Tag:St. Louis Rams
Posted on: December 10, 2010 10:30 am
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Week 14 NFL Podcast Preview

Posted by Will Brinson

Week 14's upon us, and it's Friday so that means another podcast preview. Woo! Feel the rush. Or something.

But, really, we do have some questions. Like, would you rather have a one-back or two-back system if you ran a team? Is Albert Haynesworth the most disastrous free agent signing of all-time? Who stands a better chance of winning a playoff game, the Jaguars or the Raiders? Can the Rams upset the Saints? Why are the Niners still using Alex Smith? Can the Chargers man up and stop the Chiefs? Should we question the realness of the Jets? How important is Patriots vs. Bears? Should Michael Vick start for the NFC in the Pro Bowl? And if he does, who's getting left out: Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or Matt Ryan?

All those questions answered (plus, much, much more) below -- just hit the play button below and don't forget to Subscribe via iTunes.

If you can't view the podcast, click here to download .
Posted on: December 6, 2010 5:50 pm
 

Hot Routes 12.6.10: box score tidbits Week 13

Posted by Andy Benoit

Hot Routes
  • The Steelers and Ravens both converted four third downs, went 1/2 in the red zone and committed nine penalties Sunday night.
  • Rashard Mendenhall carried the ball 19 times (45 yards) after handling the rock a whopping 36 times the previous week at Buffalo.
  • Anquan Boldin had five catches for 118 yards, seemingly all of them on the game’s final drive.
  • The Saints were just 1/8 on third down against the Bengals. They won because they generated 248 yards on their five biggest plays.
  • Roman Harper led the Saints with 10 tackles, a sack (on the final play) and two tackles for a loss.
  • Jay Cutler was 21/26 for 234 yards and a touchdown against the Lions. Cutler also went “interception-less” for the fifth time this season. On the year, he has a passer rating of 92.8.
  • Earl Bennett is quietly becoming a go-to receiver for the Bears. The possession target had seven catches for 104 yards.
  • Cliff Avril had three sacks for Detroit. That’s seven on the year and six in Avril’s last four games.
  • Troy Smith completed just 10/25 passes against Green Bay. His limitations in reading the field from the pocket were obvious at times.
  • For the second straight week, Tennessee had fewer than 50 plays offensively. They’ve now gone a franchise-record 12 quarters without a touchdown.
  • Dexter McCluster had five carries(11 yards) and two receptions (25 yards) in his first game back from a high ankle sprain. (He also had a fumble.)
  • Turnovers once again doomed Miami. They were minus-three against the Browns.
  • Browns tight end Ben Watson exploded for 100 yards on 10 catches.
  • Sidney Rice looks to be in top form. He had 105 yards and two touchdowns Sunday.
  • The Redskins did not convert once in the red zone against the Giants Sunday. Reason being, they were never in the red zone.
  • Derek Hagan led the Giants with seven receptions. No one else caught more than two passes for New York.
  • Jason Campbell was just 10/16 passing in Oakland’s surprising win at San Diego.
  • The Chargers fell behind early and ran the ball just eight times. The Raiders ran the ball 52 times (for 251 yards).
  • Peyton Manning completed 36/48 for 365 yards on what everyone agreed was one of his worst games as a pro.
  • The Cardinals had three different quarterbacks attempt passes Sunday. All completed 50 percent or fewer of their attempts.
  • Carolina’s Steve Smith had 39 of his 54 yards receiving come on one play. It was Smith’s longest catch of the season.
  • Marshawn Lynch punched in three touchdowns (and had 83 yards rushing) for Seattle.
  • One of Matt Ryan’s two interceptions was a result of the receiver slipping on bad turf. The Falcons turned the ball over for the first time in nearly five games Sunday.
  • Falcons cornerback Brent Grimes had an interceptions and six pass breakups.

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Posted on: December 6, 2010 4:19 am
 

10 stories worth your attention Week 13

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Panic in IndyP. Manning (US Presswire)

The story here is that this was the top story last week. The Colts lost at home because they couldn’t run the ball against a 3-4 defense (San Diego’s) and Peyton Manning threw four picks, two of them for touchdowns, thanks to a handful of uncharacteristic misreads. No one expected to see a rerun of this disaster, but that’s exactly what Indy produced Sunday.
And so now the Colts, having lost four of five, are 6-6 and on pace to miss the playoffs for the first time since Jim Mora’s famous rant. Panic time? Not really.

The Colts still controls their own destiny. Their remaining four games are: @ Tennessee (Thursday night), vs. Jacksonville, @ Oakland and vs. Tennessee. If the Colts win out, they’ll finish 10-6. Even if the currently-first place Jaguars finish 10-6, the Colts would win the tiebreaker because they’d be 4-2 in division games (like Jacksonville) and one game better than the Jags against common opponents.

The Colts are losing primarily because of Manning’s mistakes (both pick-six’s against the Cowboys were his fault). Eleven interceptions have the active legend coming off arguably the worst three-game stretch of his career. But to bet against the Colts would be to bet that Manning continues to blow it. Is that a bet you really want to make?



2.) The AFC’s new best running back

We can thank one guy for giving us a great divisional race in the AFC South this year: Maurice Jones-Drew. On Sunday, not only did Jones-Drew’s Jaguars put away the now also-ran Titans (aka The Team That Allegedly Signed Randy Moss), but Jones-Drew officially catapulted himself ahead of Chris Johnson in running back pecking order of the AFC. M. Jones-Drew (US Presswire)

Jacksonville’s 5’7” bowling ball outrushed Johnson 186-53. The 186 marked a career-high and extended Jones-Drew’s 100-yard streak to five games (another career high). If not for our understandable infatuation with quarterbacks, Jones-Drew would garner serious MVP consideration. It is not a hyperbole to say he has Michael Turner’s tackle-breaking ability, Darren McFadden’s acceleration, Steven Jackson’s vision, Ray Rice’s hands, Frank Gore’s heart and Clinton Portis’ pass-blocking prowess. Because of his often unheralded contributions on third down (blocking, decoy routes, etc.), Jones-Drew means more to the Jaguars offense than any non-quarterback means to any other offense in football.

