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Tag:St. Louis Rams
Posted on: October 11, 2010 4:36 am
Edited on: October 11, 2010 2:18 pm
 

10 Sunday stories that deserve attention Week 5

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) The Almost Legend

The Alex Smith Story on Sunday night was like a Greek tragedy. The much-maligned quarterback of the disappointing 0-4 Niners makes one of the great blunders of the 2010 season when he reads blitz from the Eagles, eschews his hot receiver (Vernon Davis) and instead fumbles, resulting in an easy Quintin Mikell touchdown return. Smith endures the wrath of a Candlestick crowd that showed up at the stadium seemingly determined to boo their own team until the visiting Eagles could feel right at home. A. Smith (US Presswire)

Mike Singletary hears the boos, hears the We Want Carr! chants (which, by the way, surely sparked a few wry smiles from Houstonites watching the game) and, from the looks of it, tells his quarterback he’s making a change. His quarterback appears to respond with something along the lines of, Like hell you are! Singletary, to his credit, sticks with Smith – which is important because not only did Smith practice all week and clearly beat out Carr when the two were competing for the job this summer, but also because Al Michaels, during one of his rare breaks from gushing about the paradise that is the Bay Area, had told the NBC audience that Singletary deeply values loyalty.

Smith, backed by the support of no one but himself, goes back out and goes 5/5 with a touchdown on a drive that was crisper than a dry Cornflake. No one could have blamed Smith if he’d celebrated that touchdown by giving the Candlestick crowd the Chuck Cecil treatment. Instead, he goes back to the sideline, watches the game through a fierce stare, and then goes back out and does it all again.

The 49ers get the ball back trailing 27-24 with 1:28 to play. When Smith completes a 27-yard pass to Vernon Davis (who finally got to do what he does best, which is run seam routes), we think we might be seeing a modern comic book hero unfold before our very eyes. But three plays later, Smith’s arm gets hit by a penetrating Trevor Laws, resulting in an interception and gut-wrenching 0-5 start for the preseason NFC West favorites.

Now, Singletary’s job could come into question. (You know, because it’s his fault Frank Gore fumbled twice. And because it’s his fault Smith gave up the ball to Mikell before all the fireworks. And because it’s his fault Joe Nedney missed a 40-yard field goal. And because it’s his fault offensive tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis played poorly at times.) Smith’s starting status should be secure, but a winless record has a way of tricking decision-makers into hasty moves. So we’ll see.

Overall, at least this sure-to-be-boring game that yours truly openly dreaded all week turned out to be one of the best dramas thus far of this young 2010 season.

2.) Rethinking the NFC?

The Green Bay Packers were supposed to run away with the NFC North. Instead, they’re a game and a half behind the 4-1 Bears and, after Monday night, could be only a half-game up on a Vikings team that just acquired the greatest deep threat in NFL history. If Sunday’s loss at Washington alone isn’t bad enough, how about the fact that quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tight ends Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett all came away with injuries that could put their status for Week 6 in jeopardy?

Rodgers has a concussion. Lee has a shoulder (he hurt it on a play in which he caught a touchdown…and celebrated). Finley, according to reports, has a displaced hamstring (don’t worry, no one knew you could displace your hamstring). Matthews has the more traditional pulled hamstring. Pickett has a knee. This for a team that has already lost for the season running back Ryan Grant, safety Morgan Burnett and inside linebacker Nick Barnett.

Packer fans should actually be breathing a sigh of relief, though. Finley initially appeared to have some sort of serious knee injury (he was doing the whole “towel over the head thing” while riding a cart to the locker room, and he came back to the sideline on crutches).
A. Rodgers (US Presswire)
From a Super Bowl standpoint, the Packers are not good enough to survive the loss of Finley. If he is out for an extended period of time, the Packers will discover that Greg Jennings and Donald Driver aren’t actually impossible to defend. The outside wideouts benefit greatly from the attention Finley commands from opposing safeties. Not to mention, Finley himself is good for at least 80 yards a game. Green Bay still has enough talent at wide receiver to compete, but an offense can’t disguise its intentions with a wide receiver the way you can with a tight end.

