Tag:Aaron Hernandez
Posted on: September 21, 2011 2:16 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2011 3:23 pm
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Film Room: Bills vs. Patriots preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



We’ll find out this Sunday just how "for real" the Bills are. It’s one thing to face unfamiliar foes from the iffy AFC West. It’s another to face the perennial bully of your own division. Before we forecast the matchup, let’s use the first four points to understand what these 2-0 teams are all about.

1. Patriots passing attack
The last time New England’s juggernaut offense was hitting on this many cylinders was 2007, when the rest of the NFL had no answer for Randy Moss over the top and Wes Welker underneath. New England runs a much different offense now than in those Josh McDaniels days.

Under McDaniels the Patriots in 2008 went 11-5 with Matt Cassel filling in for the injured Tom Brady. The system still worked because of the unique combination of Moss and Welker. If the Patriots were to lose Brady in their current system, they’d plummet to the middle of the AFC East. Virtually everything New England does is predicated on Brady’s unbelievable ability to diagnose a defense and set his feet before throwing.

Most NFL passing offenses are built on the quarterback anticipating where the receiver is going. The Patriots’ offense is essentially built on Brady seeing where the receiver is going before firing. The reason for this is New England’s heavy use of option routes.

The patterns that Patriot receivers, as well as their sensational young tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (who will miss this game with a knee injury), run often hinge on what the defense does. It’s up to the receiver to correctly assess the coverage – both presnap and on the fly – and choose his route accordingly. This is the premise of an option route.

Because of this, the Patriots don’t look for size and speed at wide receiver; they look for intelligence and precise route running. That’s why Wes Welker and Deion Branch, two classic role players, are stars here. They’re perfect for this system.

Option routes are designed to specifically exploit the weakness of a coverage. The reason other teams don’t run option routes nearly exclusively is because they take a split second longer to unfold, and other teams don’t have a quarterback who can make accurate throws a split second later in the down. Brady happens to have an unmatched ability to square his body and throw soundly with defenders around him.

It’s incredible – the guy has a quick, picturesque release, and you almost never see him throw off-balance. Even other superstars like Rodgers and Brees can’t quickly square up and fire under duress the way Brady can.


2. Buffalo’s quarterback
Since last season, the Bills have been higher on quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick than any other team in football. There are rumors that the front office is looking to quickly sign the 28-year-old Harvard alum to a long-term deal before his market value skyrockets.

But how good is Fitzpatrick, really? Most of his supporters tout his grit. Praising a quarterback’s grit is like praising a girl’s personality. Even if the praise is justified and honest, it still feels backhanded because it implies the absence of more obvious (important?) physical attributes.

While Fitzpatrick is no Chad Pennington, he doesn’t have the world’s strongest arm. He can scramble and buy time with his feet, but he’s no Aaron Rodgers. And he reads a defense OK (he was phenomenal recognizing Oakland’s blitzes last week), but he’s no Peyton Manning. Most concerning is his occasionally erratic accuracy. Every game, poor accuracy costs him a few quality completions. And because he’s such a risk-taker, there’s an increased possibility that his inaccuracy translates to interceptions.

Don’t take this as “Fitzpatrick hating”. We only harp on his negatives because, these days, so many are highlighting his positives.

3. Chan Gailey’s adjustment
Even in the shortened offseason, the Buffalo Bills managed to drastically alter their offensive playbook. Prior to the season, we heard that Chan Gailey (who runs the offense) and Curtis Modkins (who coordinates the offense) would implement more spread formations. A lot of teams talk abot spreading out and being more aggressive, but the Bills have actually done it.

This is somewhat surprising because the Bills, especially after dumping Lee Evans, don’t seem to have the receiving personnel for this. None of their wideouts other than Roscoe Parrish – who is out for the season with an ankle injury – have great speed. And all of them are young.

However, through two games, Buffalo’s spread approach has worked marvelously. Stevie Johnson’s improvement as a route runner (he gets open late in his patterns extremely well) has compensated for his middling speed and made him a veritable No. 1 target. David Nelson, who’s a lanky 6’5” and has a newfound comfort for hauling in passes, has been a matchup nightmare both inside and out.

Donald Jones offers decent quickness off the line of scrimmage, and Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller (who, by the way, are both running with outstanding fluidity, especially on the perimeter) are capable of flanking out, which gives the Bills formation flexibility in their personnel packages.

Tip your cap to the historically power-run oriented Gailey for recognizing the direction that the NFL is going in and, at age 59, adjusting his philosophy accordingly.

4. The defenses: 4-3 or 3-4?
Both teams have run hybrid 3-4-slash-4-3 defense in recent years, not because they have versatile players or schemes but because they’ve been without a quality pass-rusher and have looked for creative (i.e. desperate) ways to manufacture pressure on the quarterback.

As it stands, neither team still has a quality rusher. Knee injuries have robbed Shawne Merriman of his burst and direction-changing ability. Merriman still has decent power, but without the movement prowess, he’s a shell of his former self. Opposite him, Chris Kelsay, though playing faster than usual this season, is not consistently dynamic. In New England, Bill Belichick is hoping elder newcomers like Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter can skim the edges on third down.

