Posted on: October 6, 2011 12:29 pm
Posted by Josh Katzowitz
With the controversy surrounding the new Walter Payton biography, written by Jeff Pearlman, I got to thinking about the other books we need to read but that haven’t been written yet. I’m not talking about a season in the life book of the 2010 Packers or the latest words written by Mike Ditka (at least five authored or co-authored by the Bears coaching icon), but about subjects we don’t really know and on topics we would love to explore.
For this Top Ten List with a Twist, I’m discounting what a publisher might say if he/she was presented with some of these ideas (namely, the idea that blah, blah, blah won’t sell or that nobody has ever heard of blah, blah, blah). Some of these ideas, no doubt, would work, and maybe, one day, you’ll see one of them on the shelf of your nearest book store in the cart of your Amazon.com page.
Without further ado, here are the Top Ten books we absolutely deserve to read.
10. The inside story on the NFL lockout: Yeah, maybe many football fans wouldn’t care about a book like this, because they only wanted the work stoppage to end as soon as possible so they could continue to watch the game they love, but I bet it would be fascinating. What is the relationship between Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith really like? How were the compromises finally reached? Did Jerry Jones really tap his fists together and walk out of a negotiation session to make a point? For those who reported and analyzed the entire ordeal, it would be a mind-churning look from behind the curtain.
9. Bill Belichick end-of-career autobiography: Although he almost always comes off completely uninteresting during his midweek and postgame press conferences -- hell, he eats his lunch during teleconference calls with the media! -- the recent NFL Network documentary showed that he’s an interesting dude. The fact he got a little emotional during a trip to the Meadowlands was almost shocking, and I’ve seen interviews with him before that are really, really good. If he let down his guard, like during that documentary, his autobiography would be a fascinating study of the best coach in football. There have been big-name authors who have written big-name books about Belichick, but when his career is over, I want him reflecting on the impact he’s made and the reason he did it all the first place.
8. A biography on Tom Brady’s hair: We’ve already had the obituary for Brady’s shorn locks. Next, we should have a book that tells the tale of the entire two-year history of the hair that helped Brady land that lucrative Uggs endorsement.
7. Sid Gillman biography: Gillman is the most important coach you might not remember. Unlike Paul Brown (who has a stadium named after him and a legacy in Cincinnati) or Vince Lombardi (who you might have heard a little something about) or Woody Hayes (a decent-enough coach at Ohio State) -- all of whom were Gillman contemporaries -- Gillman has fallen through the cracks of history. And considering, he’s the father of the modern passing offense, that’s a shame.
6. Rob/Rex Ryan quote book: This could even be made into one of those peel-a-page-every-day calendars, like the Jeff Foxworthy redneck gags or the best of the old Far Side comic strips. But if you like to laugh (or just shake your head), this book would be a big seller. You could have Rex talking about not wanting to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings or Rob discussing how Calvin Johnson would be the Cowboys No. 3 receiver behind Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. See what I mean? It’d be high hilarity.
5. Bryant McKinnie in the Blind Side, part II: Since McKinnie was the one to replace Michael Oher as the Ravens left tackle, McKinnie should have his own Michael Lewis-penned biography. I’m pretty sure McKinnie didn’t live in foster homes and on the streets before he was adopted, like Oher, but McKinnie has had struggles with his weight and he did (allegedly) spend $100,000 on a bar tab this offseason. It’s not as heartwarming as the Oher book, but a tome about McKinnie would be pretty fun.
4. The early struggles of black players: You know all about Jackie Robinson in major league baseball, but if I asked you who the broke the color barrier in the NFL, you probably wouldn’t have any idea. Hell, I read a long article about the NFL’s integration the other day, and I couldn’t tell you the guy’s name*. But this is an important -- and somewhat complicated -- history. Black players participated in pro football at the turn of the 20th century, and they also were part of teams in various professional leagues until the NFL stopped signing them in the early 1930s. It would be an interesting look at an era that, just like much of society, was decidedly unfair for anybody who wasn’t white.
*After blacks were excluded from the league in 1933, Kenny Washington was the one to break the barrier in 1946, one year before Robinson did it in baseball.