Regarding the other two injured superstars: Rodgers will presumably be back soon (not to put any pressure on the guy, but quarterbacks in Green Bay don’t really miss games); Matthews has successfully come back from a hamstring injury once already (he missed virtually the entire preseason, and then recorded three sacks in each of the first two regular season games). It’s important he get healthy ASAP. There was a noticeable decline – perhaps even disappearance – of Green Bay’s front seven prowess after Matthews went out Sunday (the Redskins punted on seven of their first eight possessions but exploded in the second half to finish with over 350 yards through the air).

Note: The original diagnosis of a "displaced hamstring" for Finley was accurate (Finley says he's had the issue before), but his knee was actually the bigger deal. On Monday we learned that Finley will undergo arthroscopic surgery and miss around three weeks. 

Note II: For a full rundown of Green Bay's substantial list of injuries -- updated Monday afternooon -- click here.  

3.) Taking the Pack to task

Now that we’ve (sort of) played the sympathy card for the banged-up Packers, how about censuring them for bungling the field goal at the end of regulation? Mason Crosby missed a 53-yarder that would have won the game. But he’s not to blame.

Instead, blame the head coach and quarterback. Why – WHY !? – did Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers settle for a 53-yarder in that situation? Two plays before Crosby’s kick, Rodgers made a masterful presnap read against a Redskins blitz from his right side. He lasered a ball to rookie tight end Andrew Quarless for a 21-yard completion. There were 26 seconds on the game clock when that play commenced. After Quarles’ catch, the Packers sauntered to the line of scrimmage and got around to spiking the ball with seven seconds left.

Seven seconds is enough time to take two stabs at a quick-out pass that could pick up around five yards. That’s the type of play Green Bay’s offense does better than any offense. Instead, the Packers settled for a 53-yard attempt. Thinking you can make a 53-yarder to end a game is almost as bad as thinking you can block Chicago’s 21-yarder to end a game.

4.) You play to win the game. Hello ?!

If only Herm Edwards had said this when he was with the Chiefs, instead of when he was with the Jets. Oh, that would have been the perfect introduction here. Instead, we’ll settle for a somewhat flimsy angle of “Play to win the game – that’s what Edwards’ replacement in Kansas City, Todd Haley, did Sunday at Indianapolis.”T. Haley (US Presswire)

Of course, Haley’s Chiefs did not win the game. Their loss allowed the 1972 Miami Dolphins to schedule their annual champagne celebration unusually early (first time since 1970 that no NFL team started 4-0). But Haley sure played to win. Figuring he probably couldn’t outscore Peyton Manning with Matt Cassel straight-up (indeed, Cassel was a modest 16/29 for 156 yards and, like the rest of the Chiefs team, produced zero touchdowns Sunday), Haley looked to manufacture points through calculated (reckless?) gambles. He opened with an onside kick. He went for it on fourth-and-two on the teams’ first possession. Both moves were unsuccessful, putting the Chiefs on the wrong end of a six-point swing. But at least Haley was willing to take the risks.

Haley maybe would have taken a more traditional approach had he known his defense would be so stifling. Chiefs fans should feel encouraged about Romeo Crennel’s young group. It was the real deal Sunday. Ends Glenn Dorsey and Wallace Gilberry got consistent separation against the Colts front line (both in terms of penetration and shedding blocks in lateral run support).

Outside linebacker Tamba Hali all but locked up a trip to Hawaii with the way he destroyed right tackle Ryan Diem (forget what I said in the Key Matchup feature about Hali being a minimal factor because he tends to wreak havoc late in plays rather than immediately off the snap). 

Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson was a stud in all phases. Formerly a strict open-space player, Johnson is proving his mettle between the tackles in high-traffic areas. He’s one of the fastest-closing tacklers in the game today. (Johnson led the Chiefs with nine stops in this game.) Plus, he can drop into coverage.

Speaking of coverage, the Chiefs have arguably the league’s best young cornerback tandem in third-year gems Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr. Flowers was, once again, barely challenged Sunday. Carr, to the surprise of many, held his own against Reggie Wayne; he has excellent size and strength. Crennel is able to variegate his defensive looks because he has two trustworthy cover corners on the outside.

The Chiefs still have plenty of issues to take care of offensively. Cassel  needs to rely less on his legs and more on his arm. The front five must stay viable for four quarters (the Colts defensive line was the markedly fresher unit late in this one). Jamaal Charles is a sensational home run threat, but he fumbles too often and goes down if a defender so much as breathes on him. And Dwayne Bowe must lose the oven mitts if he is to be the true No. 1 receiver this offense needs (Bowe had a pair of crucial drops late).

