Tag:Matt Ryan
Posted on: January 15, 2012 11:11 am
Edited on: January 15, 2012 3:43 pm
 

Falcons hire Dirk Koetter as new OC

Dirk Koetter has been hired as Atlanta's offensive coordinator (US Presswire).By Josh Katzowitz

Falcons coach Mike Smith and former Jaguars offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will be reunited as the Falcons announced the hiring of Koetter as their offensive coordinator on Sunday.

Koetter replaces Mike Mularkey, who was hired as Jacksonville’s head coach.

"I am very pleased to add Coach Koetter as our offensive coordinator," Smith said in a statement released by the team.  "Dirk is a veteran offensive coach who will bring years of NFL experience as an offensive coordinator as well as a fresh set of ideas to our offense. He is bright, he understands the intricacies of the vertical passing game, but he also wants to be able to run the football which is very important in the NFL.

"I look forward to working with Dirk and have tremendous confidence that he will be a great addition to our team and our coaching staff."

Koetter beat out an apparent interview list that included Brian Billick, Brian Schottenheimer and Packers quarterback coach Tom Clements in order to win the job from his old Jacksonville mate.

Koetter was hired as Jacksonville's offensive coordinator in 2007. He worked with Smith for one year. Smith was the Jaguars' defensive coordinator before he became Atlanta's head coach in 2008.

While Koetter’s offense didn’t impress this season -- even with the league’s leading rusher, Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville finished last in the league in yards gained and 28th in points scored -- the Jaguars have been better under Koetter in years past. Not great, mind you. But closer to league average as opposed to league worst.

At the very least, Koetter will get to work with a franchise quarterback for the first time as an offensive coordinator, after spending his previous years dealing with David Garrard from 2007-10 and the disappointing rookie Blaine Gabbert last year. Matt Ryan will be quite an upgrade from those two.

Koetter inherits an offense blessed with established starters such as quarterback Matt Ryan, running back Michael Turner, tight end Tony Gonzalez and receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones. With the exception of Jones, who was a breakout rookie in 2011, all those playmakers, plus fullback Ovie Mughelli, have been Pro Bowl selections.

But Atlanta fans shouldn’t expect a huge change in offensive philosophy. As NFL analyst Adam Caplan notes, Murlakey and Koetter run a similar style of offense.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 8, 2012 8:51 pm
Edited on: January 8, 2012 10:12 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Wild Card: Ranking Tebow

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Wild-Card Weekend recap below and don't forget to
subscribe via iTunes
.

Ranking the Remaining QBs

Are you ----ing kidding me? Did that just happen? That, of course, is Tim Tebow hitting Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard, walk-off touchdown in the first-ever game featuring the new NFL overtime rules to push Denver past Pittsburgh and into the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

The lesson, as always? You're gonna want to have someone who can sling the rock when the playoffs roll around and Tebow somehow morphed into that in the first round of the playoffs against one of the all-time great defenses. But where does he rank with the rest of the quarterbacks remaining in the playoffs?

8. T.J. Yates, Houston Texans
With all due respect to the only former UNC quarterback to win a playoff game, he just doesn't stack up with the rest of the folks in the playoffs. That being said, he's a perfect fit for the zone-stretch offense that the Texans run, and as long as he doesn't have to do too much, he's fine. He's probably gonna have to do too much against the Ravens this week.

7. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Smith's been incredibly improved in 2011 so it's not like this is taking a potshot at him. Smith had his best season -- by far -- of his career, throwing just five picks and completing 61.3 percent of his passes. But you're telling me you're taking Smith if you need to win a game? No, no you're not.

6. Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco's had great moments this year, but his inconsistency is absolutely terrifying. Seven times (seven!) he's gone under 200 yards passing on the season, and many times this year the Ravens have been forced to overcome his poor play. Some of those times, they just don't lean on Flacco because they have a beasty run game and a really good defense. But that's not exactly helping his cause, you know?

5. Tim Tebow, Denver Broncos
COME ON DOWN THE OLD KOOL-AID FILLED RABBIT HOLE! But, no, seriously. Tebow made throws on Sunday night that he's not supposed to make. And he did it against a defense that doesn't let most quarterbacks make throws like that, much less a would-be remedial QB like Tebow. But he brings a running game, he brings an improved passing game, he brings along the worst wide receiver corps (by far) of anyone in the playoffs and he brings along the dreaded intangibles.

4. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Eli's a top-five quarterback in the NFL this season, and he's got a legitimate case to be right there in Tom Brady's class (just like he said before the season!). When it comes down to it, though, you're not taking him for a playoff stretch run over any of the rest of the guys on the list. At least not yet anyway ... (But yes, there's a HUGE gap between 1-4 and 5-8.)

3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
People keep saying that Brady does the most with the least but that argument's kind of ridiculous when Rob Gronkowski just wrapped up the greatest season by a tight end in the history of the NFL. Three here, by the way, is like "1c."

2. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
The third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 450 yards in a playoff game.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Last I checked he's still the defending champion. Plus, he's got the mobility that no one else on this list (even Tebow) has, he's the most accurate quarterback on the run and he's working on a week's rest in addition to two weeks of hearing everyone talk about how he's not the best quarterback left in the playoffs.

Winners

Josh McDaniels: Not only is the former Broncos head coach and Patriots offensive coordinator now back with the Patriots but he's going to play against Tim Tebow next week. This is a good thing because McDaniels basically got fired for drafting Tebow. I mean, not entirely but it didn't help things. Doesn't everyone look kind of silly for not trusting him now.

T.J. Yates:
Yates was the rookie who was going to screw things up for his team, but instead he played the perfect foil to Andy Dalton's inconsistency, going 11 of 20 for 159 yards and a touchdown. Those aren't mind-blowing numbers, and 40 of the yards came on one touchdown pass to Andre Johnson, but Yates did exactly what he was supposed to do, which is "don't screw things up."

Overtime Rules: It -- literally -- took Ron Winter longer to explain the new overtime rules than it took the Broncos to end the overtime. One play to DeMaryius Thomas and that's it. Which is good for the NFL because a longer, more prolonged overtime opened up the possibility for mistakes by refs and scrutiny by media and fans. Instead now we think it works perfectly!

Pierre Thomas: Dude was kiliing it on Saturday and might be the biggest reason New Orleans won. He "only" scored once and but he put up 121 total yards and he fought for every freaking one of them; there's a reasonable chance 115 of them were after contact. Thomas' refusal to go down to the turf resulted in a lot of Saints drives getting extended a lot further than they should have, and he deserves props for his effort.

Cleveland Browns: When the Falcons were eliminated, the Browns locked up better draft picks in 2012, thanks to the Julio Jones trade. (They'll now pick a lot earlier, no worse than 23rd, in the first and fourth rounds.) Tom Heckhart also looks a little bit smarter today -- even if Julio Jones is special (he is) and even if the Falcons will eventually be more explosive (they should), that deal didn't work out the way the Falcons and Thomas Dimitroff thought it would. Yeah, they made the playoffs, but it was as a wild card and they didn't score a single point on Sunday.

Smith would like you to re-spot that ball, sir. (AP)

Losers

Mike Smith: Twice on Sunday, Smith had a controversial fourth-down decision to make. OK, the decisions weren't really that controversial, but the playcalls -- and the result -- were. Each time, once with Michael Turner on the freaking sideline, the Falcons snuck Ryan against a stout Giants defensive line, and each time, he was stuffed. Those decisions don't change the outcome of the game, per se, because the Giants still outscored Atlanta by more than six points, but Smith's going to answer a lot of questions about his decision-making.