Despite feeble pass-rushing resources, both teams’ 3-4/4-3 ambiguity appears to be gone this season. Both made personnel moves that suggest a commitment to one system. The Bills spent the No. 3 overall draft pick on Marcel Dareus, a classic 3-4 end. So far, Dareus has shown intriguing power in shedding blocks, both laterally and in penetration. The Patriots traded for Albert Haynesworth, a classic one-gap tackle (just ask him) and have settled into a 4-3.

So far, Haynesworth has been a monster, but only in sub-packages. He must improve his endurance if he wants to be an everydown player like Vince Wilfork.

5. The Bills’ prayer
Do they have one this Sunday? They won’t be able to get pressure on Brady, so their best bet is to play coverage and hope for a timely turnover or two. That will be tough, though, as No. 1 corner Terrence McGee is out and his replacement, Leodis McKelvin, has struggled in man coverage.

Also, strong safety George Wilson, while stout in the box, is a slow runner with limited coverage skills. The Raiders took advantage of this with screen passes and underneath passing routes last week; the Patriots, with Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead, will have no trouble doing the same.

Thus, it’s on the Bills offense to control the tempo and shorten the game. Buffalo’s front five, coached by Joe D'Alessandris, has been phenomenal through two weeks. Center Eric Wood has the run-blocking movement skills of a Pro Bowler, while left tackle Demetrius Bell (whom yours truly has been very hard on the past few years) has shown good awareness and improved mechanics in pass protection.

A good front line is key to having a sustainable offense. But unless the Bills can work some magic on special teams, they won’t need a sustainable offense to have a chance Sunday…they’ll need a perfect one.

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 21, 2011 1:49 pm
 

Patriots C Dan Koppen out for season

Posted by Will Brinson

Patriots center Dan Koppen suffered a nasty broken ankle in New England's Week 1 victory over the Dolphins that resulted in him being carted off the field. But it was nastier than anyone could have imagined at the time -- the team announced on Wednesday that Koppen was placed on injured reserve, ending his season.

Defensive lineman Myron Pryor was also placed on IR, and defensive back Philip Adams and defensive lineman Landon Cohen were signed to the active roster.

The good news for the Patriots is that guard Dan Connolly looked quite good against the Chargers (and in action against the Dolphins) since moving over to replace Koppen on the line.

Additionally, New England has a pretty sturdy line as far as things go, with Logan Mankins and Brian Waters beefing up protection around Connolly and Matt Light the stalwart at left tackle. Having tight ends Rob Gronkowski and -- when he returns from his injury -- Aaron Hernandez on the field almost all the time doesn't hurt either.

And neither does having Tom Brady under center -- clearly the Patriots would prefer to keep as much protection around Tom as possible, but if you're going to have a quarterback who needs to establish timing with his pass catchers and clear the ball out quickly, he's a pretty good one to have.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: September 21, 2011 1:49 pm
 

Patriots C Dan Koppen out for season

Posted by Will Brinson

Patriots center Dan Koppen suffered a nasty broken ankle in New England's Week 1 victory over the Dolphins that resulted in him being carted off the field. But it was nastier than anyone could have imagined at the time -- the team announced on Wednesday that Koppen was placed on injured reserve, ending his season.

Defensive lineman Myron Pryor was also placed on IR, and defensive back Philip Adams and defensive lineman Landon Cohen were signed to the active roster.

The good news for the Patriots is that guard Dan Connolly looked quite good against the Chargers (and in action against the Dolphins) since moving over to replace Koppen on the line.

Additionally, New England has a pretty sturdy line as far as things go, with Logan Mankins and Brian Waters beefing up protection around Connolly and Matt Light the stalwart at left tackle. Having tight ends Rob Gronkowski and -- when he returns from his injury -- Aaron Hernandez on the field almost all the time doesn't hurt either.

And neither does having Tom Brady under center -- clearly the Patriots would prefer to keep as much protection around Tom as possible, but if you're going to have a quarterback who needs to establish timing with his pass catchers and clear the ball out quickly, he's a pretty good one to have.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: September 19, 2011 12:28 pm
 

Aaron Hernandez out 1-2 weeks with MCL sprain?

Posted by Will Brinson

The New England Patriots have piled up more passing yards than anyone in the NFL, and it's largely in part to the stupendous play from their two young tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. (As Phil Simms notes in the video below, they are, in fact, "the difference" for the Pats offense this year.)

So it's bad news to hear that Hernandez will reportedly miss one to two weeks with a sprained MCL, according to Shalise Young of the Boston Globe.

Hernandez missed the second half of the fourth quarter on Sunday against San Diego after taking a shot to knee from Bob Sanders helmet, despite staying in the game for a few plays after the knock to the knee.

"I feel pretty good," Hernandez said before hobbling out of the locker room, via Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald. "Little sore, we’ll see what it is. Just getting ready for this next game."

