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Tag:Steve Weatherford
Posted on: March 6, 2012 11:45 pm
 

2012 NFL Free Agency: NFC East preview

Can Jerry get Tony enough help in 2012? (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas 2011 season reeked of redemption for a lost 2010 season much of the way through. Despite close (and awkward) losses to the Patriots, Jets and Lions, the Cowboys rolled into December on a four-game winning streak, with a shot at closing out the NFC East. Then things absolutely fell apart: Jason Garrett iced his own kicker in an overtime loss to Arizona, Tony Romo overthrew Miles Austin in a tight Week 14 loss to the Giants, Romo was injured the next week in a meaningless game against the Eagles and Dallas got pounded by the eventual Super Bowl champs on New Years Day. Then Jerry Jones team had to watch the 9-7 Giants march to a Super Bowl victory. Not a fun couple of months for them. And though most of the blame usually finds its way onto Romo or Garrett, significant upgrades on the offensive line and secondary could go a long way towards fixing the Cowboys problems and making them a legit contender.

Free Agents of Note
Linebacker Anthony Spencer was tagged on Monday by Dallas, so he'll be back at least one more year and could get a longer deal ... Tight end Martellus Bennett is a good blocker but hasn't panned out the way Dallas wanted ... Linebacker Keith Brooking is 36 but has drawn interest from Dallas to return in 2012 ... FB Tony Fiammetta is an RFA and needs to be retained, especially given the work he did for DeMarco Murray last year ... Linebacker Bradie James is 31 and could be gone ... Wide receiver Laurent Robinson really clicked with Tony Romo in 2012 and would be a big re-addition ... Punter Mat McBriar could be done in Dallas if the 'Boys want to move forward with Chris Jones.

Needs
Secondary
: Terence Newman, 33, could be a cap/age casualty and Abram Elam, Frank Walker and Alan Ball are free agents. If Dallas plans on remaining as aggressive as defensive coordinator Rob Ryan wants them to be, they'll need to drastically improve the secondary.
Guard
: Tyron Smith and Doug Free flipped sides and are locked in at tackle, but the interior of the line needs improvement.

Targets
Brandon Carr or Cortland Finnegan would be an ideal target for Dallas as longer-term options. Neither is expected to remain with their respective teams. But if the Cowboys can't get Carr, they'll need to pursue some shorter-term options like Carlos Rogers. Guard is deep in free agency too, and it would behoove the Cowboys to invest in a stud like Carl Nicks. Getting Spencer signed to a long-term deal, rather than give him $9 million in 2012, would do a lot for their cap space.

New York Giants

It's crazy to think that the Super Bowl champion Giants looked DOA by the start of the regular season; an almost unbelievable (were it not true) string of injuries hit the team before the season began. The Giants looked even worse off in the middle of a late-season swoon that featured some of the toughest

Free Agents of Note:
Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham is going to get overpaid somewhere else based on his postseason performance ... Secret Super Bowl hero Steve Weatherford got the franchise tag Monday, so he'll be back in 2012 ... Wideout Domenik Hixon's already been re-signed ... Cornerback Aaron Ross says he wants to return but won't commit to a "hometown" discount ... Terrell Thomas was lost in the preseason but is closing in on a deal with the Giants ... Deon Grant is scheduled for free agency as well ... Both Jake Ballard and Bear Pascoe tore their ACLs in the Super Bowl, so the Giants have to sign someone to play tight end ... Kareem McKenzie is 32-years-old and the Giants could be ready to move on after he struggled last season.

Needs
Tight End: This seems like a classic "address it at the end of the first round" issue, since the Giants could have their pick of Cody Fleener, Orson Charles and Dwayne Allen at No. 32. If not, they'll need to get someone from a not-so-attractive free agent pile.
Offensive Line: This is a unit that's getting older quickly. David Deihl can work anywhere on the line, but he's 31.
Secondary: If the Giants get Thomas, they could be fine here, as they've already got Corey Webster and Antrel Rolle. But last year proved how important depth really is, so it wouldn't be surprising to see them beef up the position.

Targets
The Giants are tight up against the salary cap this offseason, but are also coming off a year where they won the Super Bowl. The pressure isn't too intense on them to make a big splash with outside guys in free agency (nor should it be). If they can find value in a some cheaper offensive line options with a little upside (Geoff Schwartz anyone?) that would make the most sense in terms of an outside pick up.

Philadelphia Eagles

You know what happened here: a dream-team season quickly turned into a nightmare out of the gates, and the Eagles were the laughingstock of the NFL as they fell to 1-4. They finally turned things around with a four-game winning streak to close out at 8-8, giving Philly fans plenty of hope for 2012. (Not to mention helping Andy Reid's job security.) But there are still concerns here, because the Eagles have to get some linebackers and safeties in order to stop the run, manage their high-priced cornerbacks in a more efficient manner and keep Michael Vick from getting tattooed by opposing defenders. It's unlikely that Philly will make the same splash in free agency as they did in 2011, but that could actually be a good thing.

Free Agents: Running back Ronnie Brown might've thrown away (literally) any chance he had of returning to Philly ... DeSean Jackson got the franchise tag, and the team could still sign him long term or seek to trade him ... King Dunlap and Evan Mathis are both free agents on the offensive line; Mathis wants to return and should be priority No. 1 ... Trevor Laws, Juqua Parker and Derek Landri would depart the defensive line's depth if they all left ... Vince Young and Steve Smith, two big-name additions that didn't contribute much in 2011, seem likely to bolt.
Needs
Linebacker: Luke Koechly is the hot name for the Eagles in the draft, but his stock is rising and might not be available. Getting a middle linebacker who can stuff the run is absolutely essential for the Eagles defense in 2012. Adding some help at outside linebacker would be a bonus; acquiring linebackers isn't really Andy Reid's forte though.
Defensive Line Depth: The Eagles still have Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin and Trent Cole starting, but as noted above, they're going to need depth to keep those guys fresh throughout the year.