This has actually been the case the past few years. The difference this season is that Jones-Drew is not doing it utterly alone (at least not lately). Experience has afforded backup running back Rashad Jennings a much better feel for the speed and angles of the pro game, and the youngster is now good for about 40 yards a week off the bench. Tight end Marcedes Lewis has sprouted into a consistent intermediate receiving weapon, which has forced linebackers to worry about more than just Jacksonville’s backfield. And finally, the Jaguars offensive line has gelled as a run-blocking unit, despite a few personnel changes (namely Ebon Britton being out at right tackle and Vince Manuwai moving back to left guard and replacing Justin Smiley).

But take MJD out of the equation and none of the players mentioned above would be thriving. And, thus, neither would the first-place Jaguars.



3.) Running Power

While we’re slurping the ground game, have you noticed the number of lopsided rushing performances we’ve had lately? Take a look at what has transpired the past two weeks.

Week 14:

Jaguars outrush Titans 258-57 and win

Vikings outrush Bills 210-84 and win

Giants outrush Redskins 197-74 and win

Raiders outrush Chargers 251-21 and win

Cowboys outrush Colts 217-40 and win (by the way, it probably would have been fair to Manning if these 217 yards had been mentioned in the opening section about the Colts’ struggles…)

Week 13

Steelers outrush Bills 206-74 and win

Jaguars outrush Giants 207-135 but lose (only 61 yards in second half for Jags)

Vikings outrush Redskins 137-29 and win

Texans outrush Titans 188-24 and win

Dolphins outrush Raiders 186-16 and win

Chiefs outrush Seahawks 270-20 and win

Chargers outrush Colts 129-24 and win

49ers outrush Cardinals 261-13

Jets outrush Bengals 170-46

Don’t mean to pull a Stevie Johnson and go all caps on you here, but LOOK AT THOSE NUMBERS!!! Look how many games these past two weeks have been decided by teams that have utterly DOMINATED on the ground. We’re not talking about teams merely establishing the run and controlling tempo – we’re talking about teams outrushing opponents by 125, 180, even 200-plus yards!

Look, it could just be an aberration. Seriously, it could. If we’ve learned anything over the past five seasons or so, it’s that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and that the teams that win are the teams that make plays through the air. Two weeks of startling run statistics don’t overturn five years of rock-solid passing evidence. But these running numbers are certainly something to keep an eye on. We’ll check back on it next week.



4.) The secret favorites of the NFC…?

Sorry Bears fans, this bit isn’t about your team (though for the record, I’ll admit that your team’s offense has figured out its pass protection issues and all the individual offensive players seem to have found their niche in Mike Martz’s system). This bit is about the New York Giants.
B. Jacobs (US Presswire)
The Giants were able to run at will against a Redskins defense that seemed to a.) Have 11 Albert Haynesworths on the field Sunday and b.) Probably missed the services of their actual Albert Haynesworth

The Giants hope to get wideouts Steve Smith (pec) and Hakeem Nicks (lower leg procedure) back in Week 14. Left tackle David Diehl (hamstring) is also nearing a return. All three will be joining a team that is 8-4 and running the ball with tremendous effectiveness. Ahmad Bradshaw got 25 carries Sunday and went over 1,000 yards on the season. And though Brandon Jacobs’ return to a starting role appears to be only titular – Jacobs carried the ball just eight times Sunday – the 265-pound freight train looks reinvigorated. Jacobs produced 103 yards and two scores against Washington; last week he gained 87 yards in a win over Jacksonville.

Jacobs evokes memories of another running back from New York: Shonn Greene in ’09. The Jets elevated the role of their bruising runner late last season and watched the rookie punish defenses that simply couldn’t match his freshness. The Giants appear to be in a position for similar results with Jacobs.

On the other side of the ball, New York’s four-man pass-rush is clicking. Justin Tuck continues to play like an All-World force. Osi Umenyiora has cooled from his torrid early-season pace (Umenyiora’s sack against Washington was his first since Week 6) but rookie Jason Pierre-Paul now fills almost any void. The über-athletic long-armed first-rounder has posted two sacks in back-to-back games.
We know better than to hang our hats on the Giants when expectations are high (Tom Coughlin is never more than two weeks away from a hot seat), but all evidence suggests that this soon-to-be-healthy team is peeking.



5.) Slugfest!

On Saturday night, I was explaining to a friend why American Gangster is my favorite movie of all time. Because of the star-studded cast of characters (Denzel, Russell Crowe, directed by Ridley Scott), R rating (which, let’s face it, is a MUST if you’re going to make a veritable gangster movie) and naturally compelling storyline (a true story about innovative Harlem drug dealerB. Roethlisberger (US Presswire) Frank Lucas) I went into that movie with dangerously high expectations. The type of expectations that can only be fulfilled by being surpassed. Remarkably, American Gangster did just that. (How it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture in ’07 is still a mystery.)

The Ravens-Steelers game Sunday night was the American Gangster of NFL games. It was a primetime game that more than lived up. We got the fist fighting chess match we all expected. We got the tight finish driven by big plays. And, like with Denzel and Crowe, the stars showed up.

Ben Roethlisberger’s foot seemed to get healthier as the night unfolded (which is odd because, from what I hear about painkilling shots, they tend to wear off over time). How great was Roethlisberger’s throwaway on first-and-10 late in the fourth quarter when Terrell Suggs had him in the grasp? Almost as great as Cris Collinsworth said it was (which means it was a 9.9/10). Suggs was phenomenal the entire night, once again proving he’s the best playside run-defending OLB in football and impossible for guys like Steelers backup-turned-starting left tackle Jonathan Scott to contain on passing downs.

