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Tag:Darren McFadden
Posted on: October 13, 2011 11:37 am
 

Keep an Eye On: Week 6's finer points of analysis

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

Raiders vs. Browns
Keep an eye on: Raiders passing game
The Raiders are a run-first team, no doubt. That shouldn’t change against the Browns.

Cleveland can stop the run well enough, especially if middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson stays clean from blockers. But at some point, Jason Campbell will have to make a play or two through the air. Expect Darren McFadden to be the primary receiving weapon out of the backfield.

Throws to McFadden have easy, defined reads for Campbell (who often flounders late in his progressions and when his pocket gets too crowded for him to take a full step into his throw) and they should be available given the way Cleveland’s linebackers have struggled in underneath coverage. Most of those struggles have come against athletic tight ends.

The Raiders, however, are more inclined to run tight end Kevin Boss down the seam and swing McFadden underneath. The Browns will likely commit a safety (perhaps T.J. Ward) to tight end coverage and allow Scott Fujita to cover McFadden (expect zone principles since Fujita doesn’t have a prayer at running with McFadden in man coverage).

This isn’t to say Campbell won’t go to his wide receivers. He’s been attacking deep more in October than he did in September. That’s a response to the new speedy duo of Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Both are raw but potentially lethal. (No. 3 receiver Jacoby Ford is also a burner.) They’re not a potent one-two punch yet, though. Moore’s only big game came against the Bills, when Heyward-Bey was out of the lineup.

We may find out which receiver the Raiders like better this Sunday. Campbell has avoided throwing at top-flight corners this season (he hardly looked to Darrelle Revis’ side in Week 3 and rarely challenged Houston’s Johnathan Joseph in Week 5). Browns second-year sensation Joe Haden is most definitely a top-flight corner (he may have the most natural change-of-direction ability of any defensive player in football).

If Haden returns from his sprained knee, he’ll likely line up on the defensive left side. Whoever Oakland puts on the offensive left side (i.e. away from Haden) figures to be the go-to target. That could tell you what wide receiver pecking order the Raiders prefer.



Ravens vs. Texans
Keep an eye on: Brian Cushing
The third-year pro has been arguably the best inside linebacker in the AFC this season. That’s significant considering how mightily Cushing struggled as the middle linebacker in Houston’s 4-3 scheme last season.

But the inside duties are different in Wade Phillips’ new 3-4. With less field to cover, Cushing has been able to be more of an attacker than a reader-and-reactor. That’s a style best suited for his speed and ferocity.
 
Cushing hunts down outside runs extremely well and shows vigor when tasked with clearing out a lead-blocker. Both are critical traits for containing a Ravens ground game featuring a dynamic B-and C-gap runner like Ray Rice and a fullback like Vontae Leach.

Cushing is also noteworthy because of what he means to Houston’s pass-rush. Against the Raiders last week, Phillips resorted to frequent inside blitzes in an effort to instill panic in Oakland’s pass protectors and command one-on-one matchups for the rushers outside. Cushing continuously stood out for timing his blitzes well and executing them with reckless abandon.

With Mario Williams out, Phillips may feel compelled to be even more aggressive with linebacker blitzes. And he’s certainly seen the Week 4 film of Joe Flacco and the Ravens struggling to sort out many of the Jets’ inside blitzes.

Lions vs. 49ers
Keep an eye on: the tight ends
The 49ers and Lions are very different offenses. The Lions run a modern, semi-spread, aerial attacking offense. The 49ers run a 1980s, compact, ground-pounding offense.

That’s primarily a function of the quarterbacks. Though both are former No. 1 overall picks, Matthew Stafford is gun-slinger while Alex Smith is, comparatively, a spitball shooter. (To be fair, Smith did have a terrific game against the Bucs. He diagnosed coverages well and made a few stick throws.)

Though vastly different, both offenses are built around the same base personnel package: two tight ends. The Lions frequently line up with Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew while the Niners often feature Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker. The conundrum that two tight end personnel presents for a defense is in deciding what personnel to respond with.

Go with nickel and you risk getting run on (especially when facing the Niners, given that Davis and Walker are both solid run-blockers). Go with a base defense and you risk getting thrown on (especially with the Lions since Scheffler often splits out as a third receiver in the slot).
 
All four tight ends are weapons. For the Lions, Brandon Pettigrew is surprisingly mobile given his 265-pound frame and ’09 knee injury (from which he’s seemingly gained mobility through rehabbing). Scheffler is a swift downfield target.

For the Niners, Vernon Davis is as athletic as they come. No one save for maybe Jermichael Finley is as dangerous down the seams. Delanie Walker is not as good as Bay Area fans think, but he’s versatile in patterns and can block from a standstill position, off of motion or in a lead out of the backfield.

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Posted on: October 4, 2011 3:44 pm
Edited on: October 4, 2011 3:45 pm
 

Hue Jackson says Raiders will win division

Can Oakland can win AFC West? Why not. (US PRESSWIRE)
Posted by Ryan Wilson

“We’re going to win the AFC West. We’re going to do everything we can to get in the playoffs and go challenge for a Super Bowl. I am not backing down from that.”

That was Raiders head coach Hue Jackson at his Monday press conference. Our first thought after reading those remarks: "Hey, why not? This is the AFC West we're talking about. And through the first month of the season, the Raiders have every right to think they can win the division."

Also worth noting: Oakland went 6-0 in the AFC West last season but because of their 8-8 overall record finished behind the Chiefs and Chargers. (Seriously, this could only happen to the Raiders.)

And even without Nnamdi Asomugha and Zach Miller -- two key players who went elsewhere in free agency -- Oakland has been one of the surprises a quarter of the way through the season. It starts with running back Darren McFadden, but Jason Campbell has done a good job of managing the offense, and the defense (save the second-half implosion against the Bills in Week 2) has been solid.