Targets
Linebacker, as noted, is the biggest need. Fortunately for the Eagles, there are some nice names out there. Stephen Tulloch and Curtis Lofton represent pricier, albeit talented, options at middle linebacker. Dan Connor's a name that's been rumored with Philly and he could make sense as a run-stopping specialist who doesn't cost that much.

Washington Redskins

As Clark Judge recently wrote, the Redskins are running out of options for 2012. Either get Peyton Manning, Robert Griffin III or prepare to move on from Mike Shanahan. They'll have their chance at each, as Manning will be a free agent soon and the Rams are willing to deal the No. 2 pick in April's draft. And the Redskins success really could come down to the quarterback position: if they can get Manning or RG3 and put suitable weapons around one of those guys (I personally prefer RG3 for them), Washington could net a few more wins and at least challenge for the division title that Rex Grossman guaranteed before 2011 started.

Free Agents
Fred Davis was franchised and remains the team's most explosive offensive weapon but he needs to stay out of trouble ... Tim Hightower fits what Mike Shanahan wants to do but wasn't as effect ... London Fletcher is old but remains effective and the Redskins need him back ... Rex Grossman seems destined to remain with Shanny forever, even if it's just on one-year deals ... Graham Gano was tendered and should be back ... Washington's already re-signed center Will Montgomery ... LaRon Landry can't stay healthy but Washington might gamble on him at a cheap price ... Roy Helu makes Tim Hightower expendable, though Hightower was decent in his five starts before being injured.
Needs
Quarterback: Quite obviously.
Wide Receiver: Jabar Gaffney shouldn't be anyone's No. 1 wideout. If the Skins go with the Manning route, it's entirely possible they can lure other free-agent wideouts into town. Either way, reports indicate they want to get a "high-profile wide receiver" and that's a good thing. Pairing Manning or RG3 with a viable wideout could make this offense explosive in 2012.
Offensive Line: Washington's set at several slots on the front, but could use an upgrade on the right side, where Jamaal Brown in particular has not been as good as they'd hoped.
Targets
Manning's the main target here. If they can't get Peyton, then the Skins have to get RG3. Both are attainable, it's just whether or not the cost is prohibitive. Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne and Marques Colston would all qualify as "marquee" wideouts. Ben Grubbs and Carl Nicks would be obviously be tremendous adds and allow the Redskins to shift some personnel and improve their line. Evan Mathis would take away from a division opponent as well.

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: February 6, 2012 12:30 am
Edited on: February 6, 2012 5:35 am
 

Giants Steve Weatherford gets vindication

CB Aaron Ross and P Steve Weatherford celebrate after Weatherford's punt during the first half of Super Bowl XLVI.  (AP Photo/Pat Semansky)
By Ryan Wilson

INDIANAPOLIS -- Steve Weatherford is old school in that he prefers the directional punt to the end-over-end style that has come into vogue in recent years.

Much like the soccer-style kicker replaced the straight-ahead kicker two decades ago, those punters who could consistently place the ball out of bounds inside the 10-yard line have given way to the new-fangled era of backspin specialists; players who, in theory anyway, can have their punts land at the five and instead of tumbling into the end zone, the ball either bounces straight up or stays in the field of play.

Except that it doesn't always work.

Two years ago, Chris Hanson was the Patriots punter. In a regular-season game against the Ravens, his rugby-style kicks twice bounced into the end zone for touchbacks prompting Bill Belichick to make the following observation: “You hardly see anybody go for the sidelines any more,” he said according to the New York Times' Judy Battista. “Show me a punter who coffin corners. You don’t see it. They don’t do it.”

Be careful what you ask for.

Weatherford, joined the Giants before the 2011 season, a year after one of the all-time great directional punters Jeff Feagles retired. And against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI, he put forth a stellar effort.

* His first punt came on the Giants' first drive and it was downed at the Patriots' 6-yard line. On the next snap, Tom Brady was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone and New York led 2-0.

* His next punt, with 10:09 left in the second quarter, went out of the end zone for a touchback, but the Giants' defense held and the Pats go three and out.

Weatherford's third punt went out of bounds at the New England 4 with 4:11 to go in the first half. The Pats ended up scoring a touchdown but it required a 14-play, 96-yard drive.

* The final punt, which came at the 9:31 mark of the fourth quarter, is fair-caught by Wes Welker at the 8-yard line.

Giants 21, Patriots 17
The Patriots led 17-15 at the time and appeared ready to score again. But Tom Brady, perhaps affected by a third-quarter Justin Tuck sack, missed a wide open Welker on what proved to be the game's pivotal play.

Weatherford didn't convert a last-second kick, Vinatieri-style (or perhaps more fitting, Lawrence Tynes-in-the-playoffs-style), but he did do his job. In a game that included a Chase Blackburn interception (!) and a Brady misfire on a wide-open Welker, Weatherford's contributions were critical. Who knows how things play out if he doesn't pinned the Pats deep on his first punt of the game.

And to think, it wasn't long ago that a team had no use for Weatherford. In September, after the Jets chose not to re-sign him, Jets special-teams coach Mike Westhoff said that "there were times that (Weatherford) just didn't do the job."