3. A Cam Newton investigation: Don’t we deserve to know who Newton’s bag man is or if there was a bag man at all? Not that it would make any difference in his pro career, but don’t you want to know if Newton’s father really demanded $180,000 from Mississippi State for Newton’s service? Maybe Auburn fans wouldn’t, but I certainly would.
2. NFL Films biography: People underestimate the importance of Ed and Steve Sabol. Proof of that was that it took so long for Ed to earn his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But the NFL -- and the NFL fans -- owe them a huge debt of gratitude, because the way you watch football today might not be possible if NFL Films hadn’t been created on the backs of the Sabol’s in the 1960s. I want to know how it started, the obstacles they faced in the early years and the impact the company has made to this day. It’s a book the Sabol’s deserve to have written.
1. An investigation into the rise of CTE: There have been a few journalists (the Newark Star Ledger’s Jerry Izenberg and the New York Times’ Alan Schwarz are two who come to mind) who do fine work keeping watch on the NFL’s relationship and response to the rise of head injuries that continue to devastate retired players and keep us reminded about what a brutal game football is to those who play it for your enjoyment. But from the premature death of Steelers legend Mike Webster to the shock of what Chris Henry’s brain looked like during his autopsy, from the suicide of Dave Duerson to the continued work of those who track of the rise of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, this is a book that needs to be written. And the sooner, the better.
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Tags: Austni Miles, Bill Belichick, Bryant McKinnie, Calvin Johnson, Cam Newton, Chris Henry, Dave Duerson, DeMaurice Smith, Dez Bryant, Ed Sabol, Jeff Pearlman, Jerry Jones, Josh Katzowitz, Kenny Washington, Michael Oher, Mike Webster, Paul Brown, Rex Ryan, Rob Ryan, Roger Goodell, Sid Gillman, Steve Sabol, Tom Brady, Top Ten, Vince Lombardi, Walter Payton
Posted on: October 3, 2011 12:43 am
Edited on: October 3, 2011 1:36 pm
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 4 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.
1. The bandwagon rolls on
On Sunday, the mojo disappeared for the Lions and they fell 24 points behind the Cowboys in Dallas, until Tony Romo decided to drag Detroit back from a lockjob of a defeat with a pair of pick-sixes that sparked a rally in which Matthew Stafford hit Calvin Johnson for two touchdowns and the Lions stunned Dallas 34-30 at Jerry Jones' palatial estate.
There are two ways to look at this. One, Romo is a choker again (more on that in a second) and Dallas stinks. Or, two, the Lions are very much for real. I'm inclined to believe the second narrative. So is Cowboys fan LeBron James.
I'm including this mainly because I find it absolutely hysterical that Ohio native James is a Cowboys fan. I'm sure it has nothing to do with bandwagons. But I'm also including it because James is right -- the Lions do "got swag right now."
This was mentioned after Week 2, when the Lions slammed a beatdown on the Chiefs, and it makes sense to mention now.
That's primarily because the Lions are 4-0 for the first time since 1980 and became the fourth team to start a season 4-0 a year after starting the season 0-4 since 1990. (The impressive nature of that turnaround aside, what a statement on the NFL's parity, huh?)
Take it back even further, and count preseason games and the Lions are on a 12-game winning streak, and once, again, appear to develop some of this attitude from their head coach.
"I'm glad the third best wide receiver on the Cowboys is on our team," Jim Schwartz said after the game.
Naturally you'll recall that Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had some comments about the skills of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin versus Calvin Johnson before the game.
Schwartz' comments are a straight burn, of course, but it warrants mentioning that Dez did look otherworldly earlier in the game. But Megatron did some dirty things on his two touchdowns to the Dallas defensive backs. On the first catch, he went up in triple coverage and grabbed a ball that probably never should have been a score.
And on the second -- and most important -- score, Johnson scored when he was isolated in single coverage against Terrence Newman. Based on Ryan's theory, Newman's practice against Bryant and Austin should have prepared him for a one-on-one matchup at the goalline.
Unfortunately, Megatron's the biggest freak of nature in the NFL, arguably the best wideout in the league and slicing up some well-deserved humble pie for Ryan after the Lebowski look-a-like tried to put him in man coverage.
