d that it is. Or, more accurately, only after we’ve decided to hope that it already is. (Example: the Chicago Bears before Sunday night. The “3-0 – that’s right – 3-0! Can you believe it!?” Chicago Bears.)

In this case, the question is just a question. Are the Rams for real? If by “for real” you mean “a team capable of finishing .500” – which is where the win over the Seahawks left Steve Spagnuolo’s team – then, yes, the Rams are for real. Don’t underestimate the value of playing in the NFC West.

A bad division may be St. Louis’ greatest strength, but it’s not the only positive. Obviously, Steven Jackson is a star. Aiding him is that Sam Bradford shows flashes of brilliances as a precision passer. Yes, he also shows a vulnerability to rookie mistakes (did you see his interception to former Texas rival and fellow first-round rookie Earl Thomas in the end zone?). But mistakes are partly a symptom of Bradford’s willingness to attack downfield. He’s showing he can make the tough anticipation throw – and even with bodies around him.

More intriguing is the Ram defense. Its secondary overachieved against Seattle’s overrated passing game. (And yes, Seattle’s passing game IS overrated. Brandon Stokley, just days after signing, seemingly captured Mike Williams’ role as the No. 1 receiver.)

The Rams front seven has been dominant two straight weeks. End James Hall has a sack in three straight games (four sacks total on the season). Middle linebacker James Laurinaitis has become much more of a downhill player. In fact, he now seems likely to emerge as one of those players who achieve greatness despite limited athleticism (ala Zach Thomas – or ala the anti-Barrett Ruud).

Spagnuolo does a great job of manufacturing big plays through A-gap blitz concepts. In short, St. Louis’ system is better than its personnel. That can translate to wins as long as everyone buys in (the Patriots proved this in the early 2000s). The Rams will be up and down in 2010. But when you’ve won six games over the previous three years, that’s progress. And, thanks to the NFC West, they’ll have meaningful games in December.

4.) Motown Blues

The toughest thing for a downtrodden franchise to do is learn how to win. The Lions are finding this out. Last season, Detroit’s offensive line was as porous as a colander. And its defensive line may have been the worst the NFL has seen in at least 15 years. Consequently, the offense sputtered and the defense ranked dead last in point and yards allowed. The Lions finished with a record of 2-14 (which, sadly, was an improvement over the previous year).

This season, the Lions are not awful. The offense has playmaking potential in the ground game, thanks to rookie Jahvid Best. The front five is able to protect Shaun Hill well enough for Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson to actually be weapons. The defensive line is revamped, with powerful No. 2 overall pick Ndamukong Suh living up to the hype and venerable veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch igniting an assemblage of fellow newcomers.

And yet the Lions are still 0-4. Most maddening is the way they’ve gotten there. Detroit lost at Green Bay Sunday by the score of 28-26. In Week 2 the Eagles beat them 35-32. And you remember the Calvin Johnson non-touchdown catch in Week 1 against the Bears.

These are the type of losses that happen to a team that has grown accustomed to losing. The Lions are football’s version of the fat person who works out but still gains noticeable weight after eating anything heavier than a salad. Or they’re that poor person who finally finds a job but is at fault in a fender bender on their way to cashing that first paycheck. Bad things just happen to the Lions. To them, failure is familiar and, therefore, on some super subconscious psychological level, easy to achieve. And we’ll assume karma is glad to chip in and help screw them over at all times, given that has evolved into the status quo.

In short, the mojo and psychology of a team can be very real. Learning how to win is not easy. Detroit is finding that out.

5.) Unglamorous glamour guys

Three teams featured a fullback as their primary ballcarrier in Week 4. It’s hard to say whether this is a sign that the fullback position is not declining after all or if it’s a sign that the fullback position has already officially died.

For the second straight week, Peyton Hillis rushed for over 100 yards for the Browns. This time, it came in a winning effort (a surprising upset over the Bengals).

Mike Tolbert had 16 carries for 100 yards in the Chargers’ 41-10 blowout of the Cardinals. (By the way, say this about the Cardinals: they sure get their money’s worth when they lose. Especially on the road. Remember this team in its 2008 Super Bowl year? That year the Cardinals lost to the Jets 56-35, the Eagles 48-20, the Vikings 35-14 and the Patriots 47-7.)

Lastly, the Packers got a hearty nine carries and 39 yards from John Kuhn, who is clearly a better option than Brandon Jackson (though Jackson had an acceptable 33 yards on nine carries against the Lions).

All three of these guys got their chance thanks to injuries to others. Hillis stepped up after rookie Montario Hardesty went down with an ACL. Tolbert shined when rookie Ryan Mathews hurt his right ankle in Week 2. Kuhn came in when Ryan Grant was lost for the season with an ankle injury.

More noteworthy is that all three are getting legitimate reps. The Browns and Chargers both have viable scatbacks they could turn to in Jerome Harrison and Darren Sproles. And the Packers could be forcing the issue with Jackson. But coaches are choosing to go with these bulldozers instead. (Even with Mathews healthy now, Tolbert appears to be the No. 1 back in San Diego).
 