There are no moral victories in pro football. And Haley’s team could have won Sunday if it had only executed better in the second half. But at the end of the day, if we were wondering whether Kansas City is a legit contender in the AFC West, the answer is a resounding Yes.

5.) Which brings us to…

Written somewhere in Norv Turner’s contract is a clause that says the Chargers fourth-year head coach only has to win at home. At least it sure seems that way. You would have thought San Diego could win in Oakland given that the empty seats would create a 2010 Qualcomm Stadium feel. Not to mention, the Chargers had defeated the Raiders 13 straight times.

You actually can’t blame Tuner for this one. If you’re into blaming coaches, go ahead and feast on special teams coordinator Steve Crosby. Even if you’re not into blaming coaches, feast on Crosby; the Dolphins last week made criticizing special teams coaches the new chic thing. Crosby’s unit gave up two early blocked punts that resulted in nine Raiders points. In all, the Chargers special teams have allowed three blocked punts and four return touchdowns on the season.

The offense also gave up a return touchdown of its own. Phillip Rivers’ fumble on a hit from Michael Huff was scooped up by Tyvon Branch for what amounted to the game-clinching score. The only thing unusual about that Chargers turnover was that it did not occur in the red zone. (San Diego had two first half turnovers inside the 20.)

Malcolm Floyd had 213 yards receiving. Rivers had 431 passing. Antonio Gates, who had five catches for 92 yards, extended his all-time tight ends record for consecutive games with a touchdown catch to nine. Still, when Rivers kept looking for Patrick Crayton and Craig “No Longer Worthy of a Catchy Nickname Like Buster” Davis late in the fourth quarter, you couldn’t help but think that this team might (would definitely) be better off with Vincent Jackson lining up outside.

On the Raiders side, this win, naturally, came at the hands of a backup quarterback. It seems like Bruce Gradkowski gets knocked out for at least part of every game. This week it was a shoulder that sidelined the Jeff Garcia ersatz. After some Jason Campbell-like jittery passes early on, Jason Campbell did a spectacular job filling in for Gradkowski. Campbell finished 13/18 for 159 yards and a touchdown.
Also, running back Michael Bush, filling in for injured Darren McFadden, rushed for a hard-earned 104 yards on 26 carries. The Raiders, 2-3, may have a few backfield controversies to sort out before facing their winless Bay Area neighbors in Week 6.

6.) That other team with quarterback drama

Before we dispel the notion that Max Hall is going to lead a resurgence in Arizona, let’s dispel the notion that the Saints have serious issues. Yes, the Saints, by their standards, are struggling a bit. They miss Reggie Bush in the passing game and Pierre Thomas in the running game. They’re uncharacteristically turning the ball over at inopportune places on the field. (Heck, even Drew Brees got into the act, with two of his three interceptions being the result of an underthrown ball). Most concerning is, defensively, the Saints are not creating turnovers – at least not like they were last season. They have just four interceptions on the season. Their fortunes hope to change once free safety Darren Sharper (knee) gets off PUP. M. Hall (US Presswire)

Regarding the Cardinals – you have to admire Max Hall’s grit. He seemed determine to break the NFL record for most injuries suffered in a single game (four players currently share the unofficially record – Albert Haynesworth, Jason Peters, Jevon Kearse and, somehow, Vince Carter). Hall took gobs of big hits Sunday.

One hit, in particular, stands out. It was on the play in which Hall fumbled and lost his helmet. This was a cool play because we actually had a review to see if Hall lost the football before he lost his helmet (new rule states that a play is immediately dead if a player with the ball loses his lid). Sean Payton challenged the play because not only did Cardinals right tackle Levi Brown recover the fumble, he also scored. (By the way, don’t tell Beanie Wells, but Brown actually doubled Wells’ fantasy output on Sunday. Wells requested more playing time and then spent the entire game running to the right and meeting the Saints safeties.)

Here’s a question for the Competition Committee: is it really fair for a team to score a touchdown recovering its own fumble? Rules prohibit a team from fumbling forward inside the final two minutes of a half (thank you, Dave Casper and the Raiders). Why not just prohibit the offense from fumbling forward or advancing a recovered fumble at all times? The offense should not be rewarded for fumbling.