Either way, Jackson sounds like a man legitimately confident in his team.

"I expected to be 4-0," he said Monday. "I really did. I'm not going to back off of that, and we're not. We're 2-2, so I'm disappointed but not discouraged because I know what's in the locker room. I've said this before: I have to keep coaching and keep pushing and keep grinding on these players. And these players have to keep responding, and they've responded every time I've asked them to. Maybe not as fast as I want them to, maybe not as fast as everybody wants them to, but I know the message is there, and it's clear."

Helping Oakland's cause: the Broncos are one of the league's truly awful teams, the Chiefs are somehow worse, and the Chargers hardly look like a playoff outfit, despite their 3-1 start.

The Raiders will face an Andre Johnson-less Texans team this week, the Browns the week after, and then following their Week 8 bye, will play three consecutive division games against the Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: September 29, 2011 11:57 am
Edited on: September 29, 2011 11:58 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Most underrated

D. McFadden is one of the league's most underrated players (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

You know all the big-name players, even if they’re past their prime. Guys who once were great and impactful and who were rated exactly as their athleticism required. Now, though, some of those players have begun their descent into the final phases of their career, but fans, remembering their past exploits, still think of them as high-end performers on the field.

Now, they’re making way for players you’ve probably heard of but can’t place. Players who you’ve seen but can’t remember on which team they reside.Players who are overshadowed and under the radar. The players who won’t be considered underrated for much longer.

In this week’s Top Ten with a Twist, we feature the best players who are not as well known as they should be. You can call them underrated and call them under the radar, but their teams and their teammates know how important they are. They are, in fact, some of the best players in the league who aren’t necessarily considered the best players in the league.

10. Sean Lee: He won’t be a name only hardcore fans recognize for much longer. He was just named NFC defensive player of the month after a sensational start to the season (31 tackles, two interceptions, and two fumble recoveries). Lee had knocked long-time starting linebacker Keith Brooking out of the lineup, and with the way he’s playing, you can certainly see why. He has been scary this year.

9. Hakeem Nicks: Considering wide receiver is one of the most glamorous positions in the sport, it’s tough to find a guy who you could call underrated -- conversely, there’s no shortage of players we could consider overrated at this position. But Nicks is one of those guys who doesn’t get the national attention (even though he plays in New York!) of a Calvin Johnson, an Andre Johnson or a DeSean Jackson. And while Nicks might not quite be on the same level as those receivers, he’s close. His 79 catches, 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 is a testament to that.

8. Ryan Kalil: You might have been shocked when the Panthers gave him a six-year, $49 million ($28 million guaranteed) deal before this season to make him the highest-paid center in the game, but those around the league know his value. He’s versatile in pass protection and run-blocking, and he doesn’t get called for holding penalties. Is he the best center in the league? Probably not as long as Nick Mangold is playing, but Kalil is still one of the top guys out there.

7. Vince Wilfork: He gets plenty of attention -- especially when he’s picking off passes and strolling his way back up the field -- but when compared to defensive tackles like Haloti Ngata, Ndamukong Suh or (gasp!) Albert Haynesworth, Wilfork doesn’t get the admiration he deserves. Despite his size -- he very well could be playing in the 400-pound range -- he’s one of the most athletic big men you’ll see. He’s one of the best run-stoppers around, and he’s the anchor of the Patriots defense. You know him, but he still hasn’t made his way to superstar status.



6. Darren Sproles: It was thought that the new kickoff rules would hinder Sproles, and that was probably one of the reasons the Chargers didn’t re-sign him in the offseason. But Sproles has continued to prove his wealth, settling into the Saints backfield, where he’s shown he can still rush (7.4 yards per carry), catch the ball (21 receptions, second-best among running backs) and score (he’s recorded a touchdown in all three games). He’s like a Reggie Bush who actually is effective for the Saints. Oh, and he can still return kicks (sixth in the league among those who have at least five chances) and return punts (second in the league).

5. Tramon Williams: Although he helped the Packers to a Super Bowl, Williams isn’t mentioned in the same breath as the Eagles cornerback trio (Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) or the Jets duo (Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie). Plus, he plays in the shadow of Charles Woodson, who is still one of the best cornerbacks in the league after 14 seasons. But Williams has shown why he’s a top-10 cornerback. He’s not avoided by other team’s quarterbacks quite as much as Asomugha and Revis -- that’s a byproduct of playing with Woodson -- but he’s shown that when his receiver is targeted, Williams is one of the better cover corners in the league.

4. Rob Gronkowski: Who are the best tight ends in the league? Antonio Gates? That’s true if he’s healthy. Tony Gonzalez? That’s true if this was five years ago. Jason Witten? Yes, he probably is the top tight end out there. But you know who’s really close to him? That’s Gronkowski -- who, in his second season in the league, is one big reason the Patriots offense has been so dominant this season. He was decent as a rookie last season, but he’s exploded for five touchdowns already this year, and with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the lineup in New England, that is a tough, tough matchup for the opposing teams’ linebackers.

3. Brandon Pettigrew: Last Sunday was the perfect example of why Pettigrew can make a Lions fan’s mouth water. He played through a shoulder injury, yet he managed to catch 11 passes for 112 yards in Detroit’s huge comeback victory against the Vikings. He’s probably not on the same level as Witten or Gronkowski, and yes, he drops the easy passes way too much (even if he also makes the spectacular catches). But in his third season in the league, he shows real potential to be a top-five tight end.