How this plays out will be interesting for the Patriots. For one, there's a belief that Rob Gronkowski will now catch 15 touchdowns next week. That's actually less likely, because Hernandez' absence will limit the ability of New England to spread out coverage on their tight ends.

It will also likely mean the recently-criticized Chad Ochocinco, heretofore the fifth option in the passing game for New England, gets a serious chance to step up and impress his critics, as the Patriots won't run as many two tight end sets without Hernandez in the game. (And therefore, likely more three-wideout sets.)

Hernandez' absence won't mean that Tom Brady's prolific start to the season should suddenly slow down, and it's entirely possible that the Patriots Week 3 matchup against the Bills is another shootout for a Patriots team that's already been involved in a pair so far this year.


For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: September 19, 2011 12:28 pm
 

Aaron Hernandez out 1-2 weeks with MCL sprain?

Posted by Will Brinson

The New England Patriots have piled up more passing yards than anyone in the NFL, and it's largely in part to the stupendous play from their two young tight ends, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski. (As Phil Simms notes in the video below, they are, in fact, "the difference" for the Pats offense this year.)

So it's bad news to hear that Hernandez will reportedly miss one to two weeks with a sprained MCL, according to Shalise Young of the Boston Globe.

Hernandez missed the second half of the fourth quarter on Sunday against San Diego after taking a shot to knee from Bob Sanders helmet, despite staying in the game for a few plays after the knock to the knee.

"I feel pretty good," Hernandez said before hobbling out of the locker room, via Ian Rapoport of the Boston Herald. "Little sore, we’ll see what it is. Just getting ready for this next game."

How this plays out will be interesting for the Patriots. For one, there's a belief that Rob Gronkowski will now catch 15 touchdowns next week. That's actually less likely, because Hernandez' absence will limit the ability of New England to spread out coverage on their tight ends.

It will also likely mean the recently-criticized Chad Ochocinco, heretofore the fifth option in the passing game for New England, gets a serious chance to step up and impress his critics, as the Patriots won't run as many two tight end sets without Hernandez in the game. (And therefore, likely more three-wideout sets.)

Hernandez' absence won't mean that Tom Brady's prolific start to the season should suddenly slow down, and it's entirely possible that the Patriots Week 3 matchup against the Bills is another shootout for a Patriots team that's already been involved in a pair so far this year.


For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: September 19, 2011 3:01 am
Edited on: September 19, 2011 12:53 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 2

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 1 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

(Ed. note: Week 2 Podcast will be live first thing Monday morning. Thanks for your patience.)

1. Michael Vick doesn't gets Michael Vick'd
Vick was going to get injured this year. That's just what happens when you combine a quarterback who runs like he does with an offensive line that blocks like Philly's doesn't. But what an unlikely way for him to get injured -- getting tackled in the pocket and falling into a head-to-head, concussion-inducing hit with Todd Herremans, his own offensive lineman.

And even though Mike Kafka looked pretty darn good in an impromptu relief appearance, and even though he provided an endless amount of philosophy-fueled jokes on Twitter, he's not Michael Vick, and he's not going to steal the starter's job or become the single-biggest story of the NFL season.

Fortunately for the Eagles, they've got a reasonably cushy schedule the next four games, facing the Giants, the 49ers, the Bills and the Redskins. But it's a quick reminder to those ready to crown the "Dream Team" as the likely Super Bowl champion: quarterback is a very talented, but very fragile position for them, and if they can't keep Vick upright, it's going to be tough sailing.

Three other notes on that game, while we're here. One, that was an embarrassing display by Falcons fans as Vick left the game, spitting out blood, to boo him mercilessly. I get that many folks won't get past what he did, and how much he might have cost the Atlanta franchise. But to boo a guy who could have suffered a serious head injury is just lacking in class. And kind of surprising for a sports city that typically doesn't show up to scream that loudly.

Two, can the NFL please do something about these "neck injury" classifications? Vick's neck might be sore, as Andy Reid said shortly after the game, he did in fact suffer a concussion. The only difference is that listing him with a concussion would rule him out for the game. A "neck injury" is a loophole for Vick to return to a potentially dangerous situation in terms of his personal health. The NFL needs to make teams get honest on these injury reports if they're going to be serious about player safety.

And finally, big ups to Matt Ryan for his performance in that game. Anyone who left the Falcons for dead after they were smacked around for the Bears obviously doesn't understand the importance of jumping to conclusions after a week's worth of football. The Falcons still got a little greedy when it came to forcing balls downfield to Julio Jones, and they could probably benefit from targeting Roddy White more, but Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner were dynamite. Ryan suffered an injury, too, but stood strong and led his team to a win with four touchdowns.

Absolutely a signature win, especially when you consider the opponent and the circumstances.

2. Dunta Robinson should be suspended
No need for a cute title here, and yeah, I'm adding one more point to the Eagles-Falcons game, but it's an important one. And it's pretty damn cut-and-dry when it comes to the hit of the Falcons cornerback on Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin in the third quarter on Sunday night: it was dirty.