2. Hands on Necks
Obviously the Cowboys loss is going to be classified as a chokejob. And it should -- there's no way to classify it as anything other than that, especially when Romo packaged a pair of touchdowns and mailed it the Lions way.
"The games turn, obviously, on turnovers," Romo said. "It's the most important stat in the game. That's why you protect the ball. That's my No. 1 job and I didn't do a well enough job of that today."
The weird thing about the loss is that Dallas is now 2-0 in games where they were "gritty and tough and found a way to win" and 0-2 in games where "Romo peed his pants and threw terrible picks." Or something like that.
The point is that, yes, the Cowboys choked, but it wasn't even the worst choke on Sunday. And perhaps only the third worst -- Dallas was at least playing a very dangerous team in the Lions and even if the game was at home, we've seen Detroit do this before.
There's no real excuse for Buffalo, who was leading 21-3 against the Bengals on Sunday, to lose on a last-second field goal by Mike Nugent. Sure, it was in Cincy and, sure, it was the Bills and we should have seen something coming after buying in so heavily. But losing like that to a Bengals team with a rookie quarterback is just bad news Bears.
And yet it wasn't even the most embarrassing choke of the day. The Eagles deserve some, um, credit for their inability to hold off the 49ers in a home game where they led 23-3 as late as midway through the third quarter.
The Bills and Cowboys can at least hang their respective hats on records that aren't below .500. The Eagles have no such excuse and it's becoming increasingly clear why "offseason winners" isn't always such a nice thing to say about teams in the NFL.
3. Super Bowl champs remain under the radar
Thus far, the Packers have beaten the Saints, the Panthers, the Bears and the Broncos. It's not exactly a murderer's row of great NFL teams, but it's not the four-worst teams in the league either.
And they've looked outstanding on offense, compiling a league-high 148 points en route to a 4-0 record, and giving plenty of folks justification for selecting the Packers to repeat as Super Bowl champions in 2011.
Yet ... no one wants to talk about the success they've had this year.
This is partially because of the other storylines that are permeating the NFL this season, and partially because after last season's late run, we've come to expect this out of Aaron Rodgers and his outstanding teammates.
"Trust me, we don't have it all figured out as a football team," Mike McCarthy said Sunday. "We're 4-0, but we're very in tune with what we need to improve as a team."
The biggest issue is defense, clearly. While the Packers have arguably improved their running game from last year (James Starks looks like a legit back for their system, especially when it comes to melting the clock with a lead), the defense isn't the championship-winning caliber that showed up in the playoffs last year.
Both Kyle Orton and Cam Newton posted big numbers against Green Bay, and though there were some fantastic moments from the defenses in those games, it's difficult to justify any claim that the Packers defense is better this year than it was last year.
Having said all that, this team did a pretty good job of gelling at the right time last year, and they're off to a much better start in 2011. We should all take notice.
4. Hope you sick people are happy now
2011 has been a tough go for anyone who supports Arian Foster, whether it be Texans fans, fantasy owners or just, you now, nice people who care about other humans.
Fortunately, those people got some good karmic returns for their Foster love on Sunday, as he and the Texans took some punches from the Steelers and punched right back, eventually beating Pittsburgh 17-10 on Sunday afternoon. As my man Mike Freeman points out, everything about the win at Reliant Stadium on Sunday goes against the typical stereotype of Texans football.
More on that in a second, but first, Foster. When Gary Kubiak said he was going to bring Foster back against the Steelers, I thought he was insane. After all, the Steelers are (well, were) a top-10 rushing defense.
But Foster looked fantastic. He broke long runs, he showed tremendous burst through holes, when he got around the corner he was able to cut back upfield and pick up big yards and in general he looked like the 2010 version of himself.
"I go into every contest thinking that I'm the go-to guy," Foster said. "When the flow of the game starts going, we need certain things, and you've got to be there for your team."
Hamstrings are tricky, of course, and there's no guarantee that Foster's going to roll to another rushing title or anything. Plus, the Texans offense sputtered a bit (OK, a lot) after Andre Johnson left with a hamstring injury that really looked like a knee injury in the second quarter and that could be problematic going forward.