Hillis, Tolbert and Kuhn are all downhill runners who play with good pad level and balance. But they’re also nimble enough to make defenders miss. And, not coincidentally, all three can catch. Hillis is wonderful on screens. Tolbert is actually athletic enough to run routes out of the slot. Kuhn is effective in the flats.

There’s something refreshing and pure about true fullbacks getting heavy touches. It’s a case of good, fundamental football being rewarded.

6.) AFC East mugging

The AFC story in Week 4 was the outburst from LaDainian Tomlinson. It was his first 100-yard rushing performance in 26 games. He looks like a star No. 1 running back again. This begs the question, Have we ever seen a running back hit the 30-year-old Wall and later recapture his magic? The first answer that comes to mind is, No. The second answer is, Well…Thomas Jones. Except Jones – whom L.T. replaced in New York – was never a star before his veteran years. And he never really hit a wall. L. Tomlinson (US Presswire)

Ricky Williams is another answer. He shares the load with Ronnie Brown, just like Tomlinson shares the load with Shonn Greene. But it’s debatable whether Williams is a star back. And, he never really hit a wall.

A lot of people thought a 28-year-old Emmitt Smith was slowing down after he gained just 1,074 yards in 1997. Then Smith put together two straight 1,300-plus-yard seasons after that. Still, he was not declared washed up at that point.

Curtis Martin barely topped 1,000 yards at age 29. Many thought he would tail off the next season, but instead he rushed for 1,308 yards at 30 and a career-best 1,697 yards at 31. Martin, however, remained with the Jets that entire time.

The current Jets star was dismissed by his longtime San Diego team. Who knows, maybe time will still prove that the Chargers were wise to get rid of the future Hall of Famer. But going off the evidence we have through these first four weeks, Tomlinson looks similar to his old (young) self. The lateral agility and acceleration are not 100 percent there, but they’re at least 85 percent there. And that’s enough.
Meanwhile, don’t look now, but Mark Sanchez has eight touchdowns and zero interceptions on the season. And Dustin Keller is playing like an All-Pro. Plus, Rex Ryan’s defense is as dominant as ever.

On the other side in this game, we’re always hearing about the financial struggles of the Bills. One thing the team could do to alleviate costs is only bring its defense on road trips. That would cut travel costs by nearly 50 percent. The Bills offense doesn’t show up for most of the games anyway. For example, in the first 22 minutes of this game, Buffalo had less than 50 net yards and less than five minutes in time of possession. You really think that’s worth paying for extra hotel rooms, equipment managers, meals, etc.?

7.) Electrifying Bolt

Supposed you had to explain Shaun Phillips’ performance against the Cardinals to all the narrow-minded fantasy nuts out there. How would you do it? Here’s my approach: if the Chargers outside linebacker were a quarterback, he would have thrown for 450 yards. If he were a running back, he would have rushed for 160 with three scores. If he were a wide receiver, he would have had 10 catches and at least two taunting penalties.

Phillips was simply remarkable Sunday. With Shawne Merriman (or that Shawn Merriman imposter the team has kept around the past year and a half) and Larry English out, Phillips stepped up to the tune of four sacks, four quarterback hits, five tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown. He dominated with sheer speed (Cardinals right tackle Brandon Keith probably couldn’t describe Phillips to a police sketch artist at this point) and craftiness. The only way Derek Anderson, who was benched this game, could have avoided an interception on the play in which Phillips dropped into an underneath zone coverage was if the notoriously inaccurate Anderson had made Phillips his intended receiver.

It’s not just Phillips. The entire Charger defense has been stupendous through the first quarter of the season. (Remember, San Diego is 2-2 because its special teams units couldn’t cover against the Chiefs and Seahawks.) Ron Rivera’s unit has not allowed more than 14 points in any game this season. And only once has an opponent put together a 10-play drive against this team (Arizona’s opening drive Sunday, which ended in an interception). Of course, the Chargers have not exactly faced the most dynamic offenses so far: Kansas City, Jacksonville, Seattle and Arizona. But hey, this it the NFL, where all success is quality success.

Other defenders

Phillips was not the only defensive player who stood out Sunday.

**Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb was phenomenal against the Steelers, particularly in his isolated deep ball coverage against Mike Wallace. Webb, fresh off his December ACL injury, broke up three deep balls on an island.

**Texans free safety Troy Nolan got significant playing thanks to an injury to Eugene Wilson. The 2009 seventh-round pick responded with two critical interceptions, as well as five tackles.

**Rookie cornerback Alterraun Verner was the talk of Titans training camp. In his NFL starting debut against Denver, the fourth-round pick showed why. Verner broke up three passes and recorded 11 tackles. He has plenty of room to improve – some of those tackles came because the Broncos targeted his side of the field – but the burst and athleticism are clearly there.

8.) Bears fans….are you there?