The Roethlisberger throwaway play was originally made possible by Troy Polamalu’s forced fumble on Joe Flacco. It was Polamalu’s second individual play in the backfield that night (he had an impressive stop on Willie McGahee in the first half) and second consecutive game-changing performance in the closing minutes of a close contest. Polamalu’s late-game brilliance at Buffalo and Baltimore highlight the difference between star and superstar.

Of course, if Joe Flacco doesn’t short-arm the final fourth-and-two pass to Ed Dickson, we might be talking about how Baltimore’s third-year quarterback has orchestrated two game-winning touchdown drives against the vaunted Steeler defense this season. (Think that might have accelerated Flacco’s rise to the top quarterbacking echelon in the court of public opinion?)

Tough loss for the Ravens, though in a game like this, you have to first say “great win for the Steelers.” Before we move on, a few more quick notes from this one:

**Fans can be quick to criticize Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden. On Sunday night he was, in a word, awful. But don’t rush to the conclusion that the sixth-year pro can’t play. Overall, McFadden is one of the soundest No. 2 corners in the game. He’s always had trouble regaining his traction when things start to slip – that’s why the Cardinals gladly let him return to Pittsburgh – but that doesn’t mean he slips very often.

**Rashard Mendenhall has been fantastic this season (in this game he became the eighth rusher this season to surpass the 1,000-yard mark) but he needs to be called out for his alligator arms on the pass in the flats where Terrell Suggs was bearing down on him. Those weren’t even alligator arms – they were snake arms. Hard to blame a guy for not wanting to take a shot from Suggs (especially when Suggs, at the time, was bleeding profusely from the mouth and almost literally looking rabid). But Mendenhall will be blamed – did you see Roethlisberger’s reaction to Mendenhall’s snake arms?

**You have to believe that Haloti Ngata is the best defensive lineman in the NFL simply because that’s what every single announcer says every single week.

**The Ravens were just 4/13 on third down, but two of those four conversions were on 10-plus-yards-to-go situations on their first half touchdown drive.



6.) Bengals-Saints

Say what you will about Marvin Lewis’ club, but that’s a group that knows how to give. And that group hasn’t just started giving because of the holidays. No, that’s a group that has been giving all season long. Did you see the way they gave the Saints a ninth win on the season Sunday? (By the way, that’s two weeks in a row now that Drew Brees has led a game-winning last second comeback drive on the road. He’s not exactly beating teams known for their mettle and heart, but in the NFL, a win is a win – especially on the road.)
C. Palmer (US Presswire)
One play from this game in particular stood out (think you can probably guess which one). The Saints, trailing by three, had fourth-and-two on Cincy’s seven-yard line with 34 seconds left. They lined up for one of those “try to get the defense to jump offsides” plays in which the defense never jumps offsides. Except this time Bengals defensive tackle Pat Sims DID jump offsides. Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, apparently unaware of the federal law prohibiting all players from saying anything real or the least bit honest about an opponent after a game, couldn’t help but talk about the gaffe. "What is that guy doing”, Ellis asked rhetorically. “You have to be smarter than that."

Yup, you do. Otherwise, you put your team behind in a position to fall behind (the Saints followed through on the inevitable by scoring a go-ahead touchdown immediately after Sims’ mistake) and you give your quarterback a chance to make a major error in clock management.

That’s the part of this equation that might get overlooked. After the Saints pulled ahead, Bernard Scott put the Bengals in good field position with a solid kick return. Carson Palmer completed a short pass to fullback Brian Leonard for 14 yards, leaving the ball at New Orleans’ 37. That’s where the Bengals needed to use their final timeout with 13 seconds left (and note to broadcasters worldwide: that would not have been the Bengals “burning” their final timeout; it’s not “burning” a timeout if you’re using it to preserve precious seconds on a final drive). But instead of calling timeout, Palmer tried to line the offense up to spike the ball. It took five seconds before he realized that was a terrible idea.

So the Bengals burned not their final timeout, but rather, five crucial seconds before using their final timeout. Then during the timeout they set up the perfect play to allow Saints safety Roman Harper to blitz clean and end the game with a sack.

All in all, this game was a classic case of one team knowing how to win and another knowing how to lose. And, afterwards, we finally got some postgame gripes from the league’s most targeted wide receiver: “Dude, it doesn’t matter if I’m 46 (years old) or 47, I ball when I’m out there,” Terrell Owens said in a tone that seemed to say don't you understand??? “(Me saying this) is not a distraction. All I want is opportunities…The film don’t lie. The film don’t lie. Watch it. Watch it.”



7.) The story we just can’t shake

It’s not fair – by virtue of them playing the Bills, we were supposed to get a break from all Vikings stories (and thus all Brett Favre stories) this week. Instead, Favre took a nasty blow on the third play of the game, injured his shoulder and didn’t return. There’s probably some complicated-sounding name for whatever injury Favre has. And he’ll probably be questionable for the upcoming Giants game. And now we’ll probably be forced to talk about the streak and the concept of the Vikings building for the future, etc.

What makes this week’s story particularly irritating is that we got to see Tarvaris Jackson play. Whether you like Jackson or not is irrelevant. The problem is that by Jackson playing, we now have actual footage of the young quarterback (who, in his fifth season is not actually young) taking snaps for the 2010 Vikings. This means there is actually something to talk about with Jackson. Which means we’re going to have “Favre or Jackson” debates all week.

We can debate whether Jackson’s three interceptions (including that ugly pick-six to Drayton Florence) are a sign that he’s nowhere near ready to replace Favre or a sign that he’s so ready to replace Favre that, look!, he practically IS Favre. We can hold the same debate about the athleticism Jackson flashed in making sandlot plays to Sidney Rice (two touchdowns).