But at least for now, there's reason to think that the Texans offense can hop back up on Foster's back and ride him to a division title.
5. Sunday night monstrosity
The Ravens opened up on fire to begin the Sunday night game against the Jets, jumping out to a 27-7 lead before eventually winning handily. But, um, well, you see ... that was ugly.
Real ugly -- Joe Flacco limped his way to a 10 for 31 performance that generated 163 passing yards and an interception.
It would have been the ugliest performance on the field, but Mark Sanchez took full advantage of Nick Mangold's absence, and fumbled four times, three of which were lost, two of which were taken to the house by Ravens defenders and also threw a pick-six.
Things got so bad that, at one point, Rex Ryan called a timeout just to scream at the officials. It actually seemed to work, or it at least confused the Ravens and Cam Cameron, who took a 20-point lead with just a few minutes remaining in the second quarter and desperately tried to let the Jets back in the game.
That didn't matter, but it didn't make the performance of Sanchez, Flacco and their respective teams any worse or weirder. There were five defensive and special teams touchdowns in total during the game, most in NFL history and Sanchez' final pass (he finished 11 of 35, ugh) went off the heel of a defender.
What perplexes me isn't the Jets struggling, because, frankly, they were kind of due to regress a bit. I'm sure they'll start getting better, and they might start stopping the run (although I'm sure Cameron won't figure that out!) and running the ball better. They almost always do, just in time to claw their way into the playoffs.
The bigger concern is how the Ravens came out in Week 4, continuing the metronome-like performance for Flacco through a few weeks. At times (against the Steelers and the Rams) he's looked like an elite-level quarterback. And at others (Sunday and against the Titans), he's looked absolutely lost.
If he wants to truly "make the jump," he's going to need to find some consistency.
6. Goin' out east
There was no shortage of different predictions for the team that would win the NFC West. Well, except for the Seahawks. No one predicted that. The typical favorites were the Rams and Cardinals, mainly because of their quarterback play.
The 49ers should have gotten more love, but Alex Smith held them back, and Jim Harbaugh, in his first stop as an NFL head coach, is showing exactly why. His team managed to storm back against the Eagles on Sunday and move into first place in their division, with a firm command of the typically crappy NFC West.
San Francisco's 3-1, the Rams are 0-4 and the Seahawks and Cardinals are 1-3.
None of the teams out there have, unsurprisingly, looked very good. And the 49ers are the only squad with a positive point differential, which should tell you just how bad this division is. Again. But maybe Harbaugh is the difference -- look no further than his decision to house his team in Ohio for half a week in between their Week 3 game against the Bengals and Sunday's win in Philadelphia.
"Thanks Youngstown, you've been good to us," Harbaugh said in deference to Ohio. "That's as good a win as I can ever remember being a part of. I'm really proud of our players. They never flinched in a tough environment here, and there was no moment or circumstance that made them nervous in this ballgame. We kept fighting, made adjustments -- a great team victory for us."
Frank Gore gashed the Eagles for 127 yards, and Alex Smith played pretty inspired football, going 13 of 17 for 201 yards and two touchdowns in just the second half.
It's a surprising turnaround for a surprising team that stunk the joint out last year. Given the dearth of talent for Seattle, Arizona's inability to close out, and St. Louis' rough schedule ahead, Harbaugh might have this team -- surprisingly -- poised to take over their division.
7. Remember the Titans
Unless Tennessee has something to say about that anyway -- Mike Munchak picked up his third-career win on Sunday afternoon as the Titans vaulted themselves into a first-place tie with Houston in the AFC South
On The NFL Today, Charley Casserly mentioned that Matt Hasselbeck was drawn to Tennessee because of two things: Munchak's commitment to protecting the quarterback with strong line play, and Munchak's commitment to protecting the quarterback's ability to throw deep by leaving in more blockers.
This has paid tremendous dividends for Hasselbeck, who's eighth in the NFL in passing yards, sixth in passing touchdowns, third in yards per pass and first in pass plays of 40-plus yards.
