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Tag:Julio Jones
Posted on: November 8, 2011 3:29 pm
Edited on: November 8, 2011 4:44 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 9



Posted by Will Brinson


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted on: November 7, 2011 11:57 am
Edited on: November 9, 2011 10:06 pm
 

Pick-6 Podcast: NFL Week 9 review

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Week 9's action is just about wrapped up and after an exciting Sunday's worth of action we fired up the podcast machine to break down everything that happened.

Is Joe Flacco making the leap? Is Eli Manning elite? Are the Patriots finished? Is Philip Rivers a choker? Why are teams allowed to sidestep concussions in game? Which SEC rookie had the bigger week -- Patrick Peterson or Julio Jones? Did the Browns lose their draft-day trade with the Falcons?

What the hell is Mike Shanahan thinking, in general? Are the Chiefs worthy of being tied for their division lead? Is Tim Tebow improving?

All those questions -- plus much, much more -- in this week's podcast review.

Just hit the play button below to listen (and did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes?). If you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.


For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 7, 2011 2:20 am
Edited on: November 7, 2011 12:26 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 9

Posted by Will Brinson



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

1. Deja Blue

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Reality Bites

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

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

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

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

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


3. We Want Rex?

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Raiders < Tebow

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. It's a Trap

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

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

Seems simple, right?

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

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

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

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

6. That's So Not Raven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


7. Nit-Packing

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

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

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

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

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

8. Cruise Control

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

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

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

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

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

9. Down By the Schoolyard

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

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

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

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

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

10. Pretty Good Weekend for LSU

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

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

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

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

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

Muffed Punts

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

Worth 1,000 Words



GIF O' THE WEEK

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


Hot Seat Tracker

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

Chasing Andrew Luck

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

MVP Watch

It's all Aaron Rodgers all the way, folks. At 8-0, Rodgers has the Packers looking like the best team in the NFL in large part to the fact that he's playing quarterback at the highest level we've seen in a while. There's honestly no one even close, though a monster game from Matt Forte on Monday could change things a bit.
Posted on: October 12, 2011 3:46 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2011 3:55 pm
 

Julio Jones out Sunday against Panthers

Posted by Will Brinson

The Atlanta Falcons have spent the first five weeks of the NFL season attempting to incorporate Julio Jones into an offense that's supposed to be more high-powered, but they'll have to spend Sunday against the Panthers adjusting to life without Jones, as the rookie wideout will miss Week 6's game in Atlanta with a hamstring injury.

Jones suffered the hamstring injury late against the Packers on Sunday night; Harry Douglas will take his place in the starting lineup.

[Panthers - Falcons PreGame Central]

The rookie out of Alabama is tied for ninth in the NFL in targets this season with 42 and leads the Falcons in receiving yards with 358 (on 25 catches). Roddy White, the team's No. 1 wideout, is second in receiving yards for the Falcons and second in the NFL in targets with 54.

White also acknowledged, oddly, that this week's matchup against the Panthers is a "must-win" game.

“It’s kind of a must-win," White said per our Falcons Rapid Reporter Knox Bardeen. "It’s the next game on the schedule and at home, so I guess it’s a must-win."

OK, so he was being a little tongue-in-cheek I suppose, but White might not be that far off -- the Falcons are now 2-3 and in danger of sinking pretty far behind the division-leading Saints, as well as wild-card leaders like the Lions, Buccaneers and Giants.

Fortunately for Atlanta, Carolina's defense isn't exactly sturdy against the run (27th in the league), which means that obtaining a lead -- and keeping one -- via a heavy dose of Michael Turner might take some of the pressure off the passing attack.

Oh, hey, what a coincidence -- that's exactly what Turner wants to see too!

"[Running the ball is] our DNA, that’s what we built here," Turner said, via Bardeen. "We’ve got to be able to run it and throw it. As long as we get back to using all our weapons, we should be fine."

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 15, 2011 11:49 am
Edited on: September 15, 2011 3:30 pm
 

Film Room: Eagles vs. Falcons preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



The uniquely compelling storylines surrounding this game pertain to off-field matters.

But those storylines wouldn’t exist if not for the action taking place on-field. (The reason you don’t know the names of the 17 people arrested in the dogfighting sting in Pass Christian, Mississippi on April 24, 2007 is because none of those 17 people had ever juked and jived 50-plus yards for a touchdown in an NFL game.)

Here’s an on-field breakdown of the Atlanta Falcons’ upcoming match up against their former quarterback.