Maclin caught a ball over the middle, was running after the catch and got absolutely head-hunted by Robinson, who did the exact same thing to another Eagles wideout (DeSean Jackson) when these teams played in 2010.

Robinson was fined $50,000 for the monster helmet-to-helmet shot on Jackson. But that's not enough punishment -- he needs to be suspended.

The league said in 2010, immediately following Robinson's hit on Jackson mind you, that they would begin making an example out of repeat offenders by suspending them. We haven't seen that yet.

But we should; Robinson's decision -- and make no mistake, it absolutely was a decision, not a "reaction" -- to launch himself into Maclin helmet first was similar in a manner similar to the headbanging shot on Todd Heap that landed Brandon Meriweathear a big fine.

And it's similar, if not nearly identical, to his shot on Jackson last season.

There was a flag and there was a penalty, and Robinson was not ejected, as he should have been for the flagrant nature of the hit.

There'll absolutely be a fine coming his way in the middle of the week, but if Roger Goodell and Ray Anderson truly want to make an example out a classic case of a repeat offender, Robinson needs to be suspended.

3. Detroit Swag City
The Lions were one of the sleepiest of sleeper teams to begin the 2011 season. And with good reason -- if Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson can stay healthy, there's reason to believe Detroit's got enough potency on offense to compete with a playoff spot.

But here's the thing: they're actually doing it. It almost never works like that (ask the 2010 Houston Texans) but it's working right now.

Perhaps the biggest difference in these Lions, though, is the heretofore unseen amount of swagger present in Detroit football.

Before the 2010 season began, Chiefs GM Scott Pioli accused the Detroit front office of tampering. In response, the Lions would like offer Exhibit A: a 48-3 beatdown of Kansas City on Sunday in which they absolutely mangled KC in every aspect of the football game. It's the single-biggest margin of victory in Detroit's history, tied with their 45-point victory against Cleveland way back in 1957.

Exhibit B? The Lions decision to run Keiland Williams up the middle on fourth-and-one, leading 41-3, with just over five minutes remaining in the game. Just don't expect them to admit they were rubbing it in.

"We're not trying to do anything other than trying to win the game," Schwartz said.

Exhibit C? The Lions were "thrilled enough with the win" to give defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham a Gatorade bath with 28 seconds left:



This would be totally normal except for the fact that Cunningham is a defensive coordinator and this is the second week of the season. Oh right: Cunningham's the guy the Chiefs accused of tampering during the 2010 season.

So, yeah, message sent. But don't expect this swagger to suddenly disappear -- the guy who instilled it, Schwartz, doesn't see a whole to love about the victory.

"We can play better," Schwartz said after the game.

That's a pretty scary thought considering the Lions forced three fumbles (and recovered all three) and picked Matt Cassel three times. But Schwartz is right -- they've started slow on offense in both of their wins this year, and didn't look exceptional against the run early against Kansas City.

4. The Chiefs are dead, long live the Chiefs
There's a lot to love about the second week of the NFL season, but while we're here, we might as well go ahead and note that the Chiefs are donecakes when it comes to competing in the 2011 NFL season.

They're 0-2, they look lost on offense and defense, their best players are dropping like flies, and they have a negative 79 point differential through two games.

Considering they just got done with the "easy" part of their schedule -- the Bills and the Lions -- this does not bode well for the rest of their year. And Jamaal Charles' injury -- the running back is believed to be done for the year after tearing his ACL while colliding with the Lions mascot Sunday -- is the most tragic part of this Icarusian swoon back to reality.

Charles is truly one of the most exciting players to watch in the NFL, he's a home-run threat every single time he touches the ball, and he's the reason the Chiefs led the league in rushing last year and barnstormed their way to the AFC West title.

There will be no more excitement this season, and there will be no such division title.

In fact, the only drama remaining for the Chiefs is whether or not Todd Haley can hold onto his job for the rest of the year. To his credit, he's certainly willing to take the blame.

"The season will not be canceled as far as I know," Haley said on Sunday. "What we have to do is we have to stop doing those things that are costing us dearly, and putting us in very difficult positions."

Haley might wish the season would be canceled, though. A quick glance at the Chiefs schedule pegs their Week 5 game against Indianapolis as the easiest contest remaining, as they've got two matchups with Denver, Oakland and San Diego remaining and play one of the most brutal five-game stretches in the NFL starting in November: at New England, versus Pittsburgh, at Chicago, at the Jets, versus Green Bay.

No one has a warmer seat than Todd Haley right now.

4. Yes We Cam 2.0
Normally I might be cheesed that people are jacking my "Yes We Cam" swag (unless that's been around since Auburn and I just missed it), but being on board the Cam Newton bandwagon's too fun to get worried about anything.

Newton now has two of the three-highest passing games in Panthers history, he's one of only seven quarterbacks to throw for 400-plus yards in two-straight games, he owns the rookie record for most passing yards in a debut, he owns the rookie record for most passing yards in a game (ever), and, yeah, I get it -- he's 0-2.