"We thought he had a lot left in the tank from watching him in the playoffs last year," Munchak said. "We didn't bring him here to retire quietly. We brought him here to do exactly what he's been doing."
And he's casually doing all of this while playing for a team that doesn't have a viable No. 1 wide receiver because of Kenny Britt's season-ending injury last week.
Chris Johnson finally managed to get going a little bit in the Week 4 win over Cleveland, and provided the Hasselbeck can stay healthy (which is somewhat of a stretch, but possible), the Titans might be the surprise playoff team that no one's talking about.
8. Pay the man!
Just like 2010, Mike Martz refused to run the ball until the Bears met up with the Panthers early in the season. And just like 2010, Martz got enough criticism for his playcalling that he ran the ball a ton against Carolina. And just like 2010, Matt Forte went HAM.
Last year it was 166 rushing yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns. This year it was a career-high 205 rushing yards on 25 carries and a touchdown in the Bears 34-29 win.
This is interesting for a couple of reasons. One, the Bears are 9-0 when Forte rushes for 100 yards or more. Yet ... they don't like to run. Two, the Panthers defense is absolutely terrible. I could put up a hundo on them, and it shouldn't be too huge of a shock to see him go key largo against Carolina's beat-up defense.
That being said ... three, Forte wants a new contract, has wanted a new contract but can't get the Bears to even talk to him about getting more money.
The result, predictably, is a running back who appears to be playing with a great deal of intensity and a desire to be highly productive. Of course, for all of Forte's success against the Panthers, there wasn't that much to love about the way Chicago played. Just don't tell Lovie Smith that.
"We’re not apologizing at all about this win," Smith said. "We feel really good about it."
They shouldn't, even if this year suddenly looks like last year in terms of figuring out to run the ball and not get Jay Cutler killed. Cam Newton did a lot of damage to the Bears defense, though he made some rookie mistakes, and the Panthers were able to run pretty easily on Chicago.
Anyone can score on the Panthers, and do it at will, given the lack of depth they have on the defensive side of the ball right now. That being said, it sure does seem like the Bears might have saved themselves some money if they'd gotten Forte some cash before the season rather than waiting.
As my college football colleague Tom Fornelli likes to say, "Pay the man, Chicago."
9. Review Controversy
Could the NFL's current replay system be any less controversial? As you likely know, all scoring plays are reviewed by a booth official. That sounds simple, but it's not at all -- we've already had plenty of problems with plays that seemed like obvious needs for reviews that weren't scrutinized further by the officials.
Sunday, we saw two more examples. First, there an issue in the Chiefs and Vikings game.
With 5:01 remaining, Michael Jenkins caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb. It appeared, pretty clearly, that he only got one foot inbounds. Fox didn't show any replays of the catch, and the officials at the game never reviewed it. Ultimately, it didn't matter, because the Vikings lost.
But it could have mattered and there wasn't anything Todd Haley or the Chiefs could do to get the play looked at. If Haley had thrown a challenge flag, he'd have been flagged for a delay of game penalty.
Another less controversial instance occurred during the Packers-Broncos game when Aaron Rodgers rushed for his second touchdown of the day on a third down. Rodgers was ruled down at the one-yard line, though replays showed he broke the plane of the goal line.
Mike McCarthy challenged and the Packers were given a touchdown that locked in their win against Denver. Here's the problem: "a scoring play" is only defined as a play in which the officials subjectively rule that a touchdown has happened. If that subjective ruling occurs, then the play is automatically reviewed.
If it doesn't happen, coaches are required to use a challenge.
I realize that the league can't challenge every single play that gets close to the end zone, but it seems to me that these two plays aren't that different. Something was botched by the refs and the booth wasn't available to make sure the right call was locked in. Ironically, in the non touchdown scenario, the coach has more freedom to help out his team with a red flag.
Even if the booth doesn't believe that a call should be looked at by the ref -- and in a close game like that, who's hurt by double-checking? -- there should be an option for a coach to take a stab at having a call overturned as well, if he's really adamant about what happened.
And, of course, there's the whole mess that went down in Arizona with Victor Cruz giving himself up and/or pulling the old stumble-->fumble disaster combo.