Chris Crocker
: Crocker's a friend of the blog, so we don't want to rip him too hard, but that was a pretty terrible game from the Bengals safety. He dropped a crucial would-be pick-six at the start of the second half, he missed a sack of Yates, and his incredibly poor "tackling" on Arian Foster's 42-yard touchdown run is going to be replayed all week long. Not a good day for Crocker.

Lions Defense: It's not rare for a defense to get surgically dissected by Drew Brees. But the Lions have to be shaking their heads at missing a good chance at up-ending the Saints on Saturday because their defense couldn't get any penetration on Brees, couldn't make any stops on fourth downs, didn't make the Saints punt a single time and generally looked lost in coverage. They also dropped a pair of easy interceptions, one of which Eric Wright should've taken to the house.

Mike Mularkey: After a great season from the Falcons and a strong finish to the year, Mularkey's been a hot name as a coaching candidate and has a slew of interviews lined up. But the people looking to hire him for a full-time job are going to wonder about the incredibly conservative gameplan Mularkey dragged into the Meadowlands on Sunday, and how he managed to get outscored by Eli Manning 2-0. And then there's the short-yardage stuff (see: Mike Smith above). Smith's saying "go" but Mularkey's the guy dialing up the plays, and it might behoove teams to put him through a "Fourth-and-Short Playcalling Quiz" before giving him the gig.

John Elway: At halftime against Pittsburgh, Tim Tebow had thrown for 185 yards (all in the second quarter) and tied two of Elway's playoff records with the Broncos: he and Elway are the only Broncos quarterbacks with a) two 50-yard passes in the same game and b) a rushing and passing score in the same game. Oh and then he walked off the Steelers in overtime with an 80-yards pass. Please tell me how he's not going to bring Tebow back in 2012.

The Big Questions

 
Marvin needs to challenge his challenges. (AP)

1. What was Marvin Lewis thinking on those challenges?
He wasn't. The Bengals didn't lose because Lewis bungled a pair of first-half challenges, but that shouldn't excuse him for the actual bungling. Lewis gave away two timeouts and any chance of challenging in the second half by deciding that the Bengals (4/4 on short-yardage conversions against the Texans in Week 13) needed to challenge a bad spot on a second down and two that only went for one yard. Then he compounded it by challenging a catch in the second quarter, which allowed him to enter halftime with a deficit and no challenges.

2. Can the Saints win on the road?
Of course they can. But will they? The Saints are 0-4 in franchise history away from the Superdome when it comes to the playoffs and that's an applicable lesson for this year's team, who only played five games outside of a dome the entire year.

That's right: just five games. Now, the Saints know this. They talked about it with our own Pete Prisco after their win over Detroit on Saturday. The Saints are guaranteed nine games inside a year, because of eight home matchups and a game at division rival Atlanta. Here's what happened when they did venture away from the comfort of turf:

Week/Location Result Points Scored Passing Yards TD/INT Total Yards
Week 1 @ Green Bay L 34 419 3/0 477
Week 4 @ Jacksonville W 23 351 1/2 503
Week 5 @ Carolina W 30 359 2/1 444
Week 6 @ Tampa Bay L 20 383 1/3 453
Week 14 @ Tennessee W 22 337 2/0 437
Weekly Average N/A 34.2 334.2 2.9/0.9 467.1

Two of the Saints three losses this season came outside on the road, and they only went above 30 points twice on the road, despite averaging 34.2 points per game this season.

To paraphrase our Vice President, that's a big freaking deal.

3. Do Matt Ryan's playoff losses make him a bad quarterback?
No. But Ryan's the guy who'll be heavily judged over the next year with respect to his postseason performance, since he's now 0-3 in the playoffs. In those three games, Ryan's 70 of 110 for 584 passing yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. He's definitely the victim of a) conservative gameplans and b) playing against good teams (the NFC Champion Cardinals, the Super Bowl Champion Packers and this year's Giants), but that isn't going to stop people from discussing the fact that his stats stink in the playoffs and he can't win. It's the same thing people said about Aaron Rodgers before last year.

4. Can the Giants really win the Super Bowl?
Damn right they can. The "shades of 2007" storyline is a bit played out at this point ... but it's just kind of true. They're a wild card that everyone counted out, Eli Manning's hitting his stride at the absolutely perfect time, they've got a running game that's shaping back up and their pass rush is absolutely deadly. This is the kind of the same team, just with different players. (San Fran up-ending the Saints and keeping the Giants away from the Superdome would help a lot, too.)

5. Did you really rank Tim Tebow FIFTH on the remaining quarterbacks list?
Yes. Let's just move on before I emerge from my overtime-induced blackout.

6. How bright is the future for the Lions?
Very bright. They'll obviously want to lock down Calvin Johnson at some point, and they need to get some secondary help this coming offseason, and getting Mikel Leshoure back to provide a power running game is critical. But Matthew Stafford's primed to be the next quarterback who warrants a debate for "elite" status, in case the 5,000+ yards he tossed in 2011 didn't clue you into that. 

7. Why did the Saints draft Mark Ingram?
Not sure. But it at least seemed like a good idea the time, right? Ingram was supposed to be the power runner for the Saints, but in his first season he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and scored only five touchdowns. He's not playing now and Chris Ivory's performance on Saturday night really leads me to believe New Orleans could've gotten better value at a different position in April's draft.

8. Could Kevin Kolb land another big contract?

Possibly! Doing so would mean that Kolb would lose his first big contract though: Charley Casserly reported on Sunday that the Cardinals are a sleeper candidate for Peyton Manning if the Colts let him go. To make that happen, they'd obviously have to bail on Kolb's contract, which they can reportedly do at a fairly cheap cost. The timing is the issue though, since Kolb's roster bonus is due in March as well. But if it happens, Kolb could instantly become the third- or fourth-best quarterback available on the market, along with Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Matt Flynn. It's a longshot, but an interesting situation to watch nonetheless.

9. Does Tebow deserve all the credit for the Broncos win?

As usual, no. Tebow gets a ton of credit because he does some amazing things late in games, but let's be clear: the Steelers played pretty freaking badly on Sunday night. Their pass defense was AWFUL and they ran Ben Roethlisberger out on a bad ankle and looked anemic early on on offense. The Broncos defense deserves some credit too, of course, because they played a nice game. And so do Tebow's wide receivers. Just figure out a way to spread it around.

GIF O' THE WEEK

OH NO Hakeem Nicks DID NOT JUST DO THE DIRTY BIRD. OH YES HE DID Jamaal Anderson.

Worth 1,000 Words


For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: January 5, 2012 10:37 am
 

Film Room: Giants vs. Falcons wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Both of these teams seem to be peaking at the right time. The Falcons are looking for their first playoff win in the Matt Ryan-Mike Smith-Thomas Dimitroff era; the Giants are looking for a second improbable Super Bowl surge in five years. Here’s the breakdown:


1. Falcons offensive approach
The Falcons spent most of the season trying to figure out if they would remain the two tight end/two-back run-oriented offense that has defined them since Mike Smith and his offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey arrived, or if they’d go ahead and assume the pass-first identity that Thomas Dimitroff committed them to when he traded a bounty for the chance to draft Julio Jones.