7.) Another change…

Drew Brees’ first half interception to Paris Lenon came off the hands of running back Ladell Betts (Betts, by the way, had a tough all-around game Sunday). Carson Palmer’s final interception – hauled in by Sabby Piscitelli – resulted from a tipped ball by Chad Ochocinco. Tony Romo’s second pick – courtesy of Michael Griffin – was tipped by tight end Martellus Bennett. In all three of these instances, the receiver was at fault for the turnover. We see this kind of thing every week.

It’s time the NFL do something about it. Obviously I’m not talking about outlawing tipped interceptions. (Come on.) I’m talking about crediting tipped interceptions to a guilty receiver. Much like how a fielder’s error doesn’t count as a hit against a pitcher, a receiver’s error shouldn’t count as an interception against a quarterback.

Of course, maybe it all levels out in the end. Look at Romo, for example. Yes, he had the tipped pick. But his 69-yard touchdown to Miles Austin should have been an interception. Safety Michael Griffin disguised his coverage and baited Romo into throwing into a double team. Romo’s poor quarterbacking on that play was nullified only by Griffin’s poor angle and timing. Perhaps luck swings both ways. Still, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t make sense to keep better turnover statistics.

8.) NFC East

While we’re on Romo…it’s time for him to lose that little Scottish hats in the postgame interviews. Oh, and it’s time for him and the Cowboys to start winning. (How’s that for analysis?) The Cowboys, at 1-3, are still only 1.5 games out in the NFC East. But that division is looking a lot better as of late. The Giants have rediscovered their pass rush (10 sacks against the Bears last week, three on Sunday against the Texans). They also have one of the brightest young stars in the game in wideout Hakeem Nicks, who has amazing body control and change-of-direction ability to go with long arms, long legs and hands big enough to palm a table for two. Nicks had 130 yards and two scores on 12 receptions Sunday.T. Romo (US Presswire)

The Eagles are 3-2 and have not only a rejuvenated Michael Vick but a freshly-blossomed LeSean McCoy. The second-year running back is averaging over 100 yards per game in total offense.

Finally, the Redskins appear to be rock solid defensively. They too have a second-year sensation in outside linebacker Brain Orakpo, though it’s been the play of rangy safety LaRon Landry that has galvanized Jim Haslett’s new 3-4 defense.

In short, the NFC East has four quality teams. The most polarizing of the bunch can’t have many more games like the one it had against the Titans (12 penalties for 133 yards, minus-three turnovers, six sacks allowed).

9.) Move the fans

The Redskins-Packers broadcast was constantly interrupted by the outstretched arms of fans that repeatedly got into the camera shot celebrating on big plays. These were the fans sitting in the row in front of the camera. This kind of interruption should absolutely never happen. Yet, we see it each week (especially in Redskins games).

The television networks should demand that seats near key cameras be left unoccupied. In fact, go ahead and leave open the first row or two of seats that are closest to the broadcast booth, as well. Nothing is more obnoxious than hearing in the background the cheers of a few individual fans during a telecast.

10.) Quick Hits

***The NFL’s best pass defense (Baltimore) got the better of the NFL’s best pass offense (Denver). But the story of the game was the return to full health of Ray Rice, who showed his familiar lateral explosiveness in rushing for 133 yards on 27 carries. Also, Joe Flacco was effective against the Broncos’ non-existent pass-rush.

***Is Todd Collins the first quarterback in NFL history to get benched late in the third quarter despite his team protecting a 14-point lead? What’s funny is that Collins clearly deserved the hook. If Mike Martz had called just four or five more deep passes outside the numbers, Collins would have found a way to finish with more interceptions than completions. (In the end, he had six completions and four picks.) The only thing shakier than Collins’ accuracy was his decision-making when his pocket trembled.

***Hard to decide who had the better self-tipped interception, Julius Peppers or Kroy Biermann. Obviously, Biermann returned his for six points, while Peppers did not. But Peppers had the wherewithal to shush the Carolina crowd after the play, which was a nice touch.

***Carson Palmer’s first interception – the pick six to Cody Grimm – was inexcusable. But his second was on Terrell Owens for not coming back to the ball. And the third was on Chad Ochocinco for deflecting it up in the air.

***Disappointing to see the Rams not show up in Detroit. Instead of that game giving us the story one of super awful team and one potential Cinderella, it just gave us the story of two really bad teams. The Rams are 2-3; the Lions are 1-4. The Mark Clayton injury is devastating for St. Louis. He had finally blossomed after joining a team in which he was the elder statesman.