The fact that people are screaming about win-loss records by a rookie on a team that's coming off a 2-14 campaign tells me two things. One, either they don't understand that quarterbacks don't play defense (much like pitchers don't score runs in baseball; wins aren't relative to success). Or two, they're sitting back in a corner and chugging a warm glass of Haterade, just because they can.

Newton's a guy that's always inspired critics. And he probably always will. But right now, he's making the right throws, he's saying the right things, and he's showing some of the most impressive progression we've ever seen in a young NFL quarterback.

Does he make mistakes? Absolutely. His three interceptions were pretty terrible. One might even call them rookie mistakes. And one might even note that they were a result of Rob Chudzinski taking the gloves off on the offense and winging the ball around. But there's no real need in ripping Chud, because he and Ron Rivera's coaching staff are the guys putting Newton in a position to succeed, and they deserve credit.

Just like Cam, regardless of the record.

It's been mentioned before, and it'll be mentioned again -- the Panthers probably won't win a lot of games when Newton's throwing for 400 yards. But that's a byproduct of lacking balance in the offensive attack, not because "Cam's not a winner."

5. Is 400 the new 300?

Speaking of 400-yard games, you've probably noticed that we've seen a number of games this season that have featured 400 or more passing yards. Six to be exact, which is quite a lot. In fact, we're currently on pace -- barring another offensive outpouring on Monday night -- for a whopping 48 400-yard games and and an absolutely insane 176 300-yard games in 2011.

Year 300-Yard Games
400-Yard Games
2006
65 7
2007
81 4
2008
76 8
2009
100 7
2010
96 11
2011
22 6

Now, there's a bit of caveating that needs to occur here. First of all, Newton is on pace to throw for something like 6,538 passing yards in 2011. While it would be foolish to guarantee it won't happen, it's pretty unlikely that Newton shatters Dan Marino's single-season passing yardage record by nearly 1,500 yards. (Tom Brady is, of course, more likely, but it's still a long ways off.)

Which is to say, it's still early, and you can't just simply project NFL numbers, particularly 400-yard passing games, across a season and expect continuity from here on out.

But as recently as 1998, we had just 52 300-yard games. At this year's pace, we're in reach of that many 400-yarders. It might not happen right now, but remember how 1,500-yard rushing seasons replaced 1,000 yard seasons as the new benchmark?

That transition is in process for the passing game right now, thanks to the entire league taking things aerial. It's a trend that won't go away and, sooner than later, 400 might actually become the new 300.

6. More like a Breathalyzer score
Not every quarterback's out there gunning the ball around with aplomb, though. Take Luke McCown of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who registered a quarterback rating on Sunday -- 1.8 -- that's impressive for all the wrong reasons.



McCown was 6/19 for 59 yards with four interceptions in the 32-3 loss to the Jets and inspiring only in the sense that his play makes you wonder what the hell the Jags were thinking when they decided to cut David Garrard one week before the regular season began. As my man Mike Freeman wrote, Garrard's kicking it somewhere much more fun than Jack Del Rio's office, cackling his ass off at McCown's performance on Sunday.

What makes it slightly more understandable is that it was against the Jets, who aren't exactly a cream-puff defense.

What makes it all slightly less understandable is that the Jaguars traded up to draft Blaine Gabbert this year, and seem hesitant to give him the nod. Why? Obviously Garrard wasn't the guy, because they cut him. And obviously McCown isn't the guy, because even Braylon Edwards is unimpressed with the digit he posted.

Gabbert was 5/6 in junk time, but let's see what the kids' got already. Jack Del Rio might be stringing out his job a little longer by playing the "you left me with no quarterback" card, but if my boss threw away my computer before the NFL season started, I wouldn't leave the other brand new computer I just bought sitting in a box in the sideline while fumbling through deadlines on a 10-year-old PC that I know doesn't work.

I'd crack that box open, see if the new computer is worth what I paid. Which is what Jacksonville needs to do.

7. Mmmmmm. [Fractured] ribs.
It's time to give Tony Romo his due -- the guy gets absolutely shredded when he makes stupid mistakes, like last week's debacle against the Jets. But on Sunday he returned after it was announced he'd suffered some fracture ribs and everyone assumed that it was Jon Kitna's ship to sink.

It was not. Romo came in, hit Jesse Holley for a big gain and the Cowboys took things to overtime where they ended up winning 27-24.

"I didn't want to be 0-2, and at the end of the day it's about winning and losing in this game," Romo said afterwards. "We needed a win. Why I wanted to be out there? I'm competitive. If I can play I'm gonna play."

Not the most convincing win against a 49ers team, but it was a win that an injury-ravaged Cowboys team badly needed to win. Things might be about to get rough for Jerry Jones squad, and we'll find out just how much of a creative mastermind Jason Garrett really is -- Miles Austin's dealing with a hamstring injury, Felix Jones has a separated shoulder and Romo's got a couple busted ribs.