In the end, we’re still talking about an over-covered 5-7 team that’s all but out of playoff contention. Except now, that 5-7 team is 2-0 under interim head coach Leslie Frazier and is technically NOT out of playoff contention. So we might get to talk about Minnesota’s playoff chances, as well. Can’t wait.



8.) How the NFC West will be won

Instead of “how the West will be won”, perhaps a more appropriate headline would be something along the lines of “how one team will technically not lose the West”. Let’s hope the team that doesn’t lose the West is either the Rams or Seahawks. Both of those clubs won on Sunday. The Rams beat Derek Anderson and the hilarious Cardinals (who may now have to hang their hat on rookie quarterback John Skelton moving forward), while the Seahawks swarmed Jimmy Clausen and the putrid Panthers. Both clubs are 6-6.
St. Louis (US Presswire)
The Rams and Seahawks both have a game left against the hapless 49ers (who, by the way, verified in their loss at Green Bay that their quarterback can only throw what he sees and can only make simplified reads like on screen passes or play-action bootlegs). If both teams can beat those Niners, then the worst-case scenario we’d have in the West would be the 7-8 Rams and 7-8 Seahawks squaring off in a “win and you’re in” Week 17 showdown. That would ensure at least a .500 division winner.

But should the Niners beat either the Rams or Seahawks in the next few weeks, we’ll probably get the 7-9, or perhaps even 6-10, division champion that we’re dreading. Then the discussion will be a clash between two sides of common sense. One common sense side will say that a 7-9 team should never be in a tournament in which a 10-6 team is left out. The other common sense side will say that the NFL cannot rewrite its playoff rules on the fly simply because it doesn’t like what those rules produced.

The latter common sense side will win, of course. This entire mess has come about because the league didn’t fix this problem when it had a chance. In 2008, the 8-8 Chargers stole a playoff spot from the 11-5 Patriots by virtue of the Chargers winning the pathetic AFC West. In the ensuing offseason, the league should have decreed that only teams with winning records have their playoff spots guaranteed. (Or, the league could have at least ruled that no .500 or below team gets in the playoffs at the expense of a team that is three games better in the standings).

Instead, the league sat idly by and essentially said, “This scenario doesn’t happen often anyway. And besides, those 8-8 Chargers wound up knocking off the Colts that year, so you can’t say they didn’t deserve it.”

Problem was, those Chargers DIDN’T deserve it. To say they deserved a chance based on their playoff performance is to say that the regular season is basically insignificant. Let’s hope the Rams or Seahawks don’t get a chance to suggest that the regular season is insignificant.



9.) The Chargers may not deserve it now, either

A funny thing happened on San Diego’s way to the postseason Sunday. The Raiders went into Qualcomm Stadium and completed a season sweep of the Chargers. It was a September-esque performance from the Chargers: turnovers early and a few special teams gaffes (Darren Sproles muffed punt, Nate Kaeding missed 50-yard field goal…which probably isn’t a GAFFE, per se, but whatever, it helps the storyline).

If you picked this game corJ. Charles (US Presswire)rectly, then congratulations, you know nothing about pro football. There’s no way anyone could have intelligently predicted the Raiders to win going in. The evidence just wasn’t there. Darren McFadden had rushed for 16 yards on 18 carries the previous two weeks. Facing the league’s top-ranked defense, he gained 97 yards on19 carries. Backup Michael Bush added 95 on 23 carries. Oakland’s unforeseeable rushing success was the difference Sunday.

For San Diego, the loss was their first in 18 December games. They’re now 6-6 and two games back of a Chiefs team that they could have been battling for first place next week.

And say, how about those Chiefs? Three weeks removed from getting tagged for 49 points by the Broncos, Kansas City’s defense holds Josh McDaniels’ men to two field goals. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali renewed his ownership of normally-outstanding offensive tackle Ryan Clady. Unheralded corner Brandon Carr stifled the league’s leading receiver, Brandon Lloyd. (Though he didn’t shut Lloyd out the way Champ Bailey shutout Dwayne Bowe).

On the other side of the ball, Kansas City got more stellar play from Matt Cassel (he’s now up to 23 touchdowns on the season and still has just four picks) and was able to lean on the explosiveness of Jamaal Charles (his 116 yards on 15 carries left him third in the NFL in total rushing on the season leaving Sunday). Worth noting is that a big reason Charles is averaging nearly 95 yards per game on the ground and 6.2 yards per carry (the all-time single season record is 6.4, held by Jim Brown) is because he often enjoys big-play springing edge blocks from wide receivers and tight ends. That fundamental excellence goes a long way towards creating a consistent attack.

We can’t talk about this game without overhyping McDaniels-Todd Haley Handshake II. Haley surprised McDaniels by going in for a full hug after the game. It was the same tactic Bill Belichick pulled on Eric Mangini a few years ago. Annoyed by the media distraction that their icy relationship caused, Belichick used a warm hug to essentially douse cold water on a hot feud. It worked for him and it will probably work for Haley. No one will bring up his relationship with McDaniels again this season. And perhaps not next season, either, as McDaniels, now 5-17 in his last 22 games, may not be around.



10.) Quick Hits

**Falcons kick returner Eric Weems deserves heavy Pro Bowl consideration. His touchdown return against the Bucs was not only spectacular, it changed the tenor of the game. Lat week, Weems had a big return to set up Atlanta’s game-winning drive against the Packers.

**The Bucs-Falcons game was a good one, too. Matt Ryan was his usual cool self late. Josh Freeman continued to flash star potential. And the Bucs as a whole, though once again coming up short against a plus-.500 team, proved that they’re not a fluke. Tampa Bay has improved in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

**The early window games were slim pickings. It was the kind of schedule where I chose what game to watch on my main TV based on what uniforms I thought would look best on the field together. I picked Packers-Niners….only to discover that Green Bay was busting out some hideous blue and brown throwbacks.