During Media Day earlier this week, Weatherford fired back: "That wasn't good enough for Mike Westhoff," he said. "I'm playing for a guy now [Tom Quinn] that's got a Super Bowl ring, so that's not a guy I care to talk about. He does a lot of complaining, but recently he hasn't produced much."

Now Quinn has two Super Bowl rings, and Weatherford has his first.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed
Posted on: February 5, 2012 10:01 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2012 11:48 pm
 

Manning, again, beats the Pats when it counts

C. Blackburn's interception of Tom Brady helped change the game for New York (Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com)
By Josh Katzowitz

INDIANAPOLIS – Eli Manning did it again.

Four years ago, Manning proved he was one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the game, leading the Giants to the shell-shocking Super Bowl victory against the undefeated Patriots, and at Super Bowl XLVI, he cemented himself as one of the most-elite signal-callers in the game.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Manning is an all-timer, maybe a future Hall of Famer. Maybe not quite as good as brother Peyton. But Peyton only has one Super Bowl ring. Now, his younger brother has two.

Losing for most of the second half, Manning, with 3:46 to play, led the Giants on a nine-play, 88-yard drive to pull off the 21-17 upset of the Patriots.
Eli Manning was the Super Bowl MVP (AP)

Once again, Manning beat Tom Brady in the final game of the season. Once again, Giants coach Tom Coughlin knocked off New England’s Bill Belichick in the most-important contest of the year. Once again, Manning needed to be clutch in the final minutes with his team trailing the favored Patriots, and yes, once again, Manning delivered the victory.

Not surprisingly, he was the Super Bowl MVP and led a 9-7 team to the NFL title -- the first time that's ever happened.

While there were no David Tyree moments -- not one receiver caught the ball off his helmet -- Manning’s first throw of the final drive was a 38-yard pass to Mario Manningham that advanced the ball to midfield. From there, it was a 16-yard pass to Manningham, a two-yard throw to Manningham and a 14-yard throw to Hakeem Nicks.

After a seven-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw, Manning completed a four-yard pass to Nicks to set up the Giants game-winning score.

But here was a potential problem: with 57 seconds remaining, the Patriots simply allowed New York to score a touchdown so they’d get the ball back, and though Bradshaw tried to stop himself, his momentum carried him into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown.

"These guys never quit," Manning told NBC's Dan Patrick on the field afterward. "We had great faith in each other. ... It just feels good to win a Super Bowl, no matter where we are."

On fourth and 16 deep in his own territory, Brady kept the game alive by throwing a first-down ball to Deion Branch. After back-to-back incompletions, Brady took the final snap of the game with 5 seconds to play, and though his Hail Mary attempt was batted around in the end zone, it fell harmlessly to the turf to seal the Giants win.

For the first 26 minutes of the second half, the Patriots were in control of the game and seemed likely to get New England its first Super Bowl title since 2004.
Ahmad Bradshaw tried to stop himself from falling into the end zone but ultimately couldn't. (AP)

Many of the pregame storylines -- the Giants were going to pick on the Patriots secondary all night, New England’s offense would be much less dynamic without a completely-healthy Rob Gronkowski and the New York defense would spook Tom Brady once again -- hadn’t panned out.

Instead, after falling behind 9-0 in the first quarter, Brady was fantastic on the final drive of the first half, completing all 10 of his passes. Though Jason Pierre-Paul stuffed Danny Woodhead on second and goal from the 3 for a 1-yard loss, Brady, with all kinds of time provided by his offensive line, found Woodhead for the four-yard touchdown pass to give New England a 10-9 lead at halftime.

The 14-play, 96-yard drive tied a Super Bowl record for longest drive, and that momentum continued in to the third quarter. Though Madonna elongated halftime with her mostly-panned performance, the Patriots came out hot in the second half, as Brady went 6-for-6 on the first drive of the third quarter and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Except for his performance in the first half, New England's offense struggled behind Tom Brady. (AP)
On those two game-turning drives, Brady was 16 of 16 for 154 yards and two touchdowns, and he proved that many of those pregame prognostications were inaccurate.

Except the Patriots offense didn’t do much of anything else after that.

Gronkowski, like we thought, wasn’t much of a factor except as a decoy and a blocking tight end. Even with the best tight end in the game suffering from a high ankle sprain, New England’s offense, especially went it went to no-huddle, was dynamic enough in the middle of the game. Brady did try to go deep to Gronkowski early in the fourth quarter, but Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn intercepted him.

But after that strong output in the drives sandwiching intermission -- Brady completed a Super Bowl-record 16-straight passes -- New York’s defense stopped the Patriots.

The Giants couldn’t have had a better start defensively after the Patriots forced a punt and New York punter Steve Weatherford dropped a kick at the New England 6. On the first Patriots play from scrimmage, Giants defensive end Justin Tuck got good pressure, and Brady released the ball across the middle of the field before he took the hit.

But officials penalized him for intentional grounding, and since Brady was in the end zone when he threw the ball, it was ruled a safety to give New York a 2-0 lead -- the second time this postseason the Giants had opened a game with a safety.

Giants 21, Patriots 17
On the next drive, Manning, who started the game 9 of 9 for 77 yards and a touchdown, found Victor Cruz for the 2-yard score to give New York a nine-point advantage. At that point, New York had run 17 plays to the Patriots total of 1.

But toward the end of the second quarter, the Patriots started playing better.

Still, the Giants kept themselves in the game. Even though New York fumbled three times, they managed to recover two of them and the other was wiped out by a Patriots penalty. After falling behind 17-9, Lawrence Tynes kicked a 38-yard and a 33-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut the lead to 17-15.