1. Has he really changed?
As a leader and student of the game, Michael Vick has clearly grown since his days in Atlanta. But his recent growth as a pocket passer has been overstated. Vick is a sounder technician and smarter decision-maker than he was as a Falcon, but that’s not unlike saying Leonardo DiCaprio is a better actor now than he was on Growing Pains.

Of course he’s better now – he’s older and had nowhere to go but up.

Vick still doesn’t diagnose defenses with great acuity. He struggles to identify blitzes and relies too much on sandlot tactics. To be clear, those sandlot tactics are incomparably spectacular; few quarterbacks make as many plays as Vick. But few also leave as many plays on the field.


2. Speed Factor
The most significant resource Vick has in Philadelphia that he didn’t have in Atlanta is speed around him. Vick’s own speed can give defensive coordinators nightmares. Vick’s speed coupled with the speed of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy make for night terrors.

It’s the type of speed that can kill – not just quickly, but also slowly. Defensive backs on both sides of the field must play with a meaty cushion against Eagle wideouts, which makes it easier for Vick to identify coverages and throwing lanes. Teams also must keep their safeties over the top, which puts added responsibility on linebackers to cover crossing patterns inside, thus opening up the flats for McCoy out of the backfield (McCoy’s 79 receptions easily led all running backs last season).

Vick’s speed also makes life easier on his offensive tackles, as defensive ends are often instructed to keep him in the pocket by rushing with less vigorous containment tactics. Because opposing pass-rushes can be naturally tentative, the Eagles don’t need to bother with play-action.

3. Zoning
It’s foolish to play man coverage against the Eagles. For starters, few teams have two corners fast enough to consistently run with Jackson and Maclin. What’s more, in man coverage, the defenders turn their backs to the ball and run away from the action by following receivers, which creates enormous outside running lanes for a quarterback to exploit if he gets outside the pocket (this is how Vick killed the Giants in Week 15 last season).

Fortunately, the Falcons are a zone-oriented defense, so they won’t have to adjust their scheme much for this game. But they will have to adjust their execution. Last Sunday against Chicago, the Bears used downfield route combinations that stretched the Falcon safeties over the top and created gaping voids in the deep-intermediate sectors of the zone. It was problematic.
 
Philly’s outside speed will only exacerbate this problem Sunday night – especially given that Falcon corners Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson prefer to play off coverage at the line of scrimmage rather than delivering a jam.

4. The Solution
To prevent the Eagles from stretching the zone coverage, the Falcons must force Vick to get rid of the ball quickly. Doing this will also put the onus on Vick’s presnap reads and prevent him from extending the play and conjuring his sandlot magic. Mike Smith and Falcons defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder should tell their men again and again that the earlier Vick gets rid of the ball Sunday night, the better.

Atlanta is capable of bringing heat. As we talked about last week, Smith has adopted a more aggressive philosophy than he had as the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville. The zone blitz out of a 4-3 base or nickel package has become a staple in the Falcons’ scheme.

With pressuring Vick being so important, and with the Eagles having a makeshift, incohesive interior line, it’s as viable a tactic as ever.

5. Control Clock
For as much hoopla as there’s been about the addition of Julio Jones, the Falcons are still a power-run team (their unbalanced play-calling against Chicago was a function of the lopsided score). Michael Turner is a bruising high-volume runner and the offensive line is an unathletic but well-sized group.

The Falcons, working out of a Mike Mularkey playbook that’s rich with two-back and two-tight end formations, are already built to mount long drives. They’ll be wise to shorten the game and avoid a shootout with the Eagles.

So who will win? Check our expert picks for all Week 1 games.


Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 8, 2011 4:58 pm
Edited on: September 8, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Film Room: Bears vs. Falcons preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



On paper, the top two seeds from last season’s NFC playoffs are both improved heading into 2011. Consequently, the Atlanta Falcons have become somewhat of a trendy Super Bowl pick. But the Chicago Bears? They’re the team most are picking to finish right behind Detroit in the NFC North. In analyzing five key threads these teams share, we might understand why.

1. Receiver Infusion
Thomas Dimitroff realized that Atlanta’s offense was a playmaker short of being nearly unstoppable. So, the fourth-year general manager traded five premium draft picks to move up and select Alabama wideout Julio Jones sixth overall.

Jones is a great fit because he’s not only a dynamic downfield threat who also has the thickness to go inside, but thanks to his days in the Crimson Tide’s black-and-blue offense, he’s also a savvy downfield blocker. That’s important, as Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has always had a predilection for power runs out of two tight-end/two back formations.