**Would you believe that Jeff Fisher’s Titans led the league in presnap penalties coming into Sunday?

**And would you believe that the Saints’ stud right guard, Jahri Evans, leads the league with eight holding penalties?

**Didn’t mention Knowshon Moreno in the Broncos-Chiefs write up above. The second-year running back had by far his best game as a pro (161 yards on 23 carries). His juke moves had the exaggerated effectiveness of the juke moves on the Madden video game from about six or seven years ago.

**I didn’t like Drew Stanton’s touchdown dance. I didn’t like the dance itself (hope it’s okay to say this: it wasn’t a dance designed for white guys) and I didn’t like that he even did it. Quarterbacks pump their fist or spike the ball out of raw emotion all the time (see Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger). But none of them dance. It’s just not kosher – especially when you’re a second-round bust who is serving as a third-stringer on a two-win team.

**Cameron Wake had a big sack on Jake Delhomme late in Miami’s heartbreaking loss against Cleveland. Unfortunately for Wake and the Dolphins, the problem with sacking Delhomme is that it’s the only way to ensure that he doesn’t throw an interception.

**Going back to the Falcons-Bucs game real quick: hopefully for Brent Grimes people were watching this one, because if they were, the athletic and highly underrated Falcons cornerback probably punched his ticket to Hawaii.

**How’s this for salt in the Cardinals fans’ wound: Kurt Warner was in the broadcast booth for the St. Louis-Arizona game.

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Posted on: December 6, 2010 4:16 am
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Posted on: November 29, 2010 4:15 am
Edited on: November 29, 2010 1:35 pm
 

10 stories worth your attention Week 12

Posted by Andy Benoit

1. Status quo in prime time


The Indianapolis Colts have always had trouble against 3-4 defenses. The crux of the problem has often been Indy’s shortcomings at the guard position. For years, the Colts fruitlessly attempted to block 3-4 outside linebackers by pulling their guards to the edges in pass protection. Those were the pre-Super Bowl days when Peyton Manning was derisively referred to as a great regular season quarterback. The Colts no longer pull their guards against 3-4 outside rushers, but that doesn’t mean Colts guards aren’t still are major liability against teams like New England, Pittsburgh or, as we saw Sunday night, San Diego. P. Manning (US Presswire)

How big of a bust is Mike Pollak? The ’08 second-round pick can’t even get on the field ahead of Jeffrey Linkenbach, an undrafted rookie tackle-turned-guard who, since you started reading this paragraph, has been driven into the backfield by Antonio Garay two more times. Mike DeVan, the starter on the left side, has been almost equally as inept.

Manning, as a consequence of a shaky offensive line, injuries at running back, receiver and tight end and a few uncharacteristic misreads of his own, has now posted back-to-back three-interception games for the first time since his ’98 rookie season. By the way, on Manning’s third interception, NBC coaxed the audience into believing that Eric Weddle’s pick was the result of an uncalled pass interference penalty. The reality is, Weddle got away with a bit of a hook, yes, but Reggie Wayne went to the ground on his own. It was a calculated gamble by a star receiver who had an unusually terrible night (three drops and the failed fall). That gamble simply backfired.
The headline above – “Status Quo in prime time” – does not apply strictly to the Colts’ issues against 3-4 defenses. It also applies to the fact that we’ve reached the holiday shopping season and Norv Turner’s Chargers are white hot. By now you’ve seen the graph depicting how San Diego’s winning percentage always climbs dramatically with each month of the regular season. The Chargers, with the league’s top-ranked offense AND defense (in terms of yardage) are winners of four straight and head into December as the clear team to beat in the AFC West.

Sunday night was supposed to mark the San Diego passing game’s return to full health. Instead, Antonio Gates remained hobbled by his ailing plantar fascia (Gates played but was not himself) and Vincent Jackson either hurt his calf or found a creative new way to holdout. In response, Philip Rivers morphed into a dink-and-dunk quarterback. Rivers was 19/23, with 10 of those completions going to running backs Mike Tolbert, Jacob Hester and Darren Sproles. It was just another example of Rivers’ malleability as a leader and Turner’s brilliance – yes, brilliance – as an offensive coach.

Colts fans, no need to worry. Your team is 6-5 but still atop the surprisingly mediocre AFC South. The Colts will only get healthier – assuming they don’t pay for stupid mistakes like trotting Manning and Wayne back on the field late in the fourth quarter after having already waved the white flag – and likely cruise to either 10-6 or 11-5. There won’t be the familiar late-season tank job, but that’s not all bad considering the last time this team had to actually play all 16 games was 2006, when it won a Super Bowl. The Colts will have to concoct a plan for those pesky 3-4 defenses though. They’re almost certain to host either the Jets, Patriots, Ravens or Steelers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.



2. So maybe running does matter

A leading factor in the Colts’ three-out-of-four-game losing streak has been the offense’s utter inability to run the ball. The thinking – okay, MY thinking – has been that teams with superstar quarterbacks don’t need to run. The Colts ranked 32nd on the ground last season and nearly went undefeated on their way to a Super Bowl. The year before that, the Cardinals ranked 31st in rushing but won the NFC.

I still think running is overrated for teams with great passers. However, of the 12 lowest-ranked running offenses in the NFL this season, only the Colts, Packers and Saints are legitimate playoff contenders (the Seahawks, technically, are playoff contenders, but their standing membership in the NFC West violates the “legitimate” stipulation). The Colts and Packers both showed on Sunday that it’s one thing to be bad on the ground, while it’s another to be utterly inept. When you’re utterly inept, you become one dimensional.

Indy knew going into the game against San Diego that its run game would be stuffed. That turned out to be one of the few things that went according to plan, as Donald Brown and Javarris James combined for 24 yards on 13 carries. The one-dimensionality of the Colts allowed the Chargers to play downhill the entire night. That helped the pass-rusher unload on Manning, which sparked the turnovers that heavily influenced the game.