2. Trent Cole: He’s always good for between 55-80 tackles a year. He’s always good for between eight and 13 sacks. He’s almost always assured to be making life difficult for whichever offensive tackle who is charged with slowing his momentum. Cole might be the best player many NFL fans don’t know anything about. But this year, he’s off to a hot start in Philadelphia with three sacks. He’s a monster, and even if you haven’t heard his name very much, you can be sure the league’s offensive linemen have.

1. Darren McFadden: Along with Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, McFadden might be a top-three running back in this league. But since he plays in the black hole of Oakland, he wasn’t discussed as much as those who have lesser talent. That’s changing this year with the Raiders off to a 2-1 start and McFadden performing like the best back in the league. In 2010, McFadden gained 1,664 yards from scrimmage, and through three games this season, he’s rushed for 393 yards and three touchdowns while catching 11 passes for 84 yards and another score. If he keeps playing like that, he won’t belong on this list next year. Because everybody is going to know about him.

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Posted on: September 27, 2011 2:27 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 3:36 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 3

Posted by Will Brinson


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

Week 3 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman Fitzpatrick Colts  Knox  Gailey
Judge  McFadden Bills DBs  Bailey  Gailey
Prisco   Romo  Allen  Bailey  Coughlin
Brinson  McFadden  Freeney  Bailey  Gailey
Katzowitz   T. Smith  Freeney  Bailey  Schwartz
Wilson   Welker  Freeney  Bailey  Jackson
Week 3's over and everything in the NFL is clear, apparent and obvious. Like, for instance, that the Lions and Bills are really good. I mean, who didn't see that coming, right? Anyway, it's award time for us.

Offensively speaking, there were plenty of performances that inspired us this week, but Darren McFadden of the Raiders and his 171 yards against the Jets warranted enough consideration to sneak out the award. (And with good reason.)

It was a losing defensive effort that picked up the hardware this week, as Dwight Freeney's efforts inspired enough voters to cast something similar to his name in the ballot and pick up the award. What does it say about the state of defense in the NFL, by the way, that we had three voters cast for either multiple players or an "entity"?

Dan Bailey ran away with the Eye on Special Teams for the second week in a row after his six (six!) field goals against the Redskins gave the Cowboys a victory on Monday night. You can only make the kicks your team gives you and Bailey did just that.

As far as the Eye on Coaching award goes, well, Chan Gailey wins ... again! What kind of world are we living in, huh?