After the game, Coughlin was asked by NBC to talk about how he matched the Super Bowl total of his mentor, Bill Parcells.

Said Coughlin: "I'm not about comparisions."

Fair enough, but we know enough to say this. Coughlin shouldn't ever have to worry about his job security in New York again, and Eli Manning never should have to worry about being overshadowed by his brother.

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: November 8, 2011 3:29 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2011 4:44 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 9



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 9 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman Manning Dolphins  W-ford Harbaugh
Judge Rodgers Peppers Peterson Coughlin
Prisco  Jones Harrison Peterson  Smith
Brinson McGahee  Peprah Peterson  Sparano
Katzowitz  Moore  Peprah  Cards  Smith
Wilson Rodgers  Peprah Peterson  Sparano
Week 9's wrapped up and it's hardware time. This week we've got some new faces ... but a couple old ones.

Aaron Rodgers continued to Aaron Rodgers the Aaron Rodgers Award. At this point, it's surprising when he doesn't win.

Speaking of winning, the Packers got a huge help in their dubya thanks to safety Charlie Peprah, who picked two passes and picked up our Eye on Defense Award for Week 9.

Patrick Peterson ran his third punt back of the year, and that resulted in his second-straight Eye on Special Teams Award.

And Tony Sparano was tied for Lovie Smith for our Eye on Coaching Award, but we gave the tiebreaker to Sparano since, well, you know.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Eli Manning Eli Manning, QB, Giants
Deja goober all over again. Sure, the younger Manning sometimes looks perpetually goofy but on Sunday he beat the Patriots -- again -- in exciting fashion. I think we're about to see Manning explode and go from good to great. Maybe not Aaron Rodgers great but top echelon great. Dare I say elite.
Aaron RodgersAaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
People tell me nobody could play better than Tom Brady last season, except Rodgers is. He just savaged San Diego for four more touchdowns and is on schedule for 48. Yeah, the Packers' defense has holes, but what difference does it make when this guy keeps dissecting defenses for yards, points and victories.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Julio Jones Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
He had two long touchdown catches, one of 50 yards and one of 80 yards. He showed why the Falcons traded up in the draft to get him. Jones was also in his first game back from injury, which makes it even more impressive. I could give this to Aaron Rodgers every week, but is that right?
Willis McGaheeWillis McGahee, RB, Broncos
Considering the Raiders D let Tim Tebow rumble for more than 100 yards too, McGahee's 163-yard day might be discounted by some. But the dude had surgery on his hand less than two weeks ago and he's the real reason the Broncos are just one game back of the division lead now.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Matt MooreMatt Moore, QB, Dolphins
The last Dolphins quarterback to throw three touchdowns in a game was Chad Henne in 2008. That, amazingly, was three years ago. Matt Moore did it at Kansas City in the week’s biggest upset. Moore was 17 of 23 for 244 yards and those three scores, and he actually played pretty damn well. He also did Tony Sparano a big favor by getting the deserving man a victory.
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
This was the most underwhelming four-touchdown performance I can remember. But that's what happens when you're consistently much better than everybody else: the spectacular appears mundane. Against the Chargers, Rodgers completed 81 percent of his passes for 247 yards, and rushed for another 52. His counterpart Philip Rivers threw six touchdowns on the day but loses out to Rodgers for the Week 9 hat tip because two of them were of the pick-six variety.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Cameron WakeDolphins DST
I'm going to violate the rules here and hope my man Will Brinson, who deftly organizes these, doesn't punch me in the face. And I'm taking the Dolphins as a whole. Jeez, they deserve an honor, any honor, after this season and what they did to Kansas City was joyous: they sacked Matt Cassel five times and forced him out of the pocket nine more. The Chiefs had allowed only 13 total sacks allowed up to that point
Julius Peppers Julius Peppers, DE, Bears
He didn't produce big numbers, but he led the Bears to an unexpected victory over Philadelphia. He had the team's only sack, he deflected a pass and, in general, was a thorn in the side of a Philadelphia offense that had trouble getting untracked all evening. Basically, he proved why he's worth the money Chicago pays him.
Prisco Brinson
James HarrisonJames Harrison, LB, Steelers
I know it came in a losing effort, but he had three sacks in his first game back from a broken orbital bone. The guy was a terror, with one exception. Where was he on the final drive?
Charlie PeprahCharlie Peprah, S, Packers
Peprah's supposed to be the weak link in a Packers secondary that hasn't been impressive this year, but on Sunday he picked off Philip Rivers twice. The first pick he took back to the house (providing the point differential for a win) and the second was to seal Green Bay's victory.
Katzowitz Wilson
Charlie PeprahCharlie Peprah, S, Packers
For as bad as the Packers secondary has been this season -- 31st in the NFL?!?! – Peprah played a huge part in Green Bay’s win in San Diego, intercepting Philip Rivers and then breaking five tackles to score. Then he ended San Diego’s chances by picking Rivers again in the final minutes.
Charlie Peprah Charlie Peprah, S, Packers
Peprah intercepted Philip Rivers twice Sunday, including a 40-yard pick-six in the first quarter and another on the Chargers' last drive which he returned 76 yards. That made him San Diego's second-leading receiver on the day behind Vincent Jackson.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Steve WeatherfordSteve Weatherford, P, Giants
On Sunday against the Giants, the Patriots started their drives at the five six, 17, 20, 11 and nine yard lines in the first half. They were fighting for their lives all day thanks to Weatherford.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Can we just retire the award with this guy? That's three punt returns he's taken to the house. They're not going to win many this year, anyway, right? So what happens if they have a chance for, say, Andrew Luck or Landry Jones? Peterson might have spared them that decision.
Prisco Brinson
Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, CardinalsPatrick Peterson
This was easy. He became only the second player to rip a punt for a touchdown to win a game in overtime. And it was 99 yards, no less. Peterson now has three punt returns for scores in his first eight games -- a rookie record.
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Peterson tied a rookie record with his third punt -- the 99-yard game-winner against St. Louis -- taken to the house, which means he's got eight more games to break that tie with Devin Hester. Speaking of Hester, maybe teams should stop kicking at Peterson, too.
Katzowitz Wilson
Patrick Peterson Cardinals DST
Calais Campbell blocked Josh Brown's 42-yard field goal attempt to win in regulation, and then Peterson stunningly returned a punt 99 yards for the game-winning touchdown. Afterward, Peterson said he doesn’t know why teams still punt to him. I don’t know why either.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Remember in the spring when there were concerns that, at 6-0, 220, Peterson might need to drop some weight to be effective in the NFL? Whatever the scale reads now, that's his optimum playing weight.

Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
John HarbaughJohn Harbaugh, Ravens
There were doubts about Harbaugh's quarterback, Joe Flacco. And there were doubts about his team's mental toughness then he goes into Pittsburgh and wins. That win means the Ravens swept the season series with the Steelers and put themselves in good position to win the AFC North.
Tom Coughlin Tom Coughlin, Giants
He went to Gillette Stadium, a place where nobody but Tom Bray and Bill Belichick win, and somehow, some way, pulled off a last-second upset. Of course, it always helps when Eli Manning is on your side, but Coughlin had his team ready for an improbable outcome. That's why the Giants are on top of the NFC East.
Prisco Brinson
Lovie SmithLovie Smith, Bears
Lovie took a team that was a heavy nine-point underdog into Philadelphia against a supposedly hot team in the Eagles and cooled them off. The Bears had a great scheme to slow down Mike Vick. 

Tony SparanoTony Sparano, Dolphins
2011 is a lost season for Miami, unless you're a big fan of Andrew Luck. But despite that, Sparano's done an incredible job of keeping his team motivated to play each week. They nearly upset the Giants in Week 8 and straight-up pummeled the Chiefs in Week 9.
Katzowitz Wilson
Lovie Smith Lovie Smith, Bears
Smith’s seat was growing warmer by the day with the Bears at 2-3, but now that Chicago has won three straight, Smith must be commended on the way his team dominated Minnesota, the way he set up his team for London to beat the Bucs and for the way the Bears beat the Eagles. Also, props to Mike Martz, who finally has figured out that his offensive line really should protect the quarterback.
Tony Sparano Tony Sparano, Dolphins
There's a very good chance Sparano's name will never again appear in our weekly awards so we're seizing the opportunity to recognize a man who could very well be out of a job before the new year. He beat the Chiefs in Kansas City, and he did it by getting the most out of Matt Moore, Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall.


Posted on: November 2, 2010 9:46 am
 

Hot Routes 11.2.10: No Randy Moss references!



Posted by Josh Katzowitz

- The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel asks today: what is wrong with the Packers offense? Maybe the answer is: because they’re using Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn as their featured running backs. Just a thought.

- Throughout most of this what-was-Mike-Shanahan-thinking-to-
bench-Donovan-McNabb incident, not much attention has been paid to what Rex Grossman, the one who replaced McNabb and immediately coughed up a fumble, thought about the move. The Washington Post gets to the bottom of the story here.

- This isn’t the first time McNabb’s practice habits have been questioned, by the way. It also happened in Philadelphia.

- Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt isn’t sure who will start at QB this week. The Arizona Republic asks if it really matters anyway.

- Although Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck suffered a concussion last Sunday, he’s expected to play this week. If not, Charlie Whitehurst is waiting in the wings.

- Jets coach Rex Ryan said he was pretty surprised when punter Steve Weatherford tried to fake-punt on a fourth-and-18 from New York’s 20-yard line. Yet, it seems to make sense that if you give your punter the green light to make a decision like that, you shouldn’t ever be surprised.

- The attorney for Jenn Sterger apparently wants to meet with the unnamed Jets employee who might have slipped Sterger’s phone number to Brett Favre.

- This seems like a weird compromise to make. Raiders LB Rolando McClain said he’d only talk to the media if Oakland sells out a game.

- Rams WR Danario Alexander had knee surgery to repair damaged cartilage, and apparently, everything went well.

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

Posted on: November 1, 2010 11:09 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2010 11:44 pm
 

F&R NFL Approval Matrix, Week 8

Posted by Will Brinson

Our affinity for graphs and charts and purty pictures knows no bounds, so (with a nod to the smartypants at NY Mag), we present the NFL Approval Matrix. Suggestions, complaints and intellecutual property lawsuits may be directed to us on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).

Click to embiggen.

Posted on: November 1, 2010 10:59 pm
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Posted on: November 1, 2010 3:21 am
Edited on: November 1, 2010 10:53 am
 

10 stories that deserve your attention Week 8

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) D.C. Drama

It was one of those scenarios that make you question yourself. You see Donovan McNabb standing on the sidD. McNabb (US Presswire)eline with 1:45 left in the fourth and the Redskins trailing the Lions 30-25. You see Rex Grossman taking the field. You pause a second. Once you’re sure it’s really happening, you say, Wait, what’d I miss here?

Benching McNabb for Grossman is a decision that’s somehow as downright stupid as it sounds. Most baffling is that this stupid decision was made by Mike Shanahan. It’s one thing to bench a veteran star quarterback. It’s another to bench him when he’s managed to lead your team to a decent 4-4 record despite having a fourth-string running back and a slew of fourth-string receivers playing prominent roles. And it’s another when he had been playing well in the very game you sat him down.