In the end, the pass-first approach won out. After fullback Ovie Mughelli went down with a Week 7 knee injury and Jones’ iffy hamstring strengthened, the Falcons drifted to more three-receiver sets and wound up finishing fourth in the league in pass attempts.

They also expanded Ryan’s presnap freedoms. The fourth-year quarterback has considerable power when it comes to audibling and changing protections at the line of scrimmage. In fact, it’s not unheard of for the Falcons to eschew huddling for an entire half. There have been some rough patches – Jones, in particular, was prone to mental mistakes early on – but the Falcons are finally clear about being a passing team.

By working out of three-receiver sets, Atlanta makes it tougher for defenses to double both White and Jones, as doubling both all but ensures Tony Gonzalez gets matched up on a linebacker:

Gonzalez has made a living feasting on zone defenses with an option route. With an option after Gonzalez gets over the top of a linebacker’s coverage, he runs his route based on how the safety plays. A lot of times the safety’s actions are determined by how he’s reading other receivers’ routes. This illustration shows the concept in its simplest terms. Gonzo and his QB must diagnose the defense the same way. That’s never been a problem for Matt Ryan and the veteran TE.

Also, what people don’t think about is how the three-receiver sets can actually help Atlanta’s power run game. Yes, there are fewer lead-blockers or offensive linemen for Michael Turner to run behind, but if Turner can get to the perimeter, he’s more likely to meet a defensive back than linebacker.

Not many defensive backs can’t tackle the 244-pounder one-on-one. This season Turner rushed for 459 yards on 93 attempts (4.9 average) out of three receiver sets.

The Falcons have not completely abandoned their heavy run game (they constantly used a fullback or extra tight end last week, likely to assure that Tampa Bay’s atrocious middle linebacker, Mason Foster, stayed on the field). If they don’t go no-huddle, they’ll be more inclined to bring in Michael Palmer, Reggie Kelly or Mike Cox, rather than stay exclusively in the three-wide spread.

That said, no-huddle would be an excellent tactic for them Sunday, as it could help quell the Meadowlands crowd and slow down that Giants’ pass-rush.

2. New York’s big nickel package
After rookie nickel corner Prince Amukamara got torched for the umpteenth time in early/mid-December, the Giants reverted back to their “big nickel” defensive package, with Antrel Rolle sliding down to slot corner/outside linebacker and either Deon Grant or Tyler Sash coming in to fill Rolle’s safety spot.

Rolle, whom the Cardinals drafted in the first round as a cornerback out of Miami, has the skills to cover slot receivers, and he also happens to be a superb run-defender. In fact, he’s so good that the Giants often used their “big nickel” package against base offensive personnel last season. Rolle doesn’t just offer solidity against the run; he’s also a shrewd blitzer and help-defender in zone coverage. In short, he’s a poor man’s Charles Woodson.

Obviously, though, if the Giants were overwhelmingly better with Rolle at slot corner, they wouldn’t have moved him back to safety to begin this season. Rolle being in the slot does leave the secondary a bit more vulnerable in downfield coverage. Cornerback Corey Webster’s terrific work in solo coverage ameliorates this somewhat, but Aaron Ross is a bit of a concern on the other side.

3. Atlanta’s approach
If Webster defends Julio Jones, Matt Ryan will look for the mismatch with Roddy White. If Webster defends White, Ryan will look for Jones. The Giants may want to give Ryan one more presnap read to dissect by having Webster alternate between defending Jones and White.

Regardless of where Webster lines up, a big focus of Ryan’s will be on getting the ball out quickly. He’s more inclined to find his rhythm with three-and five-step-drops, just as Tony Romo did in the second half Sunday night (it was a mistake for the Cowboys to not go with this approach earlier in that game).

Matt Ryan will be celebrating if he can get the ball out quickly. (Getty Images)

Even if Ryan’s rhythm is not a concern – and maybe it isn’t; the guy is a cerebral, fundamentally sound passer – Atlanta’s pass protection IS. The Falcons’ front five is a mauling, power-based group that is below the NFL’s athletic median.

It holds up because the five cogs are cohesive and familiar to Ryan. But that isn’t enough when facing a technician like Justin Tuck, a lightning bolt like Osi Umenyiora or a freak like Jason Pierre-Paul.

The only way the Falcons can give Ryan enough time to take a shot downfield is if they go max protect. Thus, when the Falcons do get away from their three-wide personnel, they won’t just be looking to pound the rock – they’ll be looking to go deep. The Giants secondary should be on high alert for play-action.

4. Stopping Eli and the passing game
Cris Collinsworth mentioned early in last Sunday night’s broadcast that Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan regretted not blitzing Eli Manning more when they met back in Week 14. But in the rematch, Ryan quickly found out that even his most creative blitzes couldn’t faze Manning.

The eighth-year veteran has reached that level where he himself can’t be beat. He simply has too much intelligence, poise and arm strength. Instead, the way to beat Manning is to beat his receivers and hope that leads to Giants mistakes.

Thus, don’t expect the Falcons to do anything more with their pass-rush than the occasional zone blitzes that they’ve used all season. They’re better off focusing on Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. The Redskins discombobulated the Giants in Week 15 by bracketing the top receivers with corners underneath and safeties over the top. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett was betting that Manning would get impatient and force some balls into those coverages. He was correct.

Stifling the receivers outside is a great approach because it forces Manning to work to his third and fourth reads. He’s more than capable of that….as long as his protection holds up. The Falcons have only a good-but-not-great pass-rush (free agent pickup Ray Edwards has been a disappointment), but it’s a pass-rush that’s capable of exploding at any moment thanks to the supple speed of John Abraham. When Manning’s primary reads are covered, this offense goes from being big-play oriented to dink and dunk. That bodes well for the Falcons (see item 5).

5. Atlanta’s speed
The emergence of Sean Weatherspoon has been huge for Atlanta’s defense. The second-year linebacker is a swift, powerful three-down player who attacks the run and can patrol sideline-to-sideline in underneath coverage. The Falcons have a second player of this ilk in Curtis Lofton, a sound fourth-year pro who lacks Weatherspoon’s elite athletic prowess but compensates with decisive diagnostic skills.

With these two working behind vociferous, quick defensive tackles like Jonathan Babineaux and Corey Peters, it’s not only tough to run on the Falcons, it’s tough to execute screens, dumpoffs and shallow crosses. The intended receiver might catch the pass, but he’s not going far. If he does get away, he still has to get by William Moore and Thomas DeCoud, two of the game’s faster downhill safeties.
 
Overall, this speedy zone defense will be a problem for the Giants, a team that compensated for its bad run game this season by totaling 138 completions to Jake Ballard, Bear Pascoe, Henry Hynoski, D.J. Ware, Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the wild-card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 22, 2011 10:41 am
Edited on: December 22, 2011 10:44 am
 

Keep an Eye on: Week 16's finer points

Julius Peppers will play a big role in stopping Aaron Rodgers. (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Packers vs. Bears
The question is, What did the Chiefs do to make the Packers imperfect, and can the Bears do it too? In short, the Chiefs did nothing special. They ate up clock offensively, running on early downs and sustaining drives with conversions on several third-and-manageable situations. They stayed in base personnel That kept the Packers in their base 3-4, which is plainer than rice cake compared to the blitzes and disguises from their nickel and dime packages. Against that front, Kyle Orton was able to manipulate the defense with play action and eye movement.