If Romo can play and Dez Bryant can get back from his quad injury, there's still plenty of firepower on this offense, especially if DeMarco Murray can learn blitz pickups quickly enough to stay on the field in more than passing situations. The former Sooner is a highly-talented receiver out of the backfield, and has the potential to be a serious threat.

None (or all?) of that might happen, though, and this could be a situation where Kitna's trying to manage an offense that can't move the ball on the ground and can't stop anyone from passing on them until their secondary's back up to speed.

With Washington and Detroit on the schedule before their Week 5 bye and New England and St. Louis immediately after, that's a dangerous proposition indeed.

8. Living in the 90's
Man ... anyone else harking back to the Super Bowl heyday when we used to get "In Living Color" halftime shows lately? (Men on Football!) And I really hope you do, otherwise I'm suddenly old and busted.

That's back when the Bills used to get beatdown by the Cowboys and Redskins on the reg, and after two weeks of football, there's a sense of déjà vu circulating around certain cities, as Buffalo and Washington are both undefeated.

The Bills seem to be a little bit more "fa real" than the 'Skins, if only because their offense is more potent, but Washington, who plays the Cowboys next week, is a better bet to get to 3-0 than Buffalo, who host the Patriots.

Still, it's a remarkably fascinating story that two teams that literally no one picked to find their way to undefeated at any point past the first week of the season. And I don't want to start laying bets on Rex Grossman or anything, just yet, but kudos to the guy for finding ways to win in Washington when no one -- including yours truly -- even bothered to take him seriously after his "we'll win the NFC East" prediction.

They still won't, of course, but two weeks into the season Grossman looks a lot more right than anyone would have ever thought.

Meanwhile, Chan Gailey looks a lot more smart than anyone would have thought (good thing Todd Haley fired that guy, huh??), pushing the Bills to a remarkable 2-0 after beating Oakland 38-35 in the most exciting game of the day, particularly when you consider the Bills came out of halftime down 21-3.

"That was an amazing gutcheck by our team," Chan Gailey said.

Yes, ripping off five touchdowns in five second-half possessions is a "gutcheck." Or a guy doing remarkable things with unlikely personnel. Story of Gailey's career.

9. Same old, Same old
Being the lone expert to pick the Chargers for the upset over the Patriots on Sunday wasn't a bad spot -- San Diego could/should have won that game. Or at least not lost by two touchdowns anyway.

A brutal fumble from Mike Tolbert blew the game wide open, but it was kind of indicative of how San Diego operates in September; last week it looked like the Chargers might have kicked that monkey off their back.

Then they roll into Foxboro with a loaded gun and "pull a Plaxico" on themselves, firing repeatedly at the ground underneath their feet, whiffing three times inside the Patriots 20 and giving the ball away at the most inopportune times.

It's standard operating procedure for the Bolts, or at least it feels that way because it's September. And they'll probably be fine because the division is down (though you can argue the Raiders are dangerous and I'm fine with that) and they'll probably make the playoffs on the strength of a big November and December run.

But this is a team that's supposed to make a Super Bowl run. And they're not there right now. Which is, well, not that surprising.

10. Reviews under review?
The new NFL system for reviewing all touchdowns has been irritating through two weeks only in that every announcer in every game has to mention it after every touchdown, as if NFL fans weren't already aware of what's going on.

Oh, and the fact that there's some bizarro miscommunication going on with how the officials on the field and the people working in the booth are handling the issue of checking out plays.

Buffalo's interception by Da'Norris Searcy required a 10-minute break in which the officials finally came back on the field and announced, after everyone had left, that Searcy did in fact pick the ball off.

And Darren Sproles had what looked like a controversial score to end the Saints game in which he stepped out of bounds, yet no replay was deemed necessary.

Aaron Hernandez had a score against the Chargers Sunday that looked like a lock for a review under the dreaded "Calvin Johnson Rule," but the replay officials didn't even bother checking. Or it was so clear that they didn't need to.

If we're going to take the time to check out every single touchdown, let's make sure we actually check out every single touchdown. NFL fans might not be the most patient bunch, and it stinks seeing a touchdown celebration held off because of a potential rules issue, but getting the call right is the biggest deal, and providing a streamlined process for ensuring integrity of all necessary reviews is something the NFL needs to get in place immediately.

Put an APB out for:
Chris Johnson's rushing skills. It's one thing to be a star running back who really disappoints his fantasy owners (joke) by not producing at a high clip. It's an entirely different thing to be a star running back who's drawing boos from fans because you held out of training camp, demanded "Manning money" and then decided to start averaging less than 40 rushing yards a game.

Pop-culture referencing Jim Irsay tweet that's sure to drive Colts fans insane of the week
"All u negative,Colt haters.....ahhhh,well...ummm...that's just YOUR opinion...man!"