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Ryan Fitzpatrick Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Bills
He deserves to win every award ever invented. Offensive award, defensive, Nobel, a Pulitzer and throw in an Emmy. It is true the Bills intercepted Tom Brady four times, a rarity, like when all of the planets in the solar system are aligned. It's clearly Fitzpatrick, despite Buffalo's defense prowess, who is driving this team and did so against New England. They'd lost 15 straight games to the Pats. Fitzpatrick's accuracy, skill and guts powered the Bills in what was the best performance -- period -- of the week.
Darren McFaddenDarren McFadden, RB, Raiders
If this guy stays healthy, the Raiders stay at or near the top of the AFC West. He seems to run at a faster speed than everyone else, and last weekend the New York Jets were that everyone. It takes a lot to impress Jets' coach Rex Ryan, and he seemed overwhelmed by Oakland's running game -- with McFadden the first one through the door with 171 yards, two TDs and an average of 9 yards a carry. We always knew he could be special; what we didn't know ... and still don't ... is if he can stay on the field.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Tony Romo Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
I know his numbers weren't great, but did he ever tough it out against the Redskins. He played with a broken rib and punctured lung and made some tough throws. He took some shots, but kept on going. Not only that, he was playing with a bunch of backups.  Still doubt this guy?
Darren McFaddenDarren McFadden, RB, Raiders
If there was any question about Run DMC leading the league in rushing, he answered it Sunday, by rolling over the Jets with 171 yards on just 19 carries. He's piling up yards at a terrifyingly efficient clip (6.4 YPC) and deserves to be in the discussion as the best back in the NFL.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Torrey SmithTorrey Smith, WR, Ravens
The Ravens were looking to get off to a fast start vs. the Rams. And behind the play of rookie Smith, who had yet to record a single statistic in a game before Sunday, that’s exactly what they did. Smith caught three touchdowns in the first quarter, and overall, he had five catches for 152 yards to help get the Ravens offense back on track.
Wes Welker Wes Welker, WR, Patriots
It's rarely the case that a Patriots wide receiver has 16 catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns and New England still loses. But when Tom Brady throws four interceptions and Chad Ochocinco drops what should've been a touchdown pass, that's exactly what happens. The lesson? No lead is too large for the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills to overcome.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Dwight FreeneyIndianapolis Colts, DST
I'll avoid more Bills slurping and go an unusual route--the Colts.I know. Very weird. Yet in a game which the Colts truly had no chance to win due to the absence of Peyton Manning that Indianapolis defense played brilliantly minus a play or two. They stripped a sloppy Ben Roethlisberger twice and picked him off. They were the only reason Indianapolis was in the game late.
Drayton Florence Buffalo Bills Secondary
The Bills' secondary had three of the team's four interceptions vs. Tom Brady and fueled the team's comeback from a 21-0 hole. Incredible. Nobody spots Brady 21 points and wins. Only Buffalo just did, ending a 15-game losing streak. Drayton Florence's go-ahead TD was the big blow, but defensive backs George Wilson and Leodis McKelvin had crucial interceptions, too. Do you believe in miracles? Brady had four interceptions all of last season; he had four on Sunday.
Prisco Brinson
Jared AllenJared Allen, DE, Vikings
I know his team didn't win, but he was a force all day. He had three sacks and was spent the game in the Lions backfield. He also made some nice plays against the run.
Dwight FreeneyDwight Freeney, DE, Colts
Don't tell Freeney that the Colts only upside to this season is nabbing Stanford's Andrew Luck -- in a game that the Colts weren't supposed to even be in by the fourth quarter, he dominated up front and gave Indy a shot at its first win of the year with two sacks, a forced fumble and total disruption.
Katzowitz Wilson
Dwight Freeney Dwight Freeney, DE, Colts
Freeney dominated the Steelers offensive line, recording two sacks, two tackles for loss, three quarterback hits and a forced fumble. He almost single-handedly kept Indianapolis in the game and forced the Steelers to kick a last-second field goal for the win. Too bad Freeney can't play quarterback.
Dwight Freeney Dwight Freeney & Robert Mathis, DE, Colts
They spent Sunday night meeting on Ben Roethlisberger, combining for three sacks and two fumbles that resulted in 10 Indianapolis points. You could make a case that Freeney and Mathis are just as deserving of offensive honors, too.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Johnny KnoxJohnny Knox, WR, Bears
I know, I know. The spectacular return didn't count because of a phantom hold. A really phantom hold. Such a phantom hold it insults the word phantom. But the fake-out kick return by the Bears was such delicious subterfuge and Knox was king actor selling the fake completely. It was a wonderfully designed play that worked. Did I mention the phantom holding call? One other thing: I think Knox could be one of the top three special teams players in football if he got more opportunities.
Dan Bailey Dan Bailey, K, Cowboys
He did the only scoring in the Cowboys' come-from-behind defeat of Washington Monday night, with a 40-yard field goal to win the game. Bailey wasn't the story of that game; Tony Romo was. Not sure how he gutted his way through another victory, but it wouldn't have been possible if Bailey weren't there to punctuate the drives that Romo began.
Prisco Brinson
Dan BaileyDan Bailey, K, Cowboys
He made six field goals, including the game-winner late in the fourth quarter, to tie a rookie record. Well done.
Dan BaileyDan Bailey, K, Cowboys
The last place you want to kick as a rookie is in Dallas, where there's been a revolving door of kickers for a while now. But Bailey doesn't care and he gets my nod again this week as his leg carried the Cowboys to a crucial victory when they clammed up in the red zone.
Katzowitz Wilson
Dan Bailey Dan Bailey, K, Cowboys
With Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo getting very little help from his wide receivers and his offensive line, Bailey provided all of Dallas’ points in its win against the Redskins and set an NFL rookie record with six field goals in a single game. Bailey is now 9 of 10 on the season.
Dan Bailey Dan Bailey, K, Cowboys
For the second time in as many weeks, the Cowboys rookie kicker earns the nod. He was 6 for 6 on field-goal attempts against the Redskins and accounted for all of Dallas' points.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Bill BelichickChan Gailey, Bills
He ended a brutal losing streak to New England but Gailey has done more than that in Buffalo. He's made the Bills relevant and the Bills haven't been relevant since the invention of barbecue wings.Buffalo hasn't had a winning record since 2004 and the last time the Bills made the playoffs was the late 1990s. Gailey isn't a great coach but he's solid. If he can steer the Bills into the playoffs he will have done one of the great coaching jobs of the past decade and making the postseason begins with their win over the Patriots.
Mike Munchak Chan Gailey, Bills
He wins in a photo-finish with the Lions' Jim Schwartz, and for this reason: Somehow, some way, he convinced his players that they weren't dead meat after falling behind by 21 points to Tom Brady and the big, bad New England Patriots. They'd lost 15 straight to these guys, for crying out loud, so there was every reason to quit. But they didn't. Now the question: Are these guys for real? I don't care. I just care that Gailey accomplished what no one in Buffalo has been to accomplish in years.
Prisco Brinson
Tom CoughlinTom Coughlin, Giants
When his team looks to be down, facing a lot of adversity, Coughlin always gets them to respond. They went into Philadelphia as 9-point underdogs and dominated the Eagles. That's why Coughlin is a top-tier coach.
Mike MunchakChan Gailey, Bills
We joked after Week 1 that Gailey deserved the award since it was his only shot of winning. Um, whoops? Gailey's masterful coaching job with the Bills has them undefeated and if the first two weeks weren't convincing enough, a 21-point comeback against the Patriots certainly should be.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jim Schwartz Jim Schwartz, Lions
What can you say about the Lions’ resiliency after falling behind by 20 points at halftime to the Vikings only to force overtime and win? Whatever it is, Schwartz’s coaching -- the adjustments the staff made and the fact it settled down the players -- can't go overlooked.
Hue Jackson Hue Jackson, Raiders
The Raiders first-year coach out-Rex Ryan'd Rex Ryan Sunday, forcing critical turnovers and relying on well-timed gadget plays to outlast the Jets.



Posted on: September 26, 2011 11:44 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 9:47 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 3

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Podcast is coming tomorrow -- this week's edition of SSP is brought to you in tardy fashion by the Ford Fusion that hauled your writer home at 3:00 a.m. ET Sunday.

Group exercises are, for the most part, ridiculous. I trust you! You trust me! How groundbreaking.  

But play along for 30 seconds and repeat after me: "the Bills and Lions are undefeated."

Haha, but no seriously. This is happening. The idea that bad NFL teams become good and the idea that good NFL teams become bad isn't shocking. It shouldn't be. It won't ever be absolutely mind-blowing, because this is what happens in today's NFL -- some teams get good, some teams get bad and some teams just happen to become the first team in NFL history to mount consecutive comebacks of 18 or more points.

Parity is what drives this league. No one doubts that, no one thinks that's weird, and no one should. There'll be some regression to the mean, and it'll probably happen to the really good teams who are only really good through a few weeks. When it does, please don't act like it's any weirder than what went down in a b-a-n-a-n-a-s Week 3 of NFL action.