Earlier in the day, in the terrific Packers-Falcons game – which we’ll dive into in a moment – Packers running backs managed just 26 yards on 11 carries. (Quarterback Aaron Rodgers inflated the team’s rushing statistics with 12 runs for 51 yards, most of which were improvised scrambles). Green Bay’s ineptitude on the ground hindered Mike McCarthy’s play-calling on more than one occasion late in drives.
So often the offensive line gets blamed for a team’s poor run game. Indeed, the Colts front five is below average. The Packers’ front five is a tick above average, though it can be inconsistent. But in the case of these two teams, the run game problems derive mainly from the running backs themselves.

Both clubs are missing their starters (Joseph Addai has been out since October 17 with a neck injury; Ryan Grant was lost for the season in Week 1 with an ankle injury). The backups have been inadequate. Indy’s Donald Brown is an especially bad NFL runner. He’s indecisive, undersized and, aside from when he’s catching passes in the flats, he’s the opposite of quick. Brown appears destined to be the only first-round pick that Bill Polian has whiffed on. For Green Bay, Brandon Jackson is equally limited. The former second-round pick is decent in the passing game, but as a traditional first-and second-down back, he’s far too lethargic.

Contrary to popular opinion, a running back influences an offensive line more than an offensive line influences a running back. The Colts and Packers are being painfully reminded of this.



3. Time to start talkin’ Dirty Bird

What an absolutely fantastic football game we had in the Georgia Dome Sunday afteM. Turner (US Presswire)rnoon. Just take a look at the drive charts. The Packers had five drives that went either nine-plus plays or 80-plus yards. The Falcons had three such drives, including a pair of 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drives.

Aaron Rodgers made a litany of spectacular individual plays down the stretch, as he was able to buy time against Atlanta’s three-man rush/eight-man zone. It was surprising that Atlanta leaned on this conservative defensive concept. Those who watch ESPN’s brilliant NFL Matchup Show learned Sunday Morning that the Packers love to give Rodgers ample time to throw in the pocket, even if it means employing a six-or seven-man protection scheme. Thus, one figures, a three-man pass-rush is a tactic that plays right into Green Bay’s hands. Indeed, Rodgers spent much of Sunday holding the ball for eternity before lasering passes to his third or fourth read or scrambling to move the chains.

The only negative about Rodgers’ game-tying fourth down touchdown strike to Jordy Nelson was that it came with 56 seconds still left on the clock. That was enough time for Matt Ryan to complete four consecutive passes for a total of 20 yards to set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning 47-yard field goal. (The Falcons began that drive on the 50 after Eric Weems’ 40-yard kick return was buttressed by a 15-yard facemasking penalty.)

Ryan was as efficient as a Google search Sunday, but the hero for Atlanta was Michael Turner. The thundering Pro Bowler went over 100 yards for the sixth time this season and fourth time in five games. Turner carried the ball at least 23 times in all four of those 100-yard games. (Surprisingly, Jason Snelling has slid from being the “two” of a 1-2 punch to being a scantly-used backup.)

The Falcons seem intent on hitching their wagon to a true workhorse running back. This 1990’s mentality suits Mike Mularkey and his tight end/fullback-heavy offense well. Turner has responded in large part because, unlike a lot of teams that rely heavily on a power runner, the Falcons are not handcuffed by mediocrity in the passing game. Roddy White has been the best wide receiver in the NFC this season (he easily leads the conference in both receptions and yards) and Tony Gonzalez (six catches, 51 yards and a touchdown Sunday) remains of Hall of Fame caliber.

There’s still a long ways to go, but the Falcons, at 9-2, are on track for homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs. That’s significant considering Ryan is 19-1 in the Georgia Dome.



4. Da Bears

Who would have guessed that a “homefield advantage” mention would be an appropriate segue to the Chicago Bears? The heater beneath Lovie Smith’s seat was officially switched off after the Bears held off the electrifying Eagles and improved to an NFC North-best 8-3. How’d they do it? The same way they did it the previous three weeks: by running the ball effectively enough to give the offense the necessary balance to execute Mike Martz’s scheme.
E. Bennett (US Presswire)
Early in the season, Jay Cutler was dropping back to throw on every down, and teams were able to tee off against Chicago’s unathletic front five. In the past month, however, Martz has taken more to calling Matt Forte’s number. Forte, averaging 18.5 carries per game his past four outings, has been 80 percent stellar, 20 percent spectacular (he had 117 yards on 14 carries against the Eagles).

The running game itself has not propelled Chicago – the THREAT of the running game has. Having just enough balance to keep defenses guessing is what has allowed the Bears to successfully usher in two new starting tackles (Frank Omiyale on the left side and rookie JaMarcus Webb on the right side).

It helps that Jay Cutler is playing well. Cutler’s career-high four touchdowns against the Eagles were a showcase of the quarterback’s arm strength and of the now clearly-defined roles of Chicago’s receivers. Earl Bennett and Greg Olsen have become the preferred red zone targets (Bennett found the end zone twice; Olsen found the end zone for a second time in three games). Johnny Knox is the explosive speedster between the 20’s. Devin Hester – finally! – is being used the gadget weapon in the slot. (By the way, why did the Bears replace Hester at kick returner a few times with Daniel Manning on Sunday? Manning glides with scintillating speed, but we’ve been over this with Chicago: Hester is the greatest return ace of all-time. Watching the Bears re-insert him at kick returner one week but de-insert him a few times the following week is like watching someone trying to quit smoking. Old stupid habits die hard; the Bears still have not completely broken their old stupid habit of inexplicably removing Hester from special teams.)