Hate to break it to, you Jim, but the bums lost. Again.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Andy Dalton and A.J. Green turning into a potentially dangerous connection in Cincy definitely deserves more love.
... Did anyone watch the Stanford-Arizona game on Saturday night? Because Andrew Luck is the real freaking deal, man. Kid is smart, strong, has a cannon for an arm, and can make all the throws. I'd tank my season for him.
... If you want to try a ridiculously delicious sandwich, and you live near a Village Tavern, hit it up for Sunday brunch and get the fried egg BLT. Standard ingredients but add cheddar cheese and an over-medium egg. It's unreal.
... Not even sure how to feel about this one -- some clown of a Bears fan mocked New Orleans devastation thanks to Hurricane Katrina a few years back, and some Saints fans got their revenge on Sunday. Or something.
... Does any good running back in the NFL have less breakaway speed than Michael Turner?
... Larry Fitzgerald and Adrian Peterson, two guys with Vikings history, are both franchise leaders for touchdowns (receiving and rushing, respectively) for their franchises now, and it happened on the same day.
... Josh Freeman is such a closer -- he stormed back against the Vikings on Sunday, giving him eight comeback wins in 14 career victories.

Worth 1,000 Words


Hot Seat Tracker
Long story, but I'm still waiting on the fancy math stuff. Whatever, not much has changed from last week, where the same small number of suspects find themselves with warm pants.
  • Todd Haley -- It just stinks that he might not get to hang around and coach Andrew Luck.
  • Jack Del Rio -- See: above. It's just an unbelievable mangling of the quarterback position.
  • Tony Sparano -- The Dolphins are 0-2, can't defend against the pass and despite Chad Henne looking much better, are not as good as we thought.
  • Jim Caldwell -- No idea if Jim Irsay would even can Caldwell at any point, as the Colts might actually like a figurehead with Manning around.
  • Tom Coughlin -- A loss Monday would not go a long way in helping his job security.
Chasing Andrew Luck (Plus Odds)
Chiefs (2/5): Like I said, the schedule is brutal down the stretch.
Colts (2/1): As Pete Prisco likes to say, the snake has no head.
Seahawks (3/1): Seen Pete Carroll screw up too many things to think he can get picking up Luck right. Still, this team is bad.
Jaguars (5/1): Yeah, they've got a win, but they're throwing out Gabbert now. We hope. Which is awkward.
Dolphins (7/1): Surely they can't be this bad.

MVP Watch
Mark my words: a quarterback will win this year. Bold, eh? Whatever. Matthew Stafford's my leader in the clubhouse, but I wouldn't scream at you if you screamed at me for not picking Tom Brady, considering he's looking like, well, Tom Brady. Ryan Fitzpatrick deserves some love and no, I am not joking this week. And sure, Aaron Rodgers if you want. It's early still.

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Posted on: September 12, 2011 9:06 pm
Edited on: September 13, 2011 1:14 am
 

Pats C Dan Koppen breaks ankle

Posted by Will Brinson

The Patriots won their season opener against the Dolphins in Miami but it came at a cost: center Dan Koppen, who left just before halftime, has a broken left ankle, according to the Boston Herald's Ian Rapoport.

"The team will run more tests tomorrow to see whether there is more damage to the ligaments or the surrounding portions of his leg," Rapoport wrote early Tuesday morning. "But, the early returns are that it may not be a complicated break. In fact, don’t rule Koppen out for the season just yet."

Koppen suffered what the Patriots called a left ankle injury at the time when Karlos Dansby fell on his leg as Koppen blocked for a Tom Brady sneak on third down late in the first half.

He screamed in pain and lay on the ground for a few minutes until a cart was brought out -- as Koppen was leaving, cameras picked him up mouthing something that didn't exactly look, um, optimistic to the medical staff. He was also seen leaving the medical room on crutches and said "We'll see" when asked about the extent of his injury.

The injury is particularly devastating for New England, as they signed Thomas Welch from the practice squad just to get to seven offensive linemen for the Monday night game.

The Dolphins Jason Taylor also suffered an ankle and/or foot injury during the first half when it appeared someone stepped on his foot; he returned to the game in the second half.

Perhaps coincidentally, as soon as Koppen left and Dan Connolly slid over to center, Wake immediately drew a holding call against rookie lineman Nate Solder and then on the next play, recorded a sack on Tom Brady.

Not coincidentally, Wake/Taylor against New England's thinned-out line was our top matchup to watch tonight. And, as we expected, the Pats have been using the heck out of two tight end sets -- they had Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on the field for nearly every single play in the first half.

Expect to see plenty of them in the second half as well, since the loss of Koppen will require increased assistance for an extremely thin offensive line.

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Posted on: September 12, 2011 4:35 pm
Edited on: September 12, 2011 4:47 pm
 

7-Point Preview: Dolphins vs. Patriots

Posted by Will Brinson


1. Miami Dolphins (0-0) vs. New England Patriots (0-0)
Rumblings started to form on Twitter Monday that the Dolphins are taking a look at David Garrard. Even if this doesn't happen, it is perfect, because the Dolphins are in the middle of their 15th quarterback controversy of the year, and they haven't even played a game yet.