That actually seems like it was interpreted correctly, as it relates to the rule book.
"Official shall declare ball dead when a runner declares himself down by falling to ground or kneeling and making no effort to advance," reads Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1(e) of the NFL Rule Book.
In other words, it's a subjective call by the guys who look like zebras. If they believe Cruz gave himself up, then he gave himself up and that's the end of it.
10. Maybe they ARE the NFL's Heat
Whenever something good or bad happens in sports, reporters inevitably ask athletes how they feel. No, I don't know why it happens all the time either, but it rarely produces a good result.
It got a decent reaction out of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on Sunday, though, as he expressed a high level of frustration at the fact that the Eagles just choked away a huge lead against the 49ers -- at home, no less -- that eventually led to a 24-23 loss to San Francisco.
"Do I really have to explain how I feel right now sitting here at 1-3?" Vick asked. "It's frustrating. It's tough. I can't put that in words. I take sole responsibility. Maybe it's a lot of things I can do better. And I gotta figure it out.
"It's frustrating. I'm not going to continue to use that word, but, yeah, it's tough."
That's the thing with the Eagles, though. It's not all Vick's fault.
Is some of it? Sure, of course. But he was 30 of 46 for 416 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. A bigger problem is that he led the team in rushing, with 75 yards on eight carries. When you have a weapon like LeSean McCoy, it seems silly not to utilize him more.
Then again, the lack of a good push from the offensive line causes that too.
And when you can't stop other teams from running the ball, none of it really matters. Frank Gore gashed the Eagles for 127 yards on just 15 carries and Kendall Hunter picked up 38 on nine.
The Eagles might have some really, really talented players at a couple positions, but they're also really, really weak at other positions, and their depth just isn't that impressive at all.
So, come to think of it, maybe they're more like the Miami Heat than any of us could have ever known.
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... What the hell was Ronnie Brown thinking? He's not even a quarterback, so trying to throw the ball while being tackled at the goal line doesn't even work as a random logical excuse.
... Johnathan Joseph had two -- TWO! -- touchdowns nullified by stupid penalties by the Texans. First there was the ridiculous block in the back by Danieal Manning when Joseph took a blocked punt to the house to end the half. And then there was the pick six he grabbed to close out the game that was negated by a J.J. Watt penalty. Welcome to Houston!
... Speaking of picks, Vince Wilfork now has two on the season after his second career INT against the Raiders.
... Just for trolling purposes: Nnamdi Asomugha only has one interception on the year.
... In one of the more insane things ever, Rex Ryan used a first-half timeout on Sunday night just to yell at the officials.
Worth 1,000 Words
Jim Irsay Pop-Culture Referencing Tweet That's Sure to Drive Colts Fans Insane of the Week
"I woke up in a So Ho doorway ... a policeman knew my name."
"Who Are You" is actually a pretty good thing to ask the Colts quarterback, no?
GIF O' THE WEEK
Hot Seat Tracker
We have a new entrant in the usual suspects who are searching for the answer to their franchise woes -- the St. Louis Rams! Heretofore unlisted in this space, the Rams are 0-4 and now squarely in the hunt for Luck, even though they could get to 0-7 and somehow still win their division, based on how easy their schedule is.
What I find fascinating about this is that the Rams and Vikings, my two current faves for Luck, both drafted a "franchise quarterback" in the past two years. Would the Rams consider acquiring Luck if they got the No. 1 overall pick again? Or is Sam Bradford just that much better? Would both they and the Vikings just absolutely trade the pick to whoever was desperate enough for Luck? Because I'm not so sure.
Vikings (2:1) -- Can't imagine they actually feel like Christian Ponder's better than Luck. Right?
Dolphins (2:1) -- As AJB points out below, Miami definitely deserves inclusion here. My bust. Was too worried about Sparano's job.
Rams (3:1) -- So spicy if they get it.
Colts (3:1) -- They'd be the favorites if/when they lose to Tampa on Monday.
Broncos (4:1) -- Stanford, everyone!
Panthers (5:1) -- Fairly confident that the Panthers would acquire some assets for that pick.
Eagles (10:1) -- Andy Reid does love quarterbacks ...