The Bear defense has been as impressive as the offense, thanks to the familiar excellence of the linebackers and the emergence of Julius Peppers (he’s been far more valuable than his six sacks on the season suggest). Offense, defense and special teams are all clicking in Chicago. Unlike September, this wave of success is a product of continuity. Get used to the Bears – you’ll be seeing a lot of them in a few weeks. They have a trap game at Detroit in Week 13 but then a matchup with the Patriots that could get flexed into primetime in Week 14. After that, it’s their annual Monday night showdown against the Vikings.

Speaking of the Vikings…



5. Minnesota sticks it to Brad Childress

Did you see the way the players serenaded Leslie Frazier after their win at Washington Sunday? There was the Gatorade shower (imagine Chilly getting one of those. Seriously, just imagine it. You can’t, can you?). There were the handshakes and smiles. And there was Brett Favre handing Frazier the game ball. Nice touch, Brett.

The Vikings-Redskins game itself wasn’t much to write home about. Both teams had strapping opening drives (Minnesota seven plays, 71 yards for a touchdown; Washington 13 plays, 83 yards for a touchdown) but did little after that. Both quarterbacks posted pedestrian numbers. Adrian Peterson left in the first half with an ankle injury (he wanted to go back in but instead got scheduled for an MRI Monday). There weren’t many defensive plays of note, aside from E.J. Henderson’s diving interception off a bad Santana Moss deflection.

At the end of the day, this was an uneventful contest between what are now two non-playoff contenders. So why is it one of 10 stories worth your attention? Because it still gave us a chance to refer to the Childress-Favre drama again.



6. Poor Stevie

Who knows why Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson dropped that surefire game-winning touchdown against the Steelers in overtime. Perhaps Johnson was thinking somewhere in the back of his mind about his four previous drops on the afternoon. Perhaps he succumbed to the incredulity about his sudden emergence that everyone else has experienced at some point this season (it’s still hard to believe that this unknown Kentucky product has been as good as he has). Or, perhaps the Steelers secondary put in a special little request to their buddy upstairs during one of those prayer circles that they frequently conduct on the sideline during games (you know, those prayer circles that cameras always catch but that no broadcaster has had the gall to acknowledge yet?) S. Johnson (US Presswire)

If you asked Johnson to pick one of those three, he’d probably pick the prayer circle. He seemed to have a rift with God after the game. Check out the 24-year-old’s tweet: “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO...”

Since God has already been dragged into this, has anyone from the Bills considered asking Him for a hand in run defense? As heartbreaking as the Bills’ most recent overtime loss was, the cold reality is the outcome was a result of Pittsburgh ramming the ball down their throats. The game began with the Steelers marching 78 yards on 13 plays, nine of which were runs, for a score. The game ended with the Steelers marching 58 yards on 13 plays, nine of which were, again, runs, for a score.

The Bills came into Sunday allowing a league-worst 167.4 yards on the ground. The Steelers rushed for 206 yards on 45 carries. Rashard Mendenhall, who is fast becoming the premiere fourth quarter closer in the NFL, had a jarring 36 carries for 151 yards (how’s that for getting ready to face a physical Ravens defense in Week 13?).

One other note from this game: the magnificence of Troy Polamalu. After missing practice all week with a muscle strain near his Achilles, the superstar safety made a game-saving interception near the goal-line late in regulation and unloaded several open field tackles in overtime.




7. The Bucs are who we thought they were

Look, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not an elite team. Their loss at Baltimore dropped them to 0-4 against teams with a winning record. It was a fairly convincing loss that followed the script. In fact, instead of reading a recap of the game, go ahead and read the Key Matchup breakdown from Friday – it’s all the same.

So the Bucs are not an elite team. And their outcomes are predictable. Okay, fine. But you know what else they are? They’re a young upstart club that’s 7-4 because they know how to take advantage of inferior opponents. The loss at Baltimore was similar to the loss at Atlanta in that the Bucs came to play but ran into a better team. They get a crack at the Falcons again next week. It’s likely they’ll drop to 7-5. But after that, the Bucs face the Redskins, Lions and Seahawks. From a pure mathematical standpoint – and seriously, that’s all this is here – this team’s patterns in 2010 suggests that a 10-win season is still in order.



8. Suspend them both

The Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan fight: Whoa! Fines are on the way. If the league is wise, so are suspensions. Johnson was throwing genuine haymakers at a player on the ground who was wearing no helmet. True, the normally reserved receiver has a clean track record. But if those punches were thrown in the NBA or in MLB, there’d be a multiple-game suspension. The violent nature of football casts a different light on fighting in the NFL, but that wasn’t a football fight – it was a FIGHT fight. Sit him down a game.
A. Johnson (US Presswire)
Finnegan should be suspended, too, on the grounds of being a repeat jackass. Not joking here. Just like multiple misdemeanors can eventually equal a felony in our justice system, Finnegan’s continuously chippy play needs to be curtailed with a felonious punishment. Every week the guy is drawing flags or small fines for various personal fouls. He’s not even a superstar yet we all recognize his face simply because he loses his helmet in a scuffle seemingly at least twice a game.

Finnegan’s antics after the fight were just as appalling. He was grinning and jabbering at the Texans bench. When he left the field, he raised his arms to mockingly pump up the Houston crowd. It would have been cute if not for the fact that Titans were getting thumped 17-0 at that point. Who does Finnegan think he is, Vince Young?

Because Finnegan was an unheralded seventh-round draft pick, we’ve all championed his behavior as feistiness and scrappiness. We praise him for having one of those chips on the shoulders. But Finnegan’s actions have gotten to the point of bush-league.
Back in October, the league issued the cornerback a warning about his dirty hits and behavior. The league now has a chance to act harshly on that warning.




9. Dwayne Bowe

I’ve been holding out on a Dwayne Bowe feature these past few weeks. I haven’t been able to shake the fear that the second I step in this guy’s corner, he’ll pull the rug out from under me. But after his 13-catch, 170-yard, three-touchdown performance at Seattle (convincing win on the road for the Chiefs, by the way), I’m willing to take the risk and trumpet the fourth-year pro’s maturation.