***Memo to all announcers: quit saying a team “burned a timeout” when the team is using the timeout to stop the clock late in a game. That’s not burning a timeout – that’s wisely spending it. Burning a timeout is when you call one early in a half because of miscommunication.


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


Posted on: October 11, 2010 4:24 am
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Posted on: October 10, 2010 8:38 pm
Edited on: October 10, 2010 9:10 pm
 

Numerology Week 5: Parity Party

Posted by Will Brinson

The jury is still out on science, but the verdict on math is F-U-N, so we present the week in NFL from a numbers perspective.

0 - Undefeated teams remaining in the NFL. If an expanded schedule is coming, this might have been the last decent shot at running the table, and no one even wanted to give an effort at making Mercury Morris cry.

2 - Blocked punts by the Raiders in the first quarter as the Chargers, resulting in a touchdown and safety against the continually awful special teams unit of San Diego.  

4 - Straight games in which the Bills have allowed 30-plus points, which is the first time that has happened in their franchise's history. That is not good news.

5 - Field goals by Josh Scobee, tying a Jaguars franchise record.

7 - Losses that the NFC West has taken while traveling.  

13  - Number of times the Raiders had lost to the Chargers in a row until Sunday, when they snapped the longest losing streak to another team with a shocking 35-27 upset.

29 - Yard missed field goal by John Carney, which should do wonders for the "kicker controversy" chatter.

44 - Games since the Detroit Lions last won by more than 30 points -- they beat Denver 44-7 on November 4, 2007 and then St. Louis 44-6 on Sunday.  

90 - Number of seconds  in which Carson Palmer managed to throw quarter interceptions while doing his "best Jake Delhomme impression" and helping the Bengals hand the Buccaneers a win.  

140 - Characters in which Darrelle Revis announced that he'll be playing on Monday before the team could tell anyone. Well, technically it was 110, but either way: OchoCinco News Network strikes again!

147 - Total passing yardage that FOUR quarterbacks (Jimmy Clausen, Matt Moore, Caleb Hanie and Todd Collins) combined for in the miserable-to-watch Bears-Panthers tilt. They also managed to throw SEVEN interceptions.

290 - Total passing yardage from Philip Rivers against the Raiders … in the first half.

314 - Yardage for Kyle Orton, which keeps him on pace to break Dan Marino's record. It's worth noting that he picked up about 65 or so of those in junk time though, and that the only number that really matters here is the "1" win the Ravens picked up.

1970 - The last season no one in the NFL made it to 4-0. Parity reigns supreme.

Posted on: October 10, 2010 6:12 pm
Edited on: October 11, 2010 1:47 pm
 

Mark Clayton could be done for season

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

UPDATE: The worst case scenario is confirmed: Clayton is done for the season with a torn patella tendon.

Rams WR Mark Clayton, who’s quickly become a favorite of rookie QB Sam Bradford, might be out for the season with a right knee injury. After the game, coach Steve Spagnuolo said the injury could be a torn patella tendon.

Clayton was traded by the Ravens before the season began after they acquired T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but Clayton found new life with Bradford and St. Louis. He entered the game with 22 catches for 300 yards and two touchdowns – all of which were tops on the team.

But while running a deep pattern in the first quarter of St. Louis’s 44-6 loss to the Lions, his knee gave out without any contact and he fell to the ground. He had to be carted off the field. Clayton was later fitted with an air cast.

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

Posted on: October 9, 2010 4:58 pm
 

Week 5 injury news and analysis, part II

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Rams at Lions

Once again, Lions RB Jahvid Best is listed as questionable, and once again, we expect him to play. His turf toe continues to limit him in practice a bit, but that doesn’t mean Detroit’s most exciting player won’t perform. WR Nate Burleson, who’s missed the past two weeks, is probable to play and should take a little of the attention off Calvin Johnson. TE Tony Scheffler, who suffered a concussion last week, returned to practice Friday and likely will be a gametime decision.

St. Louis DT Clifton Ryan, who’s been out the past three weeks with migraine headache problems, is questionable, and there’s a pretty good chance he could play. Before missing the past three contests, Ryan had played in 49-straight games. The past month has been pretty unusual for Ryan, one of the best run defenders on the squad.