Defensively, the Chiefs played press-man against the Packers’ receivers, which the Chiefs had just enough resources to do given Greg Jennings was out. They often rushed only three and forced Aaron Rodgers to beat them from the pocket. Normally, Rodgers would do that with ease, but Sunday he was uncharacteristically jumpy.

The Bears can certainly play this rudimentary style of football – any team can. But that doesn’t mean it will work for them. It hasn’t worked for them yet, after all. Caleb Hanie has been asked to manage the game and has often responded by ruining it (three interceptions in three of his four starts). With no staple ground attack, the Bears haven’t even been in position to play dink and dunk football.

Defensively, Chicago has moved away from the archaic Tampa 2 and towards more press coverage schemes. But their press coverage has not been pure man-to-man, perhaps because of Charles Tillman’s limitations in change-of-direction. It’s doubtful the Bears can simply out-execute the Packers’ receivers; instead they’ll need Julius Peppers & Co. to exploit that injury-riddled offensive line.

Cowboys vs. Eagles
Apparently the 2011 Eagles just needed 12 games to find their identity. The last two weeks they’ve looked like what everyone originally expected them to look like. It’s not that the players are finally getting comfortable in the system, it’s that the system has been tweaked and is finally logical.

Defensively, the Eagles have played more press-coverage and have mixed things up in their pass-rush (for example, aligning Trent Cole and Jason Babin at standup inside linebacker positions behind a two-man line against the Jets – a tactic that generated two of Babin’s three sacks).

They’ve moved Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to dime back, giving the slot nickel duties back to Joselio Hanson. They’ve inserted Casey Matthews back into the lineup, not as a starter but as a nickel linebacker, where he’s been fairly comfortable. Thanks to all this (and more), this defense has given up just 29 points and has recorded 11 sacks over the last two games.

Offensively, Philly’s line is doing a much better job picking up blitzes. The receivers are reading coverages and Michael Vick is playing with patience in the pocket. Vick’s limited football IQ has still led to a few unnecessary hits and missed opportunities, but the good has far outweighed the bad.

LeSean McCoy was bottled up by the Dolphins but, working out of spread formations, he produced 102 yards on 18 carries against the Jets. He’s scored five touchdowns the past two games.

The Eagles won their first meeting with the Cowboys handily. Even on the road this week, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them do that again.

Saints vs. Falcons
No one is playing better than Drew Brees right now, though Matt Ryan has played well enough to make the Falcons this year’s Wild Card Team That Nobody Wants to Face.

After an up and down start, Ryan has gotten comfortable with the Falcons’ new pass-oriented system. That system has had them operating out of 11 personnel (one back, one tight end, three wide receivers) in a no-huddle. Ryan has called most of the game at the line of scrimmage.

This has helped Atlanta on several fronts. For one, Michael Turner, though a power back, has been very good running from the wider 2 x 1 receiver formations. In these sets, Turner gets a clearer picture of his running lanes and faces more cornerbacks and fewer linebackers at the second level.

Secondly, the Falcons can create more inside spacing for Tony Gonzalez, which punishes defenses that try to defend him with a linebacker. Defenses that put a safety on Gonzalez are leaving single coverage on either Julio Jones or Roddy White.

Perhaps the best benefit of the hurry-up is, with all the audibling, Ryan controls the pass protections. That’s given Ryan a much better understanding of where the defensive pressure is likely to come from. Ryan’s presnap protection calls will play a huge factor in the outcome Monday night, as the Saints are known for their aggressive blitzes.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 8 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 13, 2011 3:03 pm
Edited on: December 13, 2011 3:57 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 14

Posted by Will Brinson



Every week, our NFL experts will hand out the Eye on Football hardware to the best of the best from the NFL week that was.

Week 14 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  Gronk   JPP  Prater Coughlin
Judge Sanchez   JPP  Prater  Kubiak
Prisco  Ryan   JPP Cloherty   Whiz
Brinson   MJD   JPP  Prater Coughlin
Katzowitz   Eli   JPP  Prater  Kubiak
Wilson   MJD  Suggs  Prater Coughlin
Week 14'ss over and we're getting close to the -- gulp -- end of the regular season in the NFL. Before we get too sad, let's hand out some awards.

On offense, there were a number of guys that warranted consideration, but eventually Maurice Jones-Drew's four touchdown game in Jacksonville's blowout win over the Buccaneers was just too much and he's our Eye on Offense Award winner.

The Eye on Defense Award wasn't quite as close as Jason Pierre-Paul's performance on Sunday night was dominant enough to nearly net him a sweep of the votes.

And since Tim Tebow isn't eligible for the Eye on Special Teams Award, we just had to give it to Matt Prater.

Meanwhile, Gary Kubiak's win over the Bengals to get the Texans into the playoffs was just enough to squeak by Tom Coughlin in the Eye on Coaching Award voting.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Rob Gronkowski Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
Gronkowski ran over, through, around, under and did I mention through half of the Washington defense. He humiliated the Redskins and in doing so set an NFL record for most touchdown catches in a season by a tight end. Not bad at all.
Mark SanchezMark Sanchez, QB, Jets
He's cheered. He's booed. He's cheered again. Finally, Jets' fans seem to have warmed up to the guy, and for good reason: Sanchez not only is playing well; he's winning. His two touchdown passes and two TD runs in a victory so lopsided it cost Kansas City's Todd Haley his job.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Matt Ryan Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
He threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns in rallying his team from being down 23-7 at the half against the Panthers. Ryan threw for 232 yards and three scores in the second half.
Maurice Jones-DrewMaurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars
Mojo didn't just break the all-time record for touchdowns by a Jaguars player, he shattered it. With gusto -- Jones-Drew got in the end zone four times on Sunday against the Bucs, scoring twice on the ground and catching two teeters as well. He doesn't get nearly enough credit.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Eli ManningEli Manning, QB, Giants
Rob Ryan called Manning elite and unfortunately for Ryan Manning proved why Sunday. New York was down 12 points late but Manning threw for 400 yards and two TDs to lead the Giants to victory. Those who say Eli is more clutch than Peyton might be right and Ryan might agree.
Maurice Jones-Drew Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars
MJD hasn't had much to smile about this season, but he went off on Bucs, Florida's worst NFL team. He had four touchdowns (2 rushing, 2 receiving) in Mel Tucker's first win as an NFL head coach.

Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Jason Pierre-PaulJason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
Giants players are comparing him to LT which is a little much. Taylor is the second best defensive player of all time behind Deion Sanders (yeah, I said it). A little much, yes, but JPP is doing some special things. He singlehandedly obliterated the Cowboys with two sacks and a blocked kick.
Jason Pierre-Paul Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
He had two sacks, one forced fumble and blocked the game-tying field goal. Pierre-Paul's block not only saved the game; it might have saved the season for the Giants and a job for head coach Tom Coughlin.
Prisco Brinson
Jason Pierre-PaulJason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
He had two sacks and blocked the potential tying field goal in the final seconds in the Giants 37-34 victory over the Cowboys Sunday night. He was all over the field with his relentless style of play. He's a Pro Bowl player this season.
Jason Pierre-PaulJason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
Pierre-Paul gets most of the credit for blocking the would-be game-tying field goal from Dan Bailey, but he owned the entire game against the Cowboys Sunday night, forcing a fumble and picking up two sacks against Dallas. An absolutely beasty performance.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jason Pierre-Paul Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
A star was born Sunday when Pierre-Paul recorded eight tackles, two sacks and a blocked kick that might have saved the Giants. Without Osi Umenyiora in the game and with Justin Tuck not healthy, he was an absolute lifesaver for the Giants.
Terrell Suggs Terrell Suggs, DE, Ravens
Suggs terrorized poor Dan Orlovsky (who is now 0-9 as an NFL starter) all afternoon, registering three of the Ravens' four sacks and forcing three fumbles. Mr. T-Sizzle now has seven sacks in his last three games. 
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Matt PraterMatt Prater, K, Broncos
A 59-yarder to tie the Chicago Bears. A 51-yarder to win in overtime. He becomes only the second kicker in league history to connect on two 50-plus yard kicks to tie and then win a game. Mike Vanderjagt was the other.
Matt Prater Matt Prater, K, Broncos
First, he hits a 59-yard field goal to tie the game; then he nails a 51-yarder to win it in overtime. It marked the third straight week and fourth time in the last eight games that Prater won a game with a last-second field goal.
Prisco Brinson
Dan BaileyColin Cloherty, TE, Jaguars
He scooped up a fumbled punt by Preston Parker and returned it 9 yards for a touchdown. This tight end was recently signed and had considered getting on with another career before the Jaguars signed him off the street.
Matt PraterMatt Prater, K, Broncos
All the credit goes to you-know-who, but Prater deserves a ton of love for his kicking performance on Sunday. He nailed a 59-yard field goal to push the game to overtime, and hit a 51-yarder in OT to win. That doesn't even take into account his near-perfect onsides kick in regulation.
Katzowitz Wilson
Matt Prater Matt Prater, K, Broncos
Prater was the real hero in the Broncos stunning overtime win against the Bears. He matched a career-high with a 59-yard field goal at the end of regulation to force OT and  blasted a 51-yarder to win it. Tebow, Tebow, Tebow. But save a little credit for Prater, who has four game-winning kicks since Tebow took over.
Matt Prater Matt Prater, K, Broncos
Prater striped a 59-yarder to send the game to overtime and did it again in the extra period from 51-yards to give the Broncos the win. It might've been the best special teams performance of the season.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Tom CoughlinTom Coughlin, HC, Giants
Coughlin beat Jason Garrett like the Cowboys coach stole something from him. And he just happened to take control of the NFC East when it looked like the ship be sinking after four straight losses. Great, gutty win for a Giants team that desperately needed it.
Mike Munchak Gary Kubiak, HC, Texans
He's overcome losses of key players all season, so clinching the Texans' first-ever playoff spot with a win on the road and with a rookie third-string quarterback should be no big deal. But it is. Kubiak consistently beats the odds, and he just beat Cincinnati with T.J. Yates making the game-winning pass with two seconds left. Impressive.  
Prisco Brinson
Tom CoughlinKen Whisenhunt, HC, Cardinals
His team upset the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, even though starting quarterback Kevin Kolb was knocked out of the game with concussion problems. John Skelton came off the bench to lead the upset.
Mike MunchakGary Kubiak, HC, Texans
Houston clinched the franchise's first-ever playoff berth on Sunday and they did it by beating a second-straight playoff contender (Cincy, a week after Atlanta) without Arian Foster being productive. Kubiak refuses to let this team get derailed, even if it means T.J. Yates winning games.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jim Schwartz Gary Kubiak, HC, Texans
He’s done a wonderful job saving his job with Houston’s first-ever playoff-clinching win. Plus, the decision to stick with T.J. Yates instead of trying to acquire Donovan McNabb (or any other QB for that matter) was a good one. The fact the Texans, even with three starting quarterbacks this season, continue to win is one reason Kubiak will stay employed.
Tom Coughlin Tom Coughlin, HC, Giants
I'm still unclear why Coughlin is on the hot seat but the Giants went into the Jerry Dome Sunday night and not only beat the Cowboys in a huge NFC East matchup, they overcame a late-fourth quarter 12-point deficit. Oh, and they now lead the division. Maybe Jason Garrett and/or Rob Ryan should replace Coughlin on said hot seat.

Posted on: November 30, 2011 3:42 pm
 

Film Room: Texans vs. Falcons preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Two quality playoff opponents from the Southern divisions square off Sunday. Frankly, this game was a lot more intriguing before Matt Schaub’s injury. If he’s healthy, we’re talking about the Texans as Super Bowl contenders. Now, with T.J. Yates expected to start, we’re talking about them as mere playoff contenders.

Of course, the Texans might argue that their first-ranked defense and third-ranked rushing attack can still sail the ship. Their Week 13 matchup versus Atlanta will put that theory to its first major test.



1. State of Houston’s No. 1 defense
After four years of changing schemes and coordinators, the Texans finally got it right by hiring Wade Phillips. Phillips is running the same defense he did in Dallas: a 3-4 alignment with a lot of 4-3 gap-penetrating principles. As he did with DeMarcus Ware, Phillips keeps his best pass-rusher on the weak side of the formation to help command one-on-one edge matchups.

With Mario Williams hurt, that pass-rusher is third-year pro Connor Barwin. Barwin can get after the quarterback, but Houston’s best all-around outside linebacker is second-round rookie Brooks Reed. Reed is fantastic at setting the edge and taking on blocks in the run game, and every down he brings the insane energy that all of Houston’s front seven defenders bring.

The same can be said about Reed’s fellow rookie, J.J. Watt. The powerful, long-armed first-rounder from Wisconsin has become nearly impossible to block one-on-one, both against the run and pass. In recent weeks, so has veteran Antonio Smith, a tenacious, crafty veteran who knows how to steer the action in ways that create opportunities for teammates (Smith was crucial to Barwin’s four-sack effort at Jacksonville last week).

A wrinkle Phillips has frequently used in Houston that he used only occasionally in Dallas is blitzing his inside linebacker. The incredible speed, burst, timing and innate playmaking instincts of Brian Cushing has likely been the motivation for that.

Good as this Texans defense – and especially the deep, high-octane front seven – has been, you could argue that it’s fool’s gold (it wouldn’t be a super strong argument, but it also wouldn’t be completely ridiculous). The Texans have held their last five opponents to under 14 points, but those opponents have been the Browns, Bucs, Titans and Jaguars (twice).

Those teams all have a paucity of receiving talent, which Houston’s secondary – bolstered by the magnificence of free agent pickup Jonathan Joseph – has easily exploited. Virtually all of Houston’s seven sacks at Jacksonville were coverage sacks.

The Texans defense will face its first true test in a month and a half this Sunday.

2. Falcons passing game
The past two weeks, the Falcons have broken off from their usual heavy two backs/two tight end formations to operate out of three-receiver sets. That could just be how they prefer to attack vanilla, zone-based 4-3 defenses (which their last two opponents, Tennessee and Minnesota, both run). Or, it could be a response to losing fullback Ovie Mughelli (on injured reserve with a knee). We’ll know more after we see how the Falcons choose to go after the Texans Sunday.

The prediction here is Atlanta will stay in three-receiver sets. Harry Douglas is getting very comfortable in his slot role. Roddy White and Julio Jones are hard to double-team when they’re lined up on the same side of the field (which is easier for them to do in three-receiver sets). And no defense yet has found a way to defend Tony Gonzalez in the short seam areas out of these three-wide alignments.