Behind a banged-up Washington offensive line that was overmatched by Detroit’s suddenly vibrant front four (Ndamukong Suh is the early favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year), McNabb endured five sacks, 10 hurries and 11 hits Sunday. Yet still, he was 17/30 for 210 yards passing, plus he ran for 45 yards on four scrambles. OK, sure there was the interception to Alphonso Smith and, before that, another bad ball that Smith should have picked and taken to the house. But fine, let’s say McNabb’s performance Sunday was only mediocre. There’s still the unforgivable factor in Shanahan’s stupid decision, which is that the guy he replaced McNabb with was Grossman.

That’d be the same Grossman who could barely find a team last season; the same Grossman who actually invented new ways to turn the ball over as a Bear. When you flip karma the bird like Shanahan did, karma tends to respond quickly. Sure enough, on his first snap, Grossman made a play that only Grossman could make, fumbling the ball on a nasty blindside sack. Karma was so ticked off at Shanahan that not even Suh’s foolish Leon Lett impersonation while returning the recovered fumble could prevent a Lions victory at that point.

Thanks to a bye, the Redskins now have two weeks to deal with the ensuing storm of controversy that is about to unload on D.C. And karma is not likely to throw them any breaks. The next time McNabb and the Redskins take the field will be Monday, November 15, when they host…the Eagles.



2.) NFC powers tighten gap on AFC powers

You had to know it wouldn’t last. Yes, the AFC is better than the NFC this year, but not by the ridiculous margin that September and October gave us. Outstanding defense brought us closer to equilibrium Sunday, as the Packers stifled the Jets and the Saints swarmed the Steelers. Both NFC teams dominated behind their defensive pass rush.

The Jets had no answer for Clay Matthews’ speed off the edge. It helped that Brandon Chillar had his best game of the season, and Green Bay’s young defensive linemen, B.J. Raji and C.J. Wilson, controlled the trenches.

The Steelers could not get ahead of the Saints’ über-aggressive blitzes. It was remarkable that Gregg Williams dialed up the attacks, considering he was without top three corners Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter and Patrick Robinson (who left early with a right ankle injury). The two most popular preseason Super Bowl picks from the NFC are now both 5-3.



3.) New York’s Gamble
S. Weatherford (US Presswire)
Sticking with the Jets-Packers game…

When Jets punter Steve Weatherford took off and ran from inside his own 20-yard line late in the first quarter Sunday, you could have sworn you were watching your idiot roommate playing Madden on the X-Box. The Jets actually fake punted from their own 20-yard line! And on fourth and 18! After replay, it was determined that Weatherford stepped out of bounds a yard-and-a-half short of the first down. Green Bay wound up getting three points out of the splendid field position – the only points the Jets D has allowed in any first quarter this season – and Rex Ryan left himself open to easy second-guessing.

Except, it wasn’t Ryan’s decision. Turns out, Weatherford made the call. That’s right, the punter – the punter! – called his own number. Whoa, talk about gall. Take any receiver willing to go over the middle, any quarterback willing to step into a blitz and any linebacker willing to shoot the gap against a steamrolling running back and, chances are, none of them have the stones Weatherford must have. Afterward, he explained himself:

"It would have been a good decision had it been fourth-and-nine, but that’s my fault. I made the decision to try to make the play, but it didn’t work out for the team. We’re a team that’s willing to go out there and lay it on the line, but it just didn’t work out today. It’s a situation where I don’t have the green light, but if I do it, he’s not going to be mad if I get it. It has worked out in the past. It worked out in Oakland, it worked out in Miami, (but) today, it didn’t. It could have been a huge swing for us in the game, but obviously we came up about a half-yard short."



4.) Little Big Men

Let’s shift to a positive special teams note and go back to the Lions-Redskins game. Did you see the electrifying return artists in that contest? In order to, you may have had to squint in order to. Detroit’s Stefan Logan (5’6”, 180 pounds) and Washington’s Brandon Banks (5’7”, 150 pounds – that’s right, 150) put on a show.

Logan had a dazzling 71-yard punt return in the second quarter to set up one of Calvin Johnson’s three touchdowns. (Johnson, by the way, spent all afternoon taking advantage of the inconsistent safety help on DeAngelo Hall’s soft man coverage.

Banks had a 96-yard kick return for a score. He also had a 46-yard kick return, a punt return that went for 35, and another kick return score that got called back for holding. And before he was aware of that holding penalty, Logan celebrated his score by dunking the ball over the goalposts. That’s a 5’7” man dunking over a 10”-high crossbar while wearing full padding and still catching his breath after running the length of the field.



5.) The bad NFC team we should be talking about

I refuse to discuss the Dallas Tin Men, errrr, Dallas Cowboys this week. We just saw them last week on Monday night. We have to see them next week on Sunday night at Green Bay (apparently, that is “America’s Game of the Week”). We have to see them on Thanksgiving and again a few weeks later on NFL Network. There will be plenty of chances to talk about what’s wrong with America’s team, what changes Jerry Jones will make, how obvious it is that Wade Phillips is a dead man walking, etc. And mind you, the Cowboys will be irrelevant in the playoff hunt this entire time. So, knowing that’s ahead, I’m going to rest upB. Green-Ellis (US Presswire) and save my sanity by pretending the game against the Jaguars never happened (this, by the way, makes me feel like a Jacksonville native).