In Chicago, with a system built around downfield routes out of three-and four-receiver formations, offensive coordinator Mike Martz needed more firepower outside. Instead of reaching for an unproven wideout late in the first round, overpaying for free agents Santana Moss or Santonio Holmes or taking a risk on Braylon Edwards (attitude) or Plaxico Burress (rustiness), the Bears acquired  Roy Williams after his star fully plummeted in Dallas.

Williams, a straight-line runner with big hands and feet, was never a good fit for the Cowboys’ shifty catch-and-run oriented system. But in the 28 games he played for Martz in Detroit, Williams produced 2,148 yards receiving. However, whatever optimism the Detroit success instilled was likely blown away by Williams’ dropped passes and admission to being out of shape this past August (candor has always been his Achilles heel).

Because the Bears refuse to admit that Devin Hester is merely a return specialist with modest slot receiving ability (i.e. NOT a starter), it was rising third-year pro Johnny Knox whom Williams supplanted in the lineup. Knox, who has superb speed and quickness and excellent chemistry with Jay Cutler, particularly in deciphering zone coverages, is eager to recapture his starting job (and thus, his leverage for a new contract in the near future). He will, if Williams continues to struggle. And the Bears’ passing game will essentially be right back in the same place it was a year ago.

The Falcons figure to clearly have an improved pass attack. The Bears are TBD.

2. Big meaty offensive lines
To put it politely, Atlanta’s and Chicago’s offensive lines both feature more size than athleticism. The lunch pail approach has worked great for the Falcons. They have a straightforward power-run offense that’s conducive to forming good chemistry up front. In the passing game (where a line’s athletic limitations get exposed), the Falcons rarely use more than three wide receivers, which makes an extra tight end or running back available to stay in and block. In short, the Falcons can bend their system for their offensive line.
 
The Bears, on the other hand, are more inclined to bend (or break) their offensive line for their system. Martz frequently has Cutler take seven-step drops, which only gives heavy-footed offensive tackle J’Marcus Webb, laterally stiff guard Chris Williams and the rest of the front more time to get beat in pass protection. Also, with the running back often being an important receiving option in Martz’s system, Bears linemen must shoulder more responsibility in blitz identification and pickup – an area in which they’ve struggled.

Hence, the 52 times Cutler was sacked last season.

3. The traditional  4-3 defense: evolve vs. resolve
Mike Smith was a classic zone-based 4-3 defensive coordinator in Jacksonville. But over his three seasons in Atlanta, he’s drifted away from vanilla Cover 2 tactics and towards more diverse blitzes and zone exchanges. Impressive considering he employs these tactics out of traditional base and nickel sets.
 
Lovie Smith was a classic zone-based 4-3 defensive coordinator in St. Louis. Over his seven years in Chicago, he’s ... remained a proponent of classic 4-3 zone-based defense.

The Bears are the only team that virtually still runs a fulltime strict Cover 2. They’ve made it work largely because they have two perfect linebackers for this scheme in Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. But as we’ll explore more in-depth another week, there are significant vulnerabilities to a Cover 2. Those vulnerabilities are why Smith and the Falcons have chosen to evolve.

4. The No. 2 defensive end
Arguably the best two defensive ends in the NFC are Julius Peppers and John Abraham. Both have devastating explosiveness off the edge and both can play the run (Peppers is by far the NFL’s best all-around run-stopping 4-3 end; Abraham is more finesse-oriented but is still underrated as a backside chaser).

What the Falcons learned last season is a pass-rush is incomplete without a second outside presence. Kroy Biermann is a very active run-defender, but he registered just three sacks in his debut season as a starter. So, Thomas Dimitroff spent $11 million (guaranteed) on free agent Ray Edwards, who each of the past two years in Minnesota posted at least eight sacks against frequent one-on-one blocking opposite Jared Allen. Edwards is also an adept all-around run-defender.

The Bears have a stalwart No. 2 pass-rusher of their own in Israel Idonije. Versatile enough to line up inside or outside, the ninth-year veteran tied Peppers for the team lead in sacks last season (eight). Idonije does not quite have Edwards’ quickness around the corner, but he’s one of the best in the league at executing stunts.

5. Safeties
Over the years, watching the Bears try out different young safeties in the starting lineup has been like watching Gilbert Brown try on outfits that don’t make him look fat. The Bears drafted Danieal Manning in ’06; Kevin Payne in ’07; Craig Steltz in ’08; Al Afalava in ’09; Major Wright in ’10 and Chris Conte in ’11.