Bowe no longer pays rent in Todd Haley’s doghouse. And he no longer drops passes with regularity. He’s gone over 100 yards receiving in each of his last three games, and he’s caught a touchdown pass in a team-record seven straight outings. (Even more remarkable is that he’s had multiple touchdowns in six of those outings.)

Bowe is sculpted like a possession receiver, though he’s become a downfield target as well. All the more impressive is that he’s doing this even though the Chiefs don’t have an authentic No. 2 wideout (Chris Chambers has less than 200 yards receiving on the season).

Bowe will have plenty of chances to prove – or, I guess now, verify – his merits during Kansas City’s playoff push these final weeks. He faces Champ Bailey next week, Quintin Jammer in Week 14, the formerly scrappy but currently bush-league Cortland Finnegan in Week 16 and Nnamdi Asomugha in Week 17.



10. Quick Hits

***Sam Bradford took advantage of a Broncos defense that refused to rush the passer by logging his first 300-yard game as a pro. The Rams, 5-6, are now in first place of the sickening NFC West.

***It was just like old times Sunday: Jake Delhomme threw two interceptions (including an inexcusable pick-six to Captain Munnerlyn) and managed to give the Panthers a loss.

***What are the odds that Chris Johnson’s worst game as a pro (sevenD. Garrard (US Presswire) carries for five yards) would come in sixth-round rookie quarterback Rusty Smith’s starting debut? The Titans ran just 44 plays Sunday (32 less than the Texans).

***Arian Foster carried the ball 30 times for 143 yards. He’s been by far the best running back in the AFC this season.

***The best part about Shaun Smith’s touchdown run for the Chiefs was Pete Carroll’s dumbfound expression after it.

***Speaking of Carroll, what the hell was he doing calling timeouts as the Chiefs were extending the courtesy of kneeling on the ball with a 42-24 lead?

***Don’t know how I got all the way to Quick Hits before mentioning the Jaguars-Giants game….I watched virtually this entire contest and loved every minute of it. The game, in a nutshell, was this: Jaguars dominated on the ground in the first half and David Garrard played well because of it. In the second half, the Giants forced the Jags to play more through the air. Garrard suddenly became shaky in protecting the football, and ultimately New York’s dynamic front four was too much for Jacksonville. That’s the game in a nutshell. And, come to think of it, that’s probably the 2010 Jaguars in a nutshell, too.

***The best one-on-one matchup Sunday may have been Ravens wideout Derrick Mason against Bucs corner Aqib Talib. On the mano-a-mano front, I’d say the youngster got the better of this one (how about Talib’s interception between the knees, huh?). But from an all-encompassing standpoint, the nod obviously goes to Mason. He led all players with 87 yards on eight catches, including an important touchdown out of the slot in front of coverage liability Sean Jones.

***If the Raiders weren’t blacked out all the time, everyone would be talking about rookie receiver/kick returner Jacoby Ford. He’s one of the most explosive big-play creators in the NFL. He had his second kick return for a touchdown Sunday, and he added another score in going over 100 yards receiving.

***The best part about Sunday was that there were six early window games and five late window games. Why can’t we get that kind of scheduling balance every week?


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Posted on: November 29, 2010 3:48 am
Edited on: November 29, 2010 4:20 am
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Posted on: November 26, 2010 8:40 am
 

Hot Routes 11.26.10: Josh Freeman No. 1 overall?

Posted by Will Brinson



Got a link for the Hot Routes? Hit us up on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).
  • Raheem Morris told Baltimore writers this week that regardless of what pick the Bucs had in the 2009 NFL Draft, they would have taken Josh Freman. Now, typically, that's either a statement entirely fueled by the hindsight of a Joe Montana-like steal or a really, really crappy draft. It's a little bit of both in this case, as there have been some good selections that developed out of those top picks (Pro Bowlers Brian Orakpo, Brian Cushing and Clay Matthews in addition to Mark Sanchez, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin and Hakeem Nicks) but Freeman's also a special talent that people are falling in love with. That being said, this is similar to the "We're the best team in the NFC" bit -- if Tampa had the first pick, they COULDN'T take Freeman first overall, because his inherent awesomeness would be suppressed because of his monster contract. Instead, they'd trade down and pick him up later in addition to something else. But I get what Raheem's saying.
  • Keith Null is "braced for action" when it comes to playing with the Panthers. What I wanna know is why the Panthers haven't called my cuz Riley Skinner (from Wake Forest, currently living in Charlotte) yet. Null came to Carolina when Brian St. Pierre turned them down the first time by the way.
  • I'm a little biased towards Andre Brown (NCSU guy), but I agree with him, and the Redskins coaching staff, in an optimistic view that he could succeed with Mike Shanahan and the Redskins. It's a much better fit than his first 25 teams.
  • Pete Carroll's got "mad respect*" (that's what the kids are saying after all) for Matt Cassell's tenacity in refusing to give up, always playing as hard as he can on the practice squad and eventually getting an incredible injury opening that led to a monster contract. Or something. *No, he didn't actually say that.
Posted on: November 23, 2010 8:58 am
 

Hot Routes 11.23.10: Wade Phillips is Tom Landry?

Posted by Will Brinson



Got a link for the Hot Routes? Hit us up on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).
  • Wade Phillips is probably a bitter dude right now -- not only did his team totally give up on him, but the guy (Jason Garrett) that Jerry Jones hired to help Wade seemingly feigned offensive incompetence for the entire time Wade was in charge, only to "discover" his genius after taking over the team. Anyway, Wade's not going out like that, yo. He said he'd take a defensive coordinator position in the future and also pointed out that he "went out with the same winning percentage as Tom Landry." 
 
 
 
 
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