I will, however, talk about the NFC’s other fallen team, the Vikings. While it’s chic (and easy) to assume that everything is Favre’s fault, the reality is, the Vikings defense has been one of the great underachieving units in football this season. Jared Allen dressed as a ghost for Halloween. Come to think of it, Allen actually busted out that costume a few weeks ago. His teammates haven’t stepped up, either.

For the first time in team history, the Vikings have gone three straight games without a sack.

With a nonexistent pass rush, Minnesota’s ho-hum secondary has been exposed. Madieu Williams put on a clinic Sunday for how not to make plays; Pats receiver Brandon Tate should have given the veteran safety a game ball afterwards. And scouts are finally figuring out what’s wrong with cornerback Asher Allen: he’s not good at playing football. Allen gives up separation in his man coverage technique, he struggles to locate the ball in the air and his open-field tackling is hit or miss.

What’s more, the Vikings’ once-impenetrable run defense is giving up only 3.9 yards per carry, but overall, it ranks 13th in yards per game. That’s as startling drop considering this group ranked second last year and first in each of the three years before that. Late in the fourth quarter Sunday when the Vikings needed a stop on the ground, they plain couldn’t get one. On New England’s final possession, BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran the ball six times for 60 yards to ice the game.



6.) Uh oh

You ever noticed the amount of misbehavior the youngest kids in families with a lot of children can get away with? It’s stunning. While the parents are getting drained dealing with the older kids breaking curfews, fighting amongst each other and bringing home ugly report cards, the younger kid is secretly living a dream that includes watching raunchy movies, stealing bits of cash from around the house and detonating fireworks in the elderly neighbor’s mailbox. It isn’t until something goes really wrong before the parents realize that they’ve been neglecting their biggest handful of all.

Think of Randy Moss as the rebellious youngster in Minnesota. While everyone is focusing on Brad Childress and Brett Favre and, perhaps now, Jared Allen and the defense, the newcomer at wide receiver is subtly stewing about what’s turned out to be a lost season in his contract year. Did you hear what Moss said after the Patriots game? Here are the big pieces:
R. Moss (US Presswire)
On his relationship with the media…

"I got fined $25,000 for not talking to you all, and me personally, I really don't care, but at the same time, I do ask questions, I mean answer questions throughout the week. The league can fine me $25,000. I'm not going to answer any more questions for the rest of this year. If it's going to be an interview, I'm going to conduct it. So I'll answer my own questions. Ask myself the questions, then give you all the answers.”

On his former teammates…

"Man, I miss them guys, man. I miss the team," Moss said. "It was hard for me to come here and play.

"Been an up-and-down roller-coaster emotionally all week. And then to be able to come in here and see those guys running plays that I know what they're doing, and the success they had on the field, the running game -- so, I kind of know what kind of feeling they have in their locker room, man, and I just want to be able to tell the guys that I miss the hell out of them. Every last helmet in that locker room, man."

On his preparation with the Vikings coaching staff for this game…

"The bad part about it -- you have six days to prepare for a team, and on the seventh day, that Sunday, meaning today, I guess they come over to me and say, 'Dag, Moss, you was right about a couple plays and a couple schemes they were going to run.' It hurts as a player that you put a lot of hard work in all week, and toward the end of the week, Sunday, when you get on the field, that's when they acknowledge about the hard work you put in throughout the week. That's actually a disappointment."

His final word…

"I'm definitely down that we lost this game. I didn't expect we'd lose this game. I don't know how many more times I'll be in New England again. But I leave coach Belichick and those guys with a salute: (and yes, Moss actually saluted while saying this). 'I love you guys. I miss you. I'm out.'"

Read into all that what you will. I read into it that this is Moss’ way of telling the Vikings, I hate being on this team.



7.) The NFL’s best team?

According to the standings, it’s the Patriots. They’re the only team that has just one loss on the season. It’s kind of hard to believe, given that New England pairs a ball control offense with a defense that ranks 28th in yards allowed and dead last on third down. But no team manages in-game situations better than the Patriots. (That’s why their games always feel so choppy.)

At least that 28th-ranked defense is improving by the week. Jerod Mayo is a star at inside linebacker. He’s a rock of a run defender and a sterling open-field tackler against the pass. First-round rookie Devin McCourty is blossoming into a bona fide No. 1 corner. The defensive linemen around Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork have elevated their games; Mike Wright has a sack in four-straight contests, and last year’s second-round pick, Ron Brace, showcased his development on the fourth-down goal-line stop in which he blew up Phil Loadholt and stuffed Adrian Peterson. Finally, safety Brandon Meriweather is close to regaining his ’09 form. Overall, this is a young defense that should only get better.



8.) Do we believe the nautical villains?

I’ve been saying all season that the Buccaneers are not good enough in the trenches to make the playoffs, and that the Raiders’ greatness on paper is matched only by their embarrassing ineptitude on the field. I’m not ready to eat crow yet, though I’m fingering my silverware (I’ll assume crow is something you’d eat with a knife and a fork).

The Bucs got their fifth consecutive road victory with a 38-35 win at Arizona Sunday. But Tampa’s MVP that game was Cardinals quarterback Max Hall. When the undrafted rookie threw his first career touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald, the veteran receiver, rushed over and gave Hall the ball (it was a truly classy move by Fitzgerald, considering how justifiably frustrated he’s been with the team’s quarterback play this season). Along these lines, it would have made sense for Bucs corner Aqib Talib to give Hall a souvenir ball on the second quarter pick-six he threw, as that was Hall’s most precise touchdown strike on the afternoon. D. McFadden (US Presswire)

That was also Hall’s second pick-six on the day, which is why Ken Whisenhunt decided that maybe Derek Anderson is the best guy to lead the team after all. (If Anderson and Whisenhunt were dating, all of Anderson’s friends at this point would be pleading with the quarterback to stop letting the head coach just use him like this.)