What’s more, Matt Ryan is most comfortable when audibling at the line of scrimmage. He loves to get to the line early and move his targets around. Three-receiver formations spread the defense and paint a clearer picture for the fourth-year quarterback.

3. Atlanta’s run game
The Falcons are still built to run the ball. That will be the case as long as they continue to trot a large but unathletic offensive line out on the field. Michael Turner, who has a surplus of patience but deficit of speed and quickness, is best equipped to run behind lead-blocking fullbacks and tight ends.

However, he’s proven capable of consistently gaining 4-6 yards out of single-back sets. Those formations usually put a defense in its nickel package, which gives Turner more opportunities to use his power against a defensive back instead of a linebacker. The Falcons can also run draws and delays with emerging lightning bug Jacquizz Rodgers when lining up three-wide.

The Texans don’t mind playing in their nickel, in part because the linebacker who comes off the field, DeMeco Ryans, has not been dazzling this season, and in part because they have relatively firm-tackling defensive backs (Glover Quin, in particular).

4. Houston’s run game
If last week’s Jaguars game is any indication, it’s fallacious to think the Texans can survive their quarterback woes by simply riding their top-ranked ground game. Arian Foster and Ben Tate are both dynamic enough runners to move the chains against an eight-man box (Foster, in fact, is the best all-around runner in the AFC; his fluid but powerful hips and tempo-changing aptitude leave him not far from Adrian Peterson’s level).

The Texans zone-blocking offensive line is cohesive and moves well at all five positions (center Chris Myers is having the best season of the bunch). But as we saw last week, it will be a tough go if that eight-man box is not at least a little bit concerned about getting beat through the air.

So much of Gary Kubiak’s offense is predicated on play-action and rollouts. Houston’s fleet tight ends and Andre Johnson give this method its venom. Overall, the system is intricate but actually puts few heavy demands on the quarterback (arm strength and pocket toughness, two critical attributes, are less significant). But a respectable quarterback is still vital because those play-action and rollouts also set up a lot of Houston’s ground game (namely the stretch handoffs).


5. Atlanta’s defense
Mike Smith started sprinkling more blitz concepts and disguises on his defense last season, but lately, he’s drifted back to execution-based schemes (i.e. fairly vanilla zones that rely on defenders being fundamentally sound and physically outperforming their opponents).

The Falcons could be more traditional if free agent pickup Ray Edwards weren’t so disappointing at defensive end. Edwards was supposed to bring a bookend pass-rushing prowess across from John Abraham. Instead, he’s been less explosive than last season’s underrated starter, Kroy Biermann.

Biermann, like Abraham, is a sinewy, versatile athlete. That’s important because the Falcons do a lot of zone exchange pass-rushes (this is rushing a linebacker on one side and having the defensive end on the other side drop into coverage; the idea is to confuse the quarterback into throwing a hot read into traffic). Speedy but strong linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has been a standout presence in zone rushes (and, for that matter, in general run defense).

In the secondary, left cornerback Brent Grimes is assertive and trusted with most of the solo assignments. Big-money right corner Dunta Robinson plays too far off the receiver to be considered anything more than “solid”. The Falcons frequently interchange their strong and free safeties. No. 1 safety William Moore is a thumper when healthy. In the last three weeks that Moore’s been out, replacement James Sanders has been serviceable as a third-level run defender. No. 2 safety Thomas DeCoud has been a liability in coverage.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 13 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 7, 2011 2:20 am
Edited on: November 7, 2011 12:26 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 9

Posted by Will Brinson



Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 9 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

1. Deja Blue

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Reality Bites

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

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

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

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

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


3. We Want Rex?

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Raiders < Tebow

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. It's a Trap

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

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

Seems simple, right?

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

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

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

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

6. That's So Not Raven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


7. Nit-Packing

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

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

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

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

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

8. Cruise Control

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

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

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

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

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

9. Down By the Schoolyard

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

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

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

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

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

10. Pretty Good Weekend for LSU

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

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

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

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

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

Muffed Punts

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

Worth 1,000 Words



GIF O' THE WEEK

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


Hot Seat Tracker

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

Chasing Andrew Luck

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

MVP Watch

It's all Aaron Rodgers all the way, folks. At 8-0, Rodgers has the Packers looking like the best team in the NFL in large part to the fact that he's playing quarterback at the highest level we've seen in a while. There's honestly no one even close, though a monster game from Matt Forte on Monday could change things a bit.
Posted on: October 31, 2011 4:13 am
Edited on: October 31, 2011 4:29 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 8

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



1. Denver Gets Tebowned
The past week was full of far too much talk about Tim Tebow, leader of men, winner of games and erstwhile quarterback-at-large. The Broncos quarterback even got his own meme -- Tebowing. And call me crazy, but I don't think any of this attention and chatter and one-knee posing sat to well with the Detroit Lions, who rolled into Mile High Stadium on Sunday and delivered a 45-10 beatdown on the Flying Tebows.

But it wasn't enough for Detroit, coming off two-straight losses with their playoff-contender status potentially wobbling, to simply sack Tebow seven times and limit him to 172 passing yards and 63 rushing yards, most of which was well after the Lions victory was in hand.

No, they made things personal, mocking Tebow's pose several times through the course of the game. First there was Stephen Tulloch Tebowing directly behind Tebow immediately after sacking Tebow.



It was a marvelous moment of meme-worthy irony that would make Xzibit proud. But it didn't end there. Tight end Tony Scheffler caught a pass from Matthew Stafford and busted out Tebow's "celebration" too.

Of course, the Lions aren't saying they were coming after Tebow -- after the game Tulloch said that "it's just fun, no disrespect" meant with his celebration, and that he even told Tebow as much. Tulloch had an even better point, though, when he was asked about all the hype that surrounds the former Florida Gator.

"It’s not his fault; it’s the media that gives him that hype," Tulloch said.

This is true, and it's really the most important thing to mention when talking about Tebow right now, because the debate as to whether or not he's good isn't a debate -- it's one-sided argument with some people using intangible and inconsequential analysis to try and support Tebow under center.

Tebow's failure to be a good quarterback isn't on him. I mean, ultimately, it is him that decides whether or not he succeeds, of course. But the only reason people are up in arms about his shortcomings as a quarterback is that too much is made out of whether not he can be a quarterback.

We saw this same thing happen with Cam Newton, who was the talk of every single NFL conversation during an offseason that featured furious debate about whether or not he could succeed. Now he's succeeding and Cam -- in terms of loud, screaming media scrutiny -- is on the backburner.

Yes, that's right. Cam's success made him less of a focus for the media. There's no one forcing themselves to doubt his ego and character in the face of folks who trump his athleticism and win-loss record. In short, it's the complete opposite of Tebow, who's continued lack of statistical -- if not empirical -- success still manages to generate a substantial amount of debate in the media.

Which is pretty unfortunate for him.

2. Steeling the AFC
For the first few weeks of the season, a lot was made of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their crumbling dynasty and "old" defense. As it turns out, Phil Simms was spot-on when he told Warren Sapp that his comments were a "tremendous over reaction." And if Sapp didn't believe Simms in Week 2, he should certainly believe him after Pittsburgh shredded New England 25-17.

The score doesn't tell the full story of this game, either, because the Steelers were certainly more than eight points better than the Patriots on Sunday. They held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game (their time of possession, 39:22, dwarfed the Patriots 20:38) and out-Pats-ed the Pats, as Ben Roethlisberger utilized all of his available options and a ball-control passing attack to keep the rock out of Tom Brady's hands.