1. Young guns
Two of the top three passers from Sunday's action -- Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford -- are excellent examples of the young crop of quarterbacks that are blossoming early in 2011.

Questions surrounded both Flacco (Can he beat the Steelers?) and Stafford (Can he stay healthy?) and, three weeks into the year, they're answering their critics. Flacco struggled against the Titans in Week 2, but the Ravens did a fantastic job of bouncing back from a subpar Week 2 to point out to everyone that they're elite.

I watched the games Sunday with my NBA counterpart, Matt Moore (yes, the link's ironic, thanks, I know), and at halftime of the Vikings early beatdown of Detroit, he pointed out that the Lions bandwagon was derailing.

He was correct at the time, but the Lions stormed back on the strength of Stafford's arm, winning in overtime to move to a surprising 3-0.

If Stafford stays healthy and Flacco keeps developing like he has thus far this year, we're going to be re-ordering the list of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and both these guys will be joining the upper echelon sooner, rather than later.

Look, the list of truly "elite" quarterbacks will continue to feature the names you know: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning.

Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger are also there, but we're seeing a new "generation" of quarterbacks starting to come into their own, as guys like Flacco, Stafford and other recently-drafted quarterbacks really start to generate some press.

And it's happening in a year when passing attacks are at an all-time high, which is only going to make the game better.

2. What do you know about pressure, Tom?

There's an ample number of awesome young quarterbacks in the NFL right now, but two very familiar names -- Brady and Brees -- are tops in the league when it comes to passing. Brady in particular is lobbing up some pretty ridiculous numbers right now; he leads the league in passing yards with 1,327, the most by a quarterback through three weeks in NFL history.

Only 22 people in the history of football have thrown for more than 4,500 yards in a single NFL season. 14 of those have happened in the past 10 years. (As we've noted, it's a passing league.)

So can Brady break Marino's record? Well, yes, he most certainly can. Remember that Marino, during his record-setting season, didn't surpass 400 passing yards in a single game until Week 5.

He's on pace for a stupid 7,077 yards for the season, although we have to assume he'll regress off that pace a little bit.

Just for fun, though, let's imagine Brady completes his schedule by passing for the exact same number of yards that his remaining opponents have allowed per game through three weeks. (Yes, there are several problems with this calculation, but just play along.)

Based on the remaining 13 games and the teams' respective yards per game allowed via the pass, Brady would pile up another 3,072 yards, which would give him a total of 4,399 yards for the season.

Conversely, Brady "only" needs to average another 289 yards per game to match Marino's record from 1984. That's not easy, per se, but it's certainly possible. And given how badly New England's own pass defense has been this season -- they're dead last in yards allowed -- it may be required too.

3. Hit the Snooze Button

Look, this is a world where Eli Manning is criminally undervalued -- the man referred to himself as "elite," tried to prop up his game, and everyone wanted to trot him out to the guillotine. No big deal though, you guys, because Eli doesn't need to show up and throw beautiful passes to Brandon Jacobs for 40-yard touchdowns. (Pardon the interruption, but FTC rules require that I write "OH GOD" in big letters again at this juncture so you'll be aware that the Apocalypse is coming soon to a city near you, by the way.)

The Giants are, somehow, not terrible. And while I might be [metaphorically] drunk on Tom Coughlin's team having watched them play in a Giants bar, it's pretty damn hard not to be impressed with what they've done this year. Last week's win over St. Louis was the single-worst blowout victory I've ever witnessed and, no, that is not a compliment.

This Sunday was an entirely different ballgame. Despite the face that actually fielding a defensive roster should be an impossibility, the Giants showed up to Philadelphia, generated a ton of pressure on Michael Vick, and barnstormed their hated division rival en route to a win that gives the NFC East more of a jostle than a trip to Sterling Archer's tumbler.

Let's move past the Giants, though, because they're the same thing that we knew they were, we just undervalued the properties they own. The Eagles are in much worse trouble than New York, simply because everyone assumed that if you have a really talented but sometimes injured quarterback and combine him with a marquee-worthy defense that secretly sucks up the middle, you don't have to worry about the rest of your problems.

Then the season happened, and the Eagles, as it turns out, have a terrible offensive line and a pretty bad combination of linebackers and safeties. Vince Young's belief that this is the "Dream Team" was fun to mock in the offseason, but it's downright comical at this stage.

Vick and Nnamdi Asomugha drew the headlines in the offseason, and DeSean Jackson plus LeSean McCoy make any team a viable threat to win any week just based on offensive explosiveness. But just like the Miami Heat, the Philadelphia Eagles offseason signings might have masked some serious positional-skill issues that will only become more exacerbated when depth starts creeping in.



4. A Hue-gh Win
The only way that the weird scene of a rookie Raiders coach dominating a third-year, Super Bowl-guaranteeing guy is if, well, the Raiders won. And they did. And people predicted it -- this actually happened. The absolutely weirdest thing is that it somehow managed to go Hue Jackson's way, as opposed to Rex Ryan's.

With a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, Mark Sanchez threw a touchdown pass and in classic New York-style, Derek Jeter-fashion and the Jets shortened the lead to seven points. It had all the stink of a Ryan win, which is, frankly, a compliment. You can't lose well in the NFL -- just ask Cam Newton! -- and people will question your every move. But if you win and you're not that good at it, it's OK.

Jackson's got Oakland doing some fun, funky things on offense right now, as if Darren McFadden's pump-faking a throw nine yards in front of the line of scrimmage while running an option end-around of sorts doesn't make that obvious.