My point? The Bucs are 5-2, but their most recent win came against a hapless Cardinals club. Obviously, a win is a win in the NFL. But if the Bucs’ head coach wants to talk about his team being the best in the NFC, then the “they haven’t beaten anybody” argument is fair game. The combined records of the teams Tampa Bay has defeated (Cleveland, Carolina, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Arizona): 12-24. The combined record of the teams Tampa Bay has lost to (Pittsburgh, New Orleans): 10-5. So, I’m skeptical. It will be easier to gauge this team after it faces division foe Atlanta next week.

Regarding the 4-4 Raiders, wins over Denver and Seattle don’t exactly merit great acclaim, but the convincing nature of those wins does. After spanking the Broncos 59-14, the Raiders pounded the Seahawks 33-3. Darren McFadden – whom I was shocked to learn, led the league in yards after contact heading into this game – rushed for 121 of the team’s 239 yards. This against a Seattle run defense that ranked second in the league prior to Sunday.

Jason Campbell was a sterling 15/27 for 310 yards and two scores – and those numbers aren’t inflated by one or two Jon Kitna garbage time-like plays. Campbell threaded the needle on both touchdown strikes. The first was to fullback Marcel Reese, a versatile second-year pro who can best be described as “exactly what 49er fans erroneously claim Delanie Walker SHOULD be”. Reese is an effective route runner when lining up as a wide receiver. Campbell’s second touchdown was to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is inconsistent, but in a good way (given that last season he was consistently dreadful).

Is Oakland a legit contender? In the AFC West, perhaps. But overall...well…at least they can win in the trenches. (The defensive line was every bit as dominant as the offensive line Sunday.) That makes them more stable than Tampa Bay. Still, at the end of the day, a team must be able to throw in order to win. The Bucs at least have an upstart first-round quarterback in Josh Freeman. The Raiders still have a controversy between Campbell (who played well Sunday but, throughout his career, has proved to be a robot programmed for mediocrity) and Bruce Gradkowski (a poor man’s Jeff Garcia).



9.) NFL makes a good impression in Europe

So the Brits wound up seeing a pretty good game between the 49ers and Broncos. Dammit all. The hope to avoid having to share the truest American sport with the rest of the world looks more futile than ever.

On Sunday, after a slow start that probably still had Wembley Stadium’s soccer-acclimated sellout crowd of 83,000-plus on the edge of its seats, the offenses for both teams came to life late in the second half. Thirty of the game’s 40 points were scored in the fourth quarter. Both teams relied on their usual identity. For the Broncos, that meant riding Kyle Orton (28/40, 396 yards). For the Niners, that meant riding Frank Gore (29 carries, 118 yards).

Though a compelling contest it was, and though interesting is the debate over whether it was a mistake for Josh McDaniels to keep the team in the U.S. until Thursday (three days longer than the Niners), the story of this game is the success of the NFL’s British venture. Not only did the game sell out, but approximately 38,000 fans filled Trafalgar Square for an NFL block party Saturday. Earlier in the week, Roger Goodell said the league’s goal is to put a team in London. Maybe that’s just lip service the Commissioner had to pay in the days leading up to this game, but if the world has learned anything the past 10 years, it’s that in whatever way globalization can happen, it will.

So start getting your minds wrapped around it, football fans: the NFL is only going to ingrain itself deeper in London. And, perhaps, other foreign markets. Maybe you’re cool with that. If you are, great. If you’re not (like me), Sunday was just another reminder that you’d better start getting used to it.



10.) Quick Hits

***Todd Haley went for it again on fourth down Sunday. This time the Chiefs had fourth-and-two and were deep in Buffalo territory. For the past few weeks, people have been commenting on Haley’s gutsy fourth down calls. But we’re discovering that this is just the way the man coaches. He’s attempted 11 fourth downs this season, tied for fourth most in the NFL. The difference is that very few of them have been of the desperation variety. Haley believes it’s a numbers game, and he usually makes the decision to go for it a few plays before reaching fourth down (to help the play-calling, he tell offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss ahead of time when it’s four-down territory). It’s an unusually aggressive approach.S. Smith (US Presswire)


***Interesting that the Jets had Darrelle Revis play left cornerback in the first half and then had him shadow Greg Jennings in the second half. Revis was effective in both cases – it was just fun watching Rex Ryan change up the game plan.


***Steve Tasker, who spent the entire overtime period between the Chiefs and Bills trying to add a soothing calm amidst the lovable screaming of Gus Johnson, had a great line about Ryan Succop’s first field goal attempt in OT. When Succop’s ball got caught in the wind and suddenly hooked sharply left, Tasker said “that ball had a left turn signal on it”.


***The Rams wore their blue and yellow throwback uniforms to honor the retirement of Isaac Bruce’s number 80. It’d probably be good if we started debating Bruce’s Hall of Fame credentials now. Given the length of the Art Monk trial, and the Andre Reed-Cris Carter-Tim Brown dilemmas, Bruce’s candidacy is going to be particularly complicated.


***Turns out cornerback Sean Smith didn’t fully regain his starting job for the Dolphins this week, but against the Bengals he played extremely well. Smith got some help from an erratic Carson Palmer on the game-sealing interception, but before that, he was very active covering receivers with underneath technique.


***I’m not affiliated with the San Diego Chargers, but even I felt a little awkward seeing Vincent Jackson standing on the sideline in street clothes Sunday.


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