Pittsburgh was dominant on defense too, even if the Steelers looked a little less devastating when LaMarr Woodley left with a hamstring injury that could keep him out against the Ravens on Sunday night in Week 9. Brady was fairly efficient, completing 24 of his 35 passes, but he only managed 198 yards, good for 8.25 yards per completion, more than five yards off his season average of 13.5.

So who's the best team in the AFC now? Well, it's not the Ravens at the moment. Even with Brady under center it's hard to give the Pats the nod with their secondary so depleted. And I'm not quite ready to shove all my chips in the center of Chan Gailey's table. Pittsburgh, though, if they can stay healthy on defense, showed Sunday exactly why they're probably the best bet to repeat their success in 2010.

3. Nine Times? Nine Times
It's pretty hard to believe that since Mike Shanahan became offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1985, he was never shut out by an opposing defense until October of 2011 against Buffalo ... in Toronto. (Can you imagine if he went back in time and told 1985 Mike Shanahan that? I'd definitely pay upwards of $5,000 for a YouTube of 85 Shanny's reaction.)

Then again, it's unfathomable that the Redskins head coach would come into the 2011 season expecting the duo of John Beck and Rex Grossman to lead Washington to the promised land. Because it's not happening. We talked about it last week and the story's still the same -- Beck and Grossman aren't going to get it done, but there's not a whole lot Washington can do to change that right now.

As Pete Prisco wrote Sunday from Toronto, the Bills no-name roster continuing to impress with All-Pro performances is the real story. But, really, again, how on Earth did Shanahan think that he'd end up winning this year with Grossman and Beck? And how can anyone be optimistic about Beck after he's thrown up stinkbombs against the Panthers and Bills who just aren't that good on defense?

Buffalo sacked him nine times on Sunday, and as Ed Rooney will tell you, that's too many.

I follow a lot of Redskins fans on Twitter (and also a lot of Bears fans, but I didn't realize that until they started getting all Fake Jay Cutler on me during the Panthers game), and it was borderline depressing to follow the game through that virtual medium on Sunday.

It's pretty clear that the quarterback situation is the direct result of this year's hopelessness amongst the D.C. faithful -- and can you blame them? When the option of benching your best quarterback is technically benching your backup so you can go back to starting Rex Grossman, you have a serious problem on your hands.

Unfortunately for Shanahan, neither the Colts or the Dolphins are going to trade him that top-overall pick. So here's hoping Matt Barkley really is good.

4. All Hyped Up
All season long, everyone's based the Eagles for their "Dream Team" nickname that was entirely inapplicable. So it seems only fair, after watching Philadelphia dismember Dallas 34-7 on Sunday night, to give credit where credit's due.

For starters, kudos to Andy Reid for clearly outcoaching Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan and running his record after a bye week to a ridiculous 13-0. Props to Michael Vick, who looked comfortable all night long en route to an incredibly efficient 21/28, 279 passing yard night. It probably didn't hurt him much that LeSean McCoy piled up 185 yards on 30 carries with a pair of touchdowns.

Of course, it probably didn't hurt him to get left tackle Jason Peters back on the field. Or for Philly to have an early 14-point lead, forcing Dallas to chase Vick and giving McCoy a ridiculous amount of space to get his joystick-like moves on.

This is precisely what the Eagles imagined for their team when the season began -- an athletic, big-play offense that's capable of exploding to the end zone at any moment and a defense that eliminates the opponent's passing game.

Considering that 68 of Reid's career wins (and one tie!) have come after Halloween over the course of his career, it's not crazy to think that the Eagles -- at 3-4 and now tied for both second and last place in the NFC East -- could end up winning the division.

5. Rams Over Saints
For the Rams sake, it seems like it might be smart to trot Tony LaRussa and the World Series champion Cardinals out to every home game.

But it was the Cards appearance, not LaRussa's wardrobe, at the Edward Jones Dome that inspired the Rams to rise up and knock off the Saints in a 31-21 shocker on Sunday.

"I think the Cardinals being here was great for the city," running back Steven Jackson said. "Whoever showed up today, regardless if the place was empty, today was the day.

"We came out with a mindset we were going to fight."

Because of the particular circumstances leading up to this game -- Sam Bradford out, Saints coming a 62-point outing, Rams being terrible, Al Harris being older than Rafael Furcal (no, really, it's true) -- there was zero reason to think St. Louis could cover the two-touchdown spread, much less win.

But Jackson was inspired, piling up 159 yards on 25 bruising carries. And the Rams defense was even better, limiting Brees from the start and sacking him six times. (Although I wouldn't be opposed to crediting them with just five sacks since Chris Long's third sack probably qualifies more as something you'd see in the WWE ring.)

There's no reason to get carried away and expect the Rams to start making a run in the NFC West, but take a look at their schedule. They've played some really tough teams to get to 1-6 and the schedule gets really, really, really easy from here on out, matchups against San Francisco, Cincy and Pittsburgh notwithstanding.

Or they could stop playing football and just sell tickets to see LaRussa try on Sam Bradford jerseys. I'd be fine with that too.

6. Bengals emerge
Ryan Wilson and I said before the season that the Bengals, by virtue of a puff-pastry-filled early-season schedule, could start out hot and win a few more games than anyone expected. They've done just that after a dominant 34-12 win in Seattle on Sunday moved them to 5-2.

Everyone is surprised ... except the Bengals. Naturally.

"To the people on the outside, they may be surprised and what not," cornerback Leon Hall said. "Every season we come in expecting to win. Just hopefully, we've got some big games coming up, so we execute in those games."

Hall's speaking to the widely-held belief that the Bengals will fade with  Baltimore and Pittsburgh showing up on the sked twice each in the second half of the season. That might be presumptuous, though, because this Bengals team is quietly becoming legit.

Beating the Seahawks doesn't exactly make them the Super Bowl favorites or anything, but their success is coming with a pretty simple formula that's been forgotten in this day of high-scoring NFL games: defense.

Lest you forget, the Jets made the AFC Championship game two years ago with a rookie quarterback, a stout running game and the best defense in the NFL. The Bengals aren't as good on the ground as the Jets (or even close really) and not as good on defense, but Andy Dalton's better than Mark Sanchez and A.J. Green's better than any of the receiving options the Jets had then.

Cincinnati's top-five defense will get a couple bigger tests soon in the form of the Steelers, the Ravens and a game against the Texans, but the Bengals also get the Titans, the Browns, the Rams and the Cardinals the rest of the way home.

Which means there's actually a decent chance they get to double-digit victories and one of the more shocking playoff berths we've seen in a while.

7. Ponder Wins the Weinke Bowl
The differences in Cam Newton and Christian Ponder are pretty obvious right? Their physical stature, their style of play, their respective hype coming out of college, their expectations once they were drafted ... all very different.

But they have one common thread -- they were both tutored by Chris Weinke, former Florida State and Carolina Panthers quarterback.

Ponder won their first matchup 24-21, thanks to a 31-yard honk by Olindo Mare at the end of regulation field goal that was setup by a penalty-flag honk on a holding call against Steve Smith after Cam Newton scrambled for a first down.

"I got a few texts saying already in the HD it didn't look too bad," Smith said of the official's call. "For a 70-year-old man gimping down the field, I guess that's what he saw."