RB Steven Jackson, who was questionable last week with a groin injury but still managed to gain 124 yards of total offense, is probable.

Bears at Panthers


The biggest news out of Chicago this week was that QB Jay Cutler won’t play because of a concussion. Originally, it was thought to be a minor head injury - though honestly, are ANY head injuries minor? - but then in the middle of the week, the team said he was out. Thus, we turn our eyes to backup Todd Collins, who hasn’t played much in the past … well … 13 years. Since 1997, he’s attempted only 166 passes.

While the Bears will miss one of their most important players, Carolina won’t have one of its best as well. WR Steve Smith, who hurt his ankle last week, definitely won’t play. Considering the Panthers also released Dwayne Jarrett this week after he was arrested on a drunken driving charge, the Panthers WR corps will be younger than young.

Buccaneers at Bengals

Cincinnati SS Roy Williams, who’s had a knack for getting injured the past few years, is doubtful to play with a knee injury. Chinedum Ndukwe will replace Williams at the SS spot, and though Ndukwe isn’t great in coverage, the Bengals have to be happy that CB Johnathan Joseph had full participation in practice Friday (he’s listed as probable with a forearm).

WR Jordan Shipley, who took that nasty hit from Cleveland’s T.J. Ward last week that led to a concussion, is out for the game.

Tampa Bay should be fine for this game. The Buccaneers only have five players listed on their injury report (LB Adam Hayward, LB Niko Koutouvides, DE Kyle Moore, WR Maurice Stovall and TE Kellen Winslow), and all of them are probable to play.

Falcons at Browns

Although they’re listed as questionable, Browns RB Peyton Hillis and C Alex Mack are expected to play Sunday. The big question mark is QB Jake Delhomme and whether he can suit up for the first time since the season opener. That likely will be a gametime decision after Delhomme participates in the pregame warmups.

The season so far has been disappointing for Cleveland DT Shaun Rogers, who’s listed as questionable with an ankle. He missed the Week 3 game against Baltimore, and though he played last week, he only registered one tackle (to go with his other two tackles on the season).

Atlanta only lists three on the injury report. LB Sean Weatherspoon and WR Michael Jenkins are questionable to play, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jenkins sit out once again. Weatherspoon, meanwhile, practiced fully the past two days, so he seems like a decent bet to play.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .
Posted on: October 8, 2010 9:00 am
 

Week 5 NFL Podcast Preview

Posted by Will Brinson

Week 5 is here, people, and it's preview time -- Andy and I discuss, as we often do, the various angles you might be missing from some of the games this week. For instance, will the Jaguars give Trent Edwards some mop-up revenge time against his former team, the Buffalo Bills?

Just kidding -- it can't be "revenge time" if Trent's happy to be gone. But we do wonder why I love the Rams-Lions game so much, whether or not it's worth our time to question Peyton Manning and the Colts at 2-2, if San Diego can finally win on the road and whether or not you can run on the Bears?

All that and much, much more. While you're here, be a friend and subscribe via iTunes .

If you can't view the podcast, click here to download .
  
Posted on: October 7, 2010 6:08 pm
Edited on: October 8, 2010 9:09 am
 

Chad Millman talks Steelers-Cowboys rivalry

Posted by Will Brinson

If you watched football in the 1970's there's a good chance you either rooted for the Dallas Cowboys or Pittsburgh Steelers -- regardless of either squad was located near you, they were probably on the television all the time.
Making the rivalry all that much better is the fact that -- as our podcast guest Chad Millman writes in his book, The Ones Who Hit the Hardest -- they were the perfect cultural juxtaposition of blue- and white-collar communities.

It's a book you should absolutely check out, and if for some reason you're not sure, hit up the podcast below (oh, and don't forget to subscribe via iTunes).

If you can't view the podcast, click here to download .
  
Posted on: October 4, 2010 4:01 am
Edited on: October 4, 2010 12:40 pm
 

10 Sunday stories deserving your attention Week 4

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Conspiracy in Philadelphia

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

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

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

Quick Tangent

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

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

2.) Back to Kolb and the Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

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

3.) Are the Rams for real?

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.) Motown Blues

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

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

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

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

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

5.) Unglamorous glamour guys

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.) AFC East mugging

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.) Electrifying Bolt

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

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

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

Other defenders

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

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

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

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

8.) Bears fans….are you there?

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

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

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

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

9.) Cardiac Cats are back?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com