To anyone who has censured me for being negative about the Bears’ offense, you can send your apology notes to andy.benoit@cbsinteractive.com. It’s not hard to figure out: a bad offensive line, a bunch of raw wide receivers and a quarterback who trusts his natural ability just a little too much is a recipe for disaster. J. Cutler (US Presswire)

Coming into this game, the Bears had avoided disaster against the Lions, but it was clear that the ingredients for it were there. In terms of protecting Jay Cutler, the Bears had a disastrous start in the Dallas and Green Bay games, but they were able to overcome it. Sunday night at New York, they weren’t. Things got so bad that Cutler was eventually sacking himself (an out of bounds run for the sixth sack, and another out of bounds surrender that nearly went down as the ninth sack).

It is very difficult to give up nine sacks in a half. We almost never see it because teams that can’t pass protect eventually turn to their run game. But the Bears don’t have a run game. That became very conspicuous once Todd Collins entered the contest and Mike Martz gave the old-fashioned approach a whirl. Matt Forte looks better than he did a year ago, but he’s still not showing the juice to accelerate. Forte’s yards per carry average in each of the four games thus far: 2.9, 2.9, 2.6 and 2.2.

The Bears have a premiere defense – amazingly, Julius Peppers somehow seems underpaid – but they simply don’t have the necessary personnel to run Martz’s system. They’ll be a fun team to watch closely moving forward.

9.) Cardiac Cats are back?

The Jaguars are winning close games again. At least, that’s what everyone will be saying this week. It’s amazing: because Josh Scobee made a 59-yard field goal, we’re not talking about Jack Del Rio’s job security, television blackouts or a quarterback controversy. Instead, we may actually hear chatter about the 2-2 Jags being contenders in the AFC South. And we’ll absolutely hear chatter about the 2-2 Colts supposedly being old and no longer being a dominant club. (This whole notion, by the way, is ridiculous.)

What people won’t remember is how close the Jaguars came to settling for overtime in this game. With the game tied, the Jags got the ball at their own 23-yard-line with 42 seconds remaining and one timeout. When they ran a draw to Maurice Jones-Drew for eight yards, the Colts used a timeout in hopes of getting the ball back to Peyton Manning. It was a stark contrast: one team hiding its quarterback and the other desperately trying to showcase theirs. Garrard justified his coach’s lack of trust in him by throwing an incompletion on the next play. But a six-yard strike to Tiquan Underwood yielded a first down, and a 22-yard strike to Underwood on the next play put Scobee in field goal range. After one more Garrard near-meltdown (Colts corner Jacob Lacey dropped an easy interception), Scobee came on to seal the deal.

10.) Quick Hits
J. Flacco (US Presswire)
**It wasn’t a great slate of games this Sunday, but we at least got great finishes. Atlanta-San Francisco, Indy-Jacksonville, Detroit-Green Bay, Denver-Tennessee, Cleveland-Cincy, New Orleans-Carolina, Baltimore-Pittsburgh and Philly-Washington all went down to the wire.

**It just dawned on me that we’re near the end of this week’s Stories Deserving Your Attention and there has been no real mention of the Steelers-Ravens game. That’s too bad. It was, by far, the best all-around display of football on Sunday. The story of the game was how Cam Cameron continues to show more and more trust in Joe Flacco (24 completions on 37 pass attempts), and how that trust is being rewarded (the game-winning drive, for example). The Steelers did not play prevent defense on Baltimore’s final touchdown drive. Rather, they just played against a collected, strong-armed young quarterback.

**I’d love to be Terrell Owens for just two minutes after the Browns game. I’d like to know how I (he) truly felt after going for 200 yards in a losing effort. (I have absolutely no idea how Owens felt, and I won’t speculate. Just curious.)

**The Denver Broncos have a prolific offense, but their lack of a run game shows up in the red zone. The Broncos were 0/5 against the Colts and just 2/7 against the Titans inside the 20-yard line.

**The fumble on Nate Clements’ interception late in the fourth quarter was strictly a fantastic play by Falcons receiver Roddy White. Clements can’t be faulted for trying to score there. White has done this before. Recall that when these two teams met in San Francisco last year, White chased down Dre Bly and forced a fumble after an interception. (It was on that play when Bly, like an idiot, started celebrating during the runback.)

**The empty seats for the Texans-Raiders game could have put the WNBA to shame.

**Jimmy Clausen did some good things against the Saints (though I have no idea why I had to see 800 replays of that gimme 58-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Stewart) but it’s obvious that the rookie’s decision-making is a little too slow for the pro game at this point. Last week Clausen dawdled in the pocket; this week, he wound up asking for the snap too late in the play clock (particularly on the game’s final drive). It’s all part of his learning curve.

**Why did the Panthers wear their alternate blue jerseys against the Saints? It was a road game, which minimized the marketing appeal of the third uni. And it was an indoor game, which meant that avoiding the heat-trapping black jerseys was not an issue.

**Speaking of heat…have you seen that the Colts now have two kids who hold a giant white board over Peyton Manning to create shade for the star quarterback when he sits on the bench? That must be a dream job for those kids. Still, every time I see Manning’s personal shade creators, I can’t help but think about the pathetic loser who used to constantly hold an umbrella for Michael Jackson.

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