Hilarious. And also probably a statement that will get Smith some kind of fine. From my vantage point, it was surprising, but not entirely unjustifiable to nail Smith with the yellow flag on the play. It shouldn't have mattered though, because as Newton pointed out after the game, the Panthers didn't do enough earlier in the game to take advantage of a game they should have won.

Once again, the problem really became that they can't stop anyone who resembles a physical running back. Adrian Peterson, who led the Vikings with 86 rushing yards and 76 receiving yards, is the definition of a physical running back, and he had his way with the Panthers defense, who let the Vikings convert seven of their 14 first downs (the Panthers came into the game ranking 29th in the NFL, allowing opponents to convert 45.5 percent of their third downs).

And when you can't stop the other team's offense and your own offense stalls out for several consecutive drives in the second half, it makes winning games hard. Newton was brilliant again, and even though the Panthers are losing, fans aren't exactly getting upset at it. The future is bright.

It's bright in Minnesota too, and it kind of makes you wonder what took Leslie Frazier so long to hand Ponder the reigns. Maybe he should have called Weinke and gotten his opinion first.

8. Fast Learners
Speaking of common threads, how about six of the top seven players in the 2011 NFL Draft coming from the SEC and making an immediate impact on the NFL as rookies?

Newton (Auburn), Marcel Dareus (Alabama), A.J. Green (Georgia), Patrick Peterson (LSU) and Julio Jones (Alabama) all hail from college football's best conference and all have put a serious footprint on the league through eight weeks. Hell, on Sunday, Newton threw three touchdowns, Dareus had 2.5 sacks, Green caught a(nother) touchdown, and Peterson returned a(nother) punt 82 yards.

To take it a step further, and move away from the SEC, it looks like this year's first-round rookies are going to be a pretty damn good crop. Ponder's clearly an upgrade for Minnesota, Ryan Kerrigan's been tremendous in Washington, Robert Quinn's coming on strong for St. Louis, J.J. Watt's a day-one starter for Houston, Aldon Smith is wrecking shop for San Francisco ... and so on and so forth.

It's early -- like eight weeks early -- but it's hard to find a slam-dunk bust in the top 10 of the draft like we've seen seen the past few years. We'll know more by season's end, but the point being is that it's an incredibly impressive performance by this rookie class on such short notice.

Or maybe the lesson is to just avoid drafting for need and grab anyone who played in the SEC.

9. Needing a New Nickname
Chris Johnson is often called "CJ2K" as an homage to his 2,006 yards rushing in 2009. His performance in 2011, coming off a contract dispute, is an insult to the letter K. And perhaps the number 2.

Certainly, it's insulting to Titans fans who had to watch him grind out 34 yards on 14 carries in Tennessee's 27-10 win over Indy Sunday.

Oh and speaking of insults, what's worse for Johnson? That Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said Johnson reminds him of Hassy's old Seattle teammate Shaun Alexander, or that Mike Munchak is having him split carries with Javon Ringer?

"The running game hasn't been where we wanted it to be all year, so I guess they just trying new things," Johnson said.

I mean, does this guy care? Because it always seemed like he might care -- there are certain guys in sports that seem as if once they get paid, they're going to reduce the amount of effort they put forth. We saw this with Albert Haynesworth and the Redskins; everyone except Dan Snyder saw his lack of effort coming.

But Johnson always seemed motivated by people who questioned his ability to be a full-time NFL running back. Maybe he's still motivated and just isn't in game shape yet, but his refusal to take accountability for a holdout followed by a monster contract followed by what is easily the worst season by a running back in the NFL this year is disappointing to say the least.

10. Upset Sunday Gets Upset
The Rams taking down the Saints is obviously a big deal. Perhaps the biggest, considering the Rams were two-touchdown dogs at home. But the early goings of Sunday's action had a lot of potential for upsets, with the Ravens losing big to the Cardinals and the Giants struggling against the winless Dolphins.

Both New York and Baltimore came back to win, but the inconsistency they've both shown against mediocre teams this year is terrifying for their fans. The Ravens looked like they might lose to the Cardinal and Jaguars in less than seven days and the Giants aren't that far removed from getting beat by the Seahawks in their home stadium.

And there's one thing they have in common: inconsistent quarterback play.

Both Joe Flacco and Eli Manning are elite-level talents with big arms. Both guys are capable of great performances. But both guys are equally capable of shooting their teams out of games.

Ken Wisenhunt and Tony Sparano deserve credit for getting their undermanned squads ready to play. Particularly Sparano, since I refuse to believe that this scene didn't unfold in the Dolphins locker room before the game Sunday:



(Yeah that's right, I'm only one Teen Wolf reference away from the trifecta.)

Anyway, the point is that Manning and Flacco scare me. As Clark Judge noted, Manning's been great at times this year, but he's absolutely capable of doing what he did against the Seahawks and tossing three picks. Flacco's more concerning, of course, because he's shown zero consistency this season, and has tended to play down to the opposition (Tennessee, Jacksonville, Arizona are all good examples).

The upside of being inconsistent and talented, though, is that you can make big throws. And both guys did that late on Sunday to help their team win. They just need to show up with more regularity if they expect either squad to make it a deep run this year.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Reggie Bush recorded his second career 100-yard rushing game Sunday. Both of them came against the Giants.
... LeSean McCoy is now the only NFL player to score a touchdown in every game this season.
... Teams coming off a bye this week were 5-1. So much for that theory about being at a disadvantage.
... The Bills are the eighth team in NFL history to start a season 4-0 at home a year after starting the season 0-4 at home.
... Calvin Johnson joins Randy Moss (2007, Pats) as the only players since 1970 to record 11 touchdown catches in their first eight games of the season.
... Five times a team's come back from 20 points to win this year -- most in NFL history.
... Cam Newton, Peyton Manning, Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan are the only quarterbacks with five 250-yard passing games in their rookie season.
... Drew Brees somehow kept his TD streak alive and now has a touchdown pass in 35 consecutive games. Johnny Unitas has the record at 47.
... Patrick Peterson joined Devin Hester and Craig Yeast as the only rookies with more than one 80+ yard return touchdown in a season

Worth 1,000 Words



Jim Irsay Pop-Culture Referencing Tweet That's Sure to Drive Colts Fans Isane of the Week
"No one is "Tanking the season"...that's absurd conspiracy theory mumblings...Suck4Luck doesn't exist n Indy"

Suck for Luck counts as a pop-culture reference right? Whatever, at this point Colts fans want the team to finish dead last right?

GIF O' THE WEEK
I could watch fat men lateraling the football for hours.



Hot Seat Tracker
  • Tony Sparano -- Great effort from Miami, but they came up short. Again.
  • Ken Wisenhunt -- Tough to see that comeback by the Ravens and not get discouraged.
  • Norv Turner -- Unless he wins on Monday.
  • Mike Shanahan -- That 4-12 thing looks more realistic than it did last week doesn't it?
  • Jim Caldwell -- Charley Casserly said he's locked but I dunno.
Chasing Andrew Luck
Colts (-600): They're clearly the NFL's worst team in 2011 ...
Dolphins (-500): But they're in a harder division.
Cardinals (-300): Season. Unraveling.
Rams (-250): Hope!

MVP Watch
Aaron Rodgers somehow picked up some more space on his bye week -- Tom Brady's poor performance separates the Packers quarterback even further. Once again, though, we need to mention Fred Jackson as a viable MVP candidate (though he won't get votes). LeSean McCoy could get some run if the Eagles really get hot.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com