All, with the exception of Conte, were given a shot at starting. And, assuming that newly signed Brandon Meriweather soon supplants Wright as the current first-string free safety, all were ultimately deemed unqualified.

The Falcons have taken a flier with young safeties, as well. The difference is theirs have succeeded. Thomas DeCoud, a third-round pick in ’08, started all 16 games each of the past two seasons. His instincts in coverage have improved and he’s a fast, firm open-field tackler.

His running mate, William Moore, a second-round pick in ’09, stayed healthy for the first time last season and showed genuine game-changing potential over 15 starts. Moore’s a fierce hitter who is developing in pass defense quicker than expected.

So who will win? Check out the video below. And see who our experts pick for all the Week 1 games


Read Andy's Film Room breakdown of Jets-Cowboys.

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter and contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: August 13, 2011 11:10 pm
Edited on: August 14, 2011 2:17 am
 

How 2011's rookies fared during the first week

Posted by Will Brinson



Rookies are at a disadvantage during the 2011 season, because of the shortened amount of time they were given to prep for the season due to the lockout. As such, they're likely to struggle substantially early.

But not every rookie will struggle.

For instance, in the Falcons preseason opener on Friday, Julio Jones flashed enough explosiveness to warrant Mike Smith describing him as "outstanding" after Atlanta loss against the Dolphins.

Had the first teams stayed in, we likely would have gotten more glimpses of the reason Thomas Dimitroff traded up 21 spots to nab the Alabama product -- he turned a pair of short grabs into 43 yards quickly and a reverse for 12 yards looked like it could have easily gone for more.

Atlanta believes the reason the missed a shot at the Super Bowl in 2010 was their lack of big playmaking. And correctly so. Jones appears -- in an admittedly small sample size -- to be very nice remedy for that problem.

Things didn't go quite as swimmingly for Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, who managed to post somewhat decent stats -- 11/15, 69 yards and an interception. But don't listen to me on that.

Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's description (he said Dalton's start "wasn't a total debacle") probably summed it up best.

Dalton struggled mightily, and not just because Gruden put him in tough spots by trying to take shots downfield with Ndamukong Suh breathing down his neck (he did). Of course, it didn't help that Suh popped his helmet off and chunked him to the ground late in the first quarter either. That's enough to make a man quit his job for good, especially on the first day.
NFL Preseason Week 1

Dalton doesn't have the arm strength or athleticism to just step in and overcome inexperience. Even some of his completions -- including a quick out to Jerome Simpson from the shotgun set -- were off and didn't do his receivers any favors.

Speaking of his receivers, A.J. Green looks like the real deal, insomuch as one could determine that from the shorter passes he caught from Dalton. Not to sound weird, but I'd be cool with just watching him run and jump all day. (That's weird, isn't it? Crap.)

Point is, Green's athletic as hell and all the hype about him before the season might not be that overblown.

Also not overblown? Cam Newton's athleticism. Whooooo-boy. But Newton's a good-news/bad-news situation. See, his athleticism is unquestioned. He's a freak. A totally different package of size, strength and speed than we've ever seen in the NFL. But as expected he isn't precisely polished. That's the bad news.

The good news is that Newton has clearly progressed from where he was when we last saw him (read: the combine). If Newton can make strides like that without serious hand-on guidance from the coaching staff, I'm willing to bet he can eventually become a great quarterback. He's got a cannon for an arm, but his touch was clearly off on some throws.

That may not matter for Carolina, though, as even though Jimmy Clausen played pretty darn well after throwing a pick six on his second throw, there could be riots in Charlotte if Newton doesn't start right away simply because he oozes potential.

Blaine Gabbert also oozed enough of something for the Jaguars to trade up for him. Could it have been composure, perhaps?

"I thought [Gabbert] was composed and did a good job making decisions," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio said following Saturday's blowout loss to New England. "He looked like he belonged. It was a good beginning."

Gabbert finished 9/16 for 85 yards with no touchdowns (but no picks) and got hosed by a number of drops from his wide receivers. That being said, he looked like most of the other rookies we saw, in that he struggled at times to step up and complete passes in the pocket.

Gabbert definitely showed some flashes that should give the Jaguars optimism for his future, but if you go back and watch the game (or, if you prefer, just scan the play-by-play), you won't many combinations of the words "complete" and "deep." The Jaguars kept things short, as one might expect, particularly given the dearth of weapons available to the rookie on Thursday.

Speaking of that Patriots-Jaguars game, um, Ryan Mallett's really good. OK, "really good" might be a stretch but how about good? Or good? One of those should work well enough to emphasize how he might be the most pro-ready quarterback in this rookie class.