He's an aggressive attacker, and can do creative things with all the speed that the Raiders have drafted in recent years, but Jackson also knows that using Oakland's physicality and letting McFadden do what McFadden does best -- pile up yardage by the ton -- is how Oakland can remain a viable playoff contender all season long.

5. Ponder This
Are the Vikings that bad or are the Lions that good? The answer is likely the second one, but the Vikings aren't that bad, and it's not fair to say that just because they choked away a trio of halftime leads.

Here's the thing that people will miss -- the Vikings are a not good team in the middle of a rebuilding project they don't know about.

There are problems with the Vikings. Adrian Peterson is an epic talent somehow surrounded by an aging cast parading as a group of guys that are, in the NFL environment, "making a last run." The truth of the matter is that Peterson is the definition of sublime when it comes to running backs, and the rest of the Vikings just aren't that good.

On the bright side, at least they didn't do the double disservice of trading up for a quarterback AND trading further picks for a veteran who is, despite his reputation, quite clearly a one-year rental.

Which is where things get problematic -- I asked Rich Gannon last week if he thought the success of Newton and Dalton cranked up the pressure on teams like the Vikings, who drafted Christian Ponder this past year, to play their rookie.

"I don't think so," Gannon said. "I don't think the plan in Minnesota will change unless they continue to lose and all of a sudden that whole process will be expedited. I think there's more pressure now, certainly moreso now than there was 10 years ago to develop that position and have a guy play right away and be successful. Days of what they did even with Aaron Rodgers, I don't know if we're going to see as much as that. I think they're paying these guys so much money that it's like, let's get these guys on the field.

"The problem is they're not always ready to play."

And that might be the case with Ponder in Minnesota, especially if he looks as overwhelmed as he did during the preseason. On the other hand, if Ponder steps in and looks even remotely good after/if this season's lost for Minnesota, it'll do wonders for the scrutiny on Leslie Frazier.

6. What about the Packers?
Detroit won, so we shouldn't discount them for the sake of chatting about the Vikings. But the real NFC North story is the Packers, who dominated the Bears on Sunday, winning by double digits against their biggest rival for the first time in three years.

Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, all to Jermichael Finley, and this is precisely why everyone should be very scared of Green Bay again in 2011.

Finley is an absolute terror who is nearly impossible to defend near the goal line and, really, anywhere else on the field. The Packers won the Super Bowl without him, of course, and if he's healthy this year, Green Bay's offense is only going to be more difficult to defend than it was in 2010.

What's interesting is how Rodgers and Mike McCarthy have done a fantastic job of making sure that Greg Jennings and the other wide receivers stay incorporated, though Finley's obviously a much bigger part of the passing game than he was last year.

Jenning really struggled early on in 2010 and only blew up after Finley went down (and after he'd made mention he wasn't thrilled with how many targets he was getting). The transition to the 2011 version of the offense featuring Finley's been much more seamless, and that's reason to fear the Packers again this season.

They're the defending Super Bowl champion and arguably the best team in the NFL right now, and yet, why aren't we talking about them much?

7. Not running away from anyone now
There's very little sympathy for Kenny Britt around the NFL. Dude racked up more tickets this summer than "my friend" at college piled up.

Aside from that clown's reputation, it's important to note that when stupid people do stupid things a stupid amount of time, we take notice. Britt drew tons of attention this summer for his off-field antics, and he should have. Somehow he skated out of a suspension, but karma appears to rolled his way, as he'll likely miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL and MCL.

Britt shredded his knee on a screen pass, fumbled the ball, and carted off the field in a Week 3 win against the Broncos.

The worst part about this saga is that Britt somehow had the "Dwayne Bowe circa 2010" look about him, making plays, looking like a top NFL wide receiver, and generally wrecking the same havoc on the NFL that he wrecked on the legal system this summer.

Without him, the Titans offensive gameplan is an entirely different ballgame, especially considering that the corpse of Chris Johnson can't do a whole lot without providing more than three yards a carry. Look, Matt Hasslebeck deserves tons of praise for doing what he's done with what he's had to do while, um, doing what he do.

That being said, this is a Titans team that's begging to lose it's offensive identity in 2011. The biggest curiosity they face isn't so much "how the hell are the 2-1?" so much as it's "how they hell are they scoring points at a pace to make them less terrible than the Chiefs?"

Between the two questions, one is substantially better, and one question -- hint: it's about Kansas City -- is one you don't want everyone asking about your team. Yet Tennessee continues to survive. Maybe that's the way Mike Munchak's regime will win, and that's fine.

But expecting an exact repeat of Jeff Fisher's reign just because Munchak worked for Fisher but didn't necessarily retain all the offensive firepower seems like a stretch.

8. The Camwagon
As you probably know by now, when the word "Cam" gets dropped, it's time for some bragging. Well kudos first go to me for predicting that Cam Newton wouldn't have the monster game everyone expected when he beat -- yes, Cam won! -- the Jaguars on Sunday.

Before you strain your elbow giving some much-deserved pats, though, you should know that I have a weather app on my iPhone.

Speaking of weather, if someone tells you that Newton won a game, make sure you point out that he did it in the most terrible fashion ever. The Panthers might have come out victorious, sure, but did he throw for 400 yards? And was there a double rainbow? No sir there was not.

Ergo, the only answer is that Cam is absolutely terrible at controlling the weather and therefore not a winner. This is actually a thing that someone at your office will probably try and say.

Here's the truth though: Newton was really bad on Sunday, horribly inaccurate with his passes and very much looking like a rookie. The Panthers won 16-10, but they should have won 60-10, even with the weather. Blaine Gabbert, in his first career start, gifted Carolina a safety in his first career drive, and the Panthers somehow never managed to capitalize the opportunity.