It's a mess in South Beach, theoretically, but there's reason to be hopeful. I continue to believe that Chad Henne can evolve into a good NFL quarterback. He's been freed from the shackles of Dan "Third and Draw" Henning and has been given "full reign" by new OC Brian Daboll to call audibles at the line of scrimmage.

Last season's game in Miami is viewed as a blowout. That's because the Patriots won handily, 41-14. But what folks don't remember is that without a Miami special-teams implosion, this game was actually pretty close.

The Patriots scored on a 103-yard kickoff return from Brandon Tate (no longer with New England) and a Kyle Arrington 31-yard blocked field-goal return. To dump a pound of salt in the wound, Patrick Chung also took a pick 51 yards to the house to finish off the rout. Take away those three touchdowns (I know, I know but just play along) and it's a much closer game in which Henne was respectable before getting pressed into throwing the ball in bad situations.

Add in the fact that he's got more versatile weapons (read: Reggie Bush) than 2010, and it's not unreasonable to expect an alright game out of Henne this evening. Brady, as you may know, is capable of doing damage to other teams.

2. What the Nerds and Degenerate Gamblers Say:
This is kind of amazing: according to Sportsbook.com, 94 percent of the public's money is on the Pats -7. If we were talking about the Pats money line, that's one thing. But we're discussing a seven-point road favorite playing a division rival who's beaten said favorite a bunch of times when they come down to Florida.

Things could go either way, really -- Tom Brady over the last six years (we're going six instead of five since he missed 2008) has vacillated wildly in Miami. In 2006 he went 12 of 25 for 78 yards and no touchdowns or interceptions. In 2007 he went 21 of 25 for 354 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. In that time, though, he's only 3-2 in Miami.

"He’s human, right?" Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake asked of Brady Sunday, per Omar Kelly of the Miami Sun-Sentinel. "He has two eyes and red blood? If you cut him, will he bleed? He puts his pants on one leg a time."

He may actually put his pants on differently and HOW DARE YOU TALK ABOUT TOM'S EYES, SIR? Er, wait, sorry. Yes, Brady is human. He's been vulnerable against the Dolphins in the past and he'll be vulnerable now.

There's no real logic why everyone's slamming their money after New England favored by a touchdown on the road even if they could easily cover, other than "the Patriots are always awesome, win games and usually manage to be flashy and smart while the Dolphins are typically the opposite and quite boring and therefore will lose."

3. Key Matchup to Watch
The aforementioned defensive end, Cameron Wake, is one of the scariest players in the NFL. Were it not for the Dolphins lacking relevance in 2010, Wake probably would have gotten pub as the Defensive Player of the Year in the NFL.

With Wake and Dolphins-turned-Jet-turned-dancer-t
urned-Dolphin Jason Taylor lining up to terrorize Brady, the Patriots offensive line has a serious task on its hands -- both left tackle Matt Light and right tackle (and rookie) Nate Solder, replacing starting right tackle Sebastian Volmer, will require additional help in doubling up on Wake.

Fortunately for the Patriots, they have a pair of tight ends who are capable receiving options and pretty good blockers in Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, so don't be shocked to see lots of two tight end formations out of New England as they look to bolster their pass defense.

If Wake and Taylor crank up the pressure on Brady, the Patriots could be in a for long day, especially considering they aren't typically the type of team that counters quarterback pressure by pounding the rock. Their answer is a dynamic short-passing game that chews up clock and wears opponents down.

It's much harder to pull off if Brady's ending up on his ass every two or three plays and/or doesn't have time to get through his progressions. And when Brady slows his progressions down, the Patriots aren't pushing the tempo and the defense has more time to adjust and, generally speaking, a much better chance of stopping New England.

4. Potentially Relevant YouTube

So, this weekend some ridiculous bizness went down with the Notre Dame-Michigan game, in which roughly 735 points were scored in 10 seconds. Or something like that -- Denard Robinson (he of sure-fire future NFL Draft scrutiny!) led the Wolverines to a stunning victory. He then jumped in the crowd and a weirdo fan decided he need to rub Robinson's arm and share the magic with the world.

In case you're scratching your head, both Tom Brady and Chad Henne went to Michigan and they will need magic from their arms to win tonight. Do you see? (Via Spencer Hall's Alphabetical)



5. The Patriots will win if ...
They can protect Brady and give him time to get the ball in the hands of his playmakers and subsequently control the tempo against the Dolphins. The Patriots passing game was fine in the preseason, but Chad Ochocinco was a bit underwhelming (to say the least) and having him step things up in Monday night's would be pretty typical of how the Pats role with respect to bringing wide receivers and sandbagging their production before the season starts.

6. The Dolphins will win if ...
Reggie Bush makes the most out of his 20 touches. Well, he's supposed to get 20 touches anyway, and it's hard to imagine that if he's successful that this game won't be close. Bush not only can break off explosive plays, but his ability as a passcatcher out of the backfield will be tremendous for Henne -- he provides a safety valve and will keep the Patriots secondary honest and not able to double-team guys like Brandon Marshall.

7. Prediction: Patriots 24, Dolphins 17

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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