Mallett's got poise in the pocket, doesn't seem scared of pressure, knows when to run, has a big arm and confident in moving through his progression. Plus -- and this might have to do with his familiarity in a pro-style system -- you do just don't see him float throws like other rookie quarterbacks.

I mean, yeah, it doesn't hurt that he's being mentored by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and, yeah, we're not like five years away from watching the hoodie stroll the sidelines with a crooked cane while Mallett and a gorgeous mane of hair takes down a Super Bowl win, but -- surprise, surprise -- New England might have found a steal in the draft with their third-round nab of Mallett.

It's definitely too early to call Titans rookie Jake Locker a "steal" (and, I'd argue, he was taken too meet such qualifications, barring an absolute blowup), but he looked particularly comfortable in going 7/10 for 89 yards and a teeter while running the Titans offense on Saturday night.

The play that clearly stood out? Locker fumbling the snap on the first play after Tennessee's defense forced a turnover, recovering his own fumble, rolling out right, setting his feet and chucking a 45-yard bomb Yamon Figurs for his first professional touchdown.

For whatever reason, Locker seemed to fit the bill for "prepared" in a completely different way than Mallett. Thrust into a difficult situation with no real weapons -- paging Chris Johnson! -- and pressure as the not-too-far-off future of the franchise, Locker seemed to manage the game in a hyperactive, scrappy kind of way.

That's not to say that he's the NFL's David Eckstein or anything, obviously. And maybe it's just that the Titans know what to do with him. (Credit to Doug Farrar over at Shutdown Corner if this happens -- he's been driving the Locker bandwagon, based on his situation, for a while now.) Obviously they didn't plan to have him fumble, recover and scramble, but you could see that when Locker rolled out he could sling darts.

Christian Ponder's first career completion in the NFL was also a rollout. The rookie out of Florida State hit fellow rook Kyle Rudolph for a 10-yard gain, but that might have been the highlight for Ponder. He never really had the poise that we expected from the most "ready" (theoretically) quarterback in the first round, and at times he looked a bit lost and/or overwhelmed especially at first and, surprisingly, seemed to have his most success when on the move, outside of the pocket.

One of those on-the-move plays should have resulted in a first down on a 3rd-and-16, but was called back for a personal foul penalty. The interesting thing is that Ponder managed to avoid a sack, buy time and made a crucial throw on the move; yes, it was pretty surprising given what we expected from him.

It was also surprising considering Ponder faced off against the third-string defense.

On the bright side: it's just one game. And it's early. That's the beauty of preseason.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: August 13, 2011 8:48 am
Edited on: August 13, 2011 9:02 pm
 

Verdict in on Falcons Julio Jones: 'Outstanding'

Posted by Will Brinson

The Falcons made a bold move on draft day when they jumped 21 spots -- in a massive deal with Cleveland -- to land Julio Jones out of Alabama. At the time, we wrote that he "better be a home run" to justify the move, and we still stand by that.

Fortunately, the early results are in and Jones looks like a pretty solid draft pick for Atlanta. Granted, Friday night's loss against Miami was only one game of the preseason, but he drew some nice compliments from usually reserved Falcons coach Mike Smith.

"I think Julio got indoctrinated into what the NFL is about and in terms of the plays he made, I think they were outstanding," Smith said, per Jay Adams of the team's official website. "I think all three touches were for first downs. He showed some skills that we saw when he was playing at the University of Alabama, and we'll watch the tape I think we'll find some things that we've got to correct.

"We all made mistakes, starting with me in terms of the game management and all of that. I really thought that Julio did some good things."

He did indeed. Jones looked extremely explosive in the early going, catching two balls for 43 yards and taking a reverse around the right side for 12 yards.

Jones was targeted four times in total during the first three series that spanned about 12 minutes of the first quarter -- the Falcons first two offensive plays of the preseason targeted Jones but Matt Ryan missed the first throw and Vontae Davis was draped on Jones during the second one.

Yeah, it's safe to say that they wanted to not just establish Jones but their "new" identity as an explosive offensive team early on. It didn't work -- at first.

During the next two series, the Falcons marched down the field and punched it in the end zone, once with a Michael Turner score and then again when Harry Douglas made a fantastic catch on an even better throw from Ryan.

Those two possessions featured Jones being integrated much more seamlessly, particularly when Jones was able to take short passes from Ryan for big gains.

It's the explosive playmaking that Atlanta wanted to add this season and if Jones first few series are any indication of his ability, it certainly will be outstanding.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com