Then all of a sudden there was a monsoon in Charlotte, the exhibition matchup became a legitimate great game and Newton was in danger of "not being able to step up." Or something. Everyone will find an excuse. Know this, though -- the Jaguars are a sneakily decent-sounding 1-2 and they're a terrible team. This is despite the career-high 185 yards (through the first two weeks anyway) that Maurice Jones-Drew has compiled.

Another nice day from MJD and a start from Gabbert masked what should have been one really team blowing out another much worse team. Jack Del Rio, this last sentence is for you, sir.

9. Just Wing It
Enjoy saying this now, because there's a strong chance you'll never say it again: "The Bills nearly left too much time on the clock when they scored." Fred Jackson streaked for the end zone to put Buffalo up a touchdown (Again! Against the Patriots!) and give Tom Brady a shot at what Tom Brady does.
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Instead, instant replay ruled Jackson down, the Bills got the ball just shy of the Patriots end zone, and were able to melt the clock down before kicking a game-winning field goal. The really wonked out thing here is that the scoring replay change was perfect for Buffalo.

We've watched enough football to know what happens if you hand this Brady character the pigskin with two minutes remaining and down a few points, right? Watching Brady eviscerate a pass defense en route to a comeback win is still exciting and thrilling and something everyone should do before they die, but it's borderline cliche.

Instead, the Bills flipped the narrative on us, won the damn game and are the leaders at the two-thirds of one-quarter mile-marker for the 2011 NFL season in an AFC East division that didn't have a single bit of prediction promiscuity at the top.

Yes it is early and yes we've seen the Bills storm out of the gates hot before, but there's something afloat in Buffalo's water these days and it's not Spalding's Baby Ruth bar.

10. Houston, We Have … No I'm Sorry I Can't Make That Joke
While we're taking a magical ride on the jump to conclusions mat, let's go ahead and assume that the Texans are terrible at defense and that they are much closer to the 2010 abomination we know, understand, love and play fantasy people against than they are the 2011 would-be division winners.

Except that's silly.

It's not silly to point out that there are a lot of teams who cannot "stop the pass" -- quotations are necessary here because in case you're not reading this regularly, the NFL woke up and decided to chunk the ball down the field with collective regularity.

Arian Foster missing is not the problem, of course. It's still defense for Houston, who appeared on the verge of justifying the Wade Phillips 3-4 hype before coughing up 40 points to New Orleans. But before we freak out and judge this team let's again remember that it's Week 3, again remember that this is Drew Brees commanding a very efficient and very dangerous offense, and let's, most importantly, remind ourselves that it's a baby-stepping process.

Houston wasn't becoming an elite defense overnight, and much less so in a lockout-shortened season. Losing to the Saints is tough, but they're still taking this division, and once they're playing against rookie quarterbacks, it will probably be on the strength of their offseason signings on defense.

While we're here, and because it's too important for muffed punts, Darren Sproles is the most important offensive signing of 2011's free agency. Yeah, I'm doing the knee-jerk thing, but this guy is making a difference in the Reggie Bush role for Sean Payton's offense.

The awkward thing is that he's just flat-out better than Bush at every facet of the game. That's not to rip Reggie, who probably needed to move on anyway, but it's an important reminder that sometimes it's not signings with the big, bold lights that really make the difference once people start playing football.

Pop-culture referencing Jim Irsay tweet that's sure to drive Colts fans insane of the week
"After 9 days,I let the horse run free..cause the desert had turned 2 sea"

Irsay's referencing "Horse With No Name" by the band America. Except he decided to do so a day after refuting his own statement that Peyton Manning wasn't playing this season.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
- A Fox Sports bar in the Charlotte airport made the decision Sunday night to shut off their televisions because a bunch of airport patrons were crowded around the outskirts of the restaurant, watching the Colts-Steelers game. It was the most obstinate, pig-headed display of customer service I've ever seen.
- If you go to New York City and need a good spot to watch some football, the Cornerstone Tavern in Manhattan is pretty freaking fantastic. Good food, nice beer selection and tons of televisions. Also, it's like the unofficial place for Florida Gators to go, so there's that.
- Alex Henery has been a bright spot for the Eagles, by the way. Kid comes in as a rookie, replacing a legend like David Akers, and is producing on some crucial kicks.

Worth 1,000 Words


Hot Seat Tracker
So here's something fun -- Sportsbook.com has odds for the first NFL coach to be fired. We'll include them in parentheticals.
  • Tony Sparano (-120): Sparano's 0-3, the Dolphins can't seem to score and Chad Henne isn't progressing as we thought he might after the first week. Losses at the Chargers and the Jets over the next three weeks make him the favorite to get canned first.
  • Todd Haley (+180): A decent effort against the Chargers on Sunday at least should give Haley a bit of comfort that he can hold onto his job. Plus injuries are a nice excuse.
  • Jack Del Rio (+350): Speaking of nice excuses, the weather in Charlotte on Sunday really helped out Del Rio, because it gave the Jaguars a chance to win against the Panthers. Jacksonville recovered five (!) fumbles and still couldn't pull out a win.
  • Leslie Frazier (+400): Yeah, I was as surprised as you to see him here and I'm only including him because Sportsbook did. Oh, right, and because the Vikings have been outscored like 6,456 to six in the second half so far this season.
  • Jim Caldwell (+1000): It's hard to imagine the Colts canning Caldwell if he continues to keep games close, having lost Peyton Manning. There's  no reason for a midseason firing unless there's a particularly viable candidate out there.
  • Random note: It's just crazy that Tom Coughlin was in this spot less than seven days ago. Oh NFL, you're so nuts.
Chasing Andrew Luck (All odds mine)
Dolphins (1/2): They're almost assuredly going to be 0-5 through six weeks. That should be good for morale.
Chiefs (3/1): Somehow they've already played the easy portion of their schedule!
Colts (2/5): What to watch here is whether or not Indy thinks Peyton Manning can play more than two or three years.

MVP Watch
I'm sticking with my boy Matthew Stafford for now -- hard to argue with him considering the Lions are undefeated, he's second in the league in passing touchdowns (nine), fifth in passing yards and has only thrown two picks. Obviously Tom Brady's a good choice but if the season ended today, he'd get the Offensive Player of the Year award and Stafford would get my nod for MVP. Aaron Rodgers is certainly in the conversation as well.
Posted on: August 5, 2011 12:20 pm
Edited on: August 5, 2011 3:16 pm
 

Raiders sign Boss to replace Miller

Posted by Ryan Wilson

The Seahawks signed Zach Miller away from the Raiders with a five-year, $34 million deal with $17 million in guarantees. To replace their leading receiver from 2010 (and one of the few pass-catching threats not named Darren McFaddenwho is currently on the shelf) Oakland inked former Giants tight end Kevin Boss. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that the contract is for four years and worth $16 million, about half what Seattle paid for Miller.

Which immediately raises the question: was Miller worth it? Put differently: should the Raiders, who need all the downfield passing help they can get, have made more of an effort to keep Miller in Oakland?

Looking at the raw numbers, Miller had 60 catches for 685 yards and 5 TDs last season. Boss had 35 receptions for 531 yards and also had 5 TDs. According to Football Outsiders' advanced stats, Miller ranked 19th among all NFL tight ends in total value, and 22nd in value per play; Boss was 32nd in both measures.

To add some context, Yahoo.com's Doug Farrar (who's also a Seahawks fan and watches a ton of film) tweets that "Boss and Miller (are) not the same player. Boss: speed for shorter routes, good blocker. Miller: size and speed to stretch seam. Different level."

Boss' blocking acumen will come in handy given that the Raiders like to run the ball, but he won't magically make up for the lost downfield production now that Miller is in Seattle.

But, hey, maybe this is the year Darrius Heyward-Bey finally puts it together.

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Posted on: August 4, 2011 10:32 pm
 

RB McFadden suffers orbital injury, out 2 weeks

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Raiders running back Darren McFadden suffered a "little fracture" of an orbital bone during practice Wednesday and will be sidelined for two weeks, according to CBSSport.com's Rapid Reporter Eric Gilmore.

McFadden apparently suffered the injury after taking a helmet to the cheek on what the San Francisco Chronicle referred to as "a great block of Quentin Groves."

Head coach Hue Jackson called the injury "interesting because last year he was out a couple weeks and it was a hamstring" before adding that "he'll be fine."

We're not sure if Jackson is intrigued by the coincidence or because McFadden's injuries seem to come in two-week increments. Either way, he's an integral part of an offense that will now be without tight end Zach Miller, who signed with the Seahawks earlier this week. Luckily, McFadden should be back in plenty of time for the regular season.

A year ago, the 2008 first-round pick accounted for 29 percent of all the Raiders' offensive yards (he rushed for 1,157 and had another 507 yards receiving).And according to Football Outsiders, McFadden ranked 14th in total value among all NFL running backs, ahead of LaDainian Tomlinson, Michael Turner, Joseph Addai and Matt Forte.

The Raiders have added offensive linemen Stephon Heyer, Seth Wand, and Justin Smiley in free agency (they also re-signed center Samson Satele), but the loss of Miller to the Seahawks -- and to a lesser degree, Robert Gallery -- not to mention the huge deal Oakland gave Kamerion Wimbley, lands them firmly in our Eye on Football Free Agency Losers pile.

That said, whatever the state of the offensive line, the Raiders' offensive philosophy will likely start with the running game and McFadden. For now, though, Oakland is thin at the position; rookie Taiwan Jones and Michael Bennett are nursing injuries, and Michael Bush, who rushed for 655 yards in 2010, remains unsigned. The Chronicle's Vittorio Tafur details Bush's absence.

"My understanding with Bush is that the restricted free agent has not signed his first- and third-round tender and doesn't technically have to be back until Aug. 19. The Raiders would send him a letter on the 15th if he is not here and tell him that he has until the 19th to report or else face going on the 'exempt list.' That would result in a three-game suspension."

Jackson, when asked about Bush, said "Well, Michael's going to be here at some point, I truly believe that. Obviously we'd love to have him here today. He wasn't. I think that's going to get resolved here soon."

Depending on how this plays out, McFadden could be back on the field before Bush signs his tender.

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Posted on: May 10, 2011 10:07 am
 

Some players to modify child support payments

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

With so much talk about how the lockout affects the NFL owners, players and fans, there’s a rather large group who could be losing out in a big way if the lockout continues. As Bloomberg News, via the San Francisco Chronicle, points out, NFL and NBA players are lining up to try to lower the alimony and child support that they pay to their ex-wives and former partners.

One attorney, Howard Rudolph, told the news service that he’s working on modification requests for NFL players, saying that if an industry is in trouble, like the NFL, the workers can’t meet their obligations and must modify their payments.

And when I think of an NFL player who owes a great deal in child support, my mind automatically springs to Jets CB Antonio Cromartie, who has nine children by eight women and who needed an advance on his salary last year in order to meet his court-ordered obligations.

"The money I get from him is definitely important," said Tina Julian, whose 2-year-old is Cromartie’s biological son. "Something would have to change."

One player who can make his payments, the news service reports, is Raiders RB Darren McFadden, who has three children by three women. McFadden in 2008 signed a six-year, $60 million deal with $26 million guaranteed. I also imagine McFadden could name all of his children as well, as opposed to you know who ...



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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