Stafford, my leader up to this point, did some nice things Sunday. But after Rodgers did the dirty things -- six touchdowns! -- that he did to Denver and helped propel the Packers to 4-0, it's hard not to sit up and take notice and admit that right now he's the best quarterback in the NFL.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Arian Foster, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Calvin Johnson, Carolina Panthers, Charles Woodson, Chicago Bears, Chicago Bears, Chris Johnson, Cincinnati Bengals, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Dez Bryant, Gary Kubiak, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville Jaguars, James Starks, Jay Cutler, Jim Harbaugh, Jim Irsay, Jim Schwartz, Joe Flacco, Johnathan Joseph, Juan Castillo, Kansas City Chiefs, Leslie Frazier, Lovie Smith, Marion Barber, Mark Sanchez, Matt Forte, Matt Hasselbeck, Matthew Stafford, Miami Dolphins, Michael Jenkins, Michael Vick, Mike Martz, Miles Austin, Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, Nnamdi Asomugha, Philadelphia Eagles, Philadelphia Eagles, Rex Ryan, Rob Ryan, Ronnie Brown, San Francisco 49ers, Sorting the Sunday Pile, SSP, Tennessee Titans, Todd Haley, Tony Romo, Tony Sparano, Vince Wilfork, Will Brinson
Posted on: October 1, 2011 2:30 pm
Posted by Josh Katzowitz
Rex Ryan, we all know, is a great trash-talker, but usually, whatever he says has some degree of possibility, some basis in reality. If he says the Jets will win the Super Bowl, you shrug your shoulders and say, “OK, that’s not too outlandish, I suppose.” If he says he’s looking to kick Bill Belichick’s ass, you say, “Well, he’s done it before; maybe he could do it again.”
His brother, Rob Ryan, might be a different story. Since he took over the defensive coordinator position in Dallas, Rob Ryan has become a little more loquacious (well, that’s not necessarily true, but as compared to Cleveland, where he was the defensive coordinator before, more people are listening to him these days).
But when he says the following, it almost defies belief.
When talking about Lions receiver Calvin Johnson -- who will face the Cowboys on Sunday -- Ryan gave the standard remarks about how Johnson is a great receiver. But then he said this:
"We work against better receivers with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant,” Ryan said via the Dallas Morning News. “They are probably two of the premier receivers in football, but this guy is right there. He's almost that good. He's excellent."
OK, so let me get this straight. Calvin Johnson -- who leads the league with six touchdown catches -- is almost as good as Miles Austin and Dez Bryant? Seriously?
According to Ryan, yes, he is being serious.
“I know he's on some touchdown thing like that, whatever,” he said. “[Lions offensive coordinator] Scott Linehan has done this before with great receivers with Randy Moss. If the guy is as good as Randy Moss I'm going to go in there and hide. Thank God he's not, but he's a pretty [expletive] good player."
Man, I’m not sure even Austin and Bryant would say they’re better players than Johnson. Texans receiver Andre Johnson wouldn’t.
"I’m not the best," he said recently. "… There’s a lot of great guys out there, man. I’m a fan of the game. You look at … I’m a big fan of Calvin. Calvin Johnson. Right now, I would probably say he is the best."
I guess we’ll have to wait until this Sunday to see if Megatron compares favorably to Austin and Bryant. I have a feeling he just might.
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Posted on: September 28, 2011 2:52 pm
Edited on: September 29, 2011 2:30 pm
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit
For the first time seemingly since their Portsmouth days, the Detroit Lions will enter a nationally-followed non-Thanksgiving game with high expectations to live up to. They’re taking their 3-0 record to Dallas to face Tony Romo’s Ribs and a Cowboy defense that is getting more potent by the week in Rob Ryan’s scheme.
You’ll hear plenty this week about how the Lions can bring some much needed joy to the struggling Motor City, and about how they have crawled out of a miserable past decade, and about the wonders of NFL parity and turnaround stories.
These human interest stories are nice, but they’re only relevant because of what the Lions do on the field. Here’s a look at that.
1. Open formations
The Lions have lined up in shotgun 67 percent of the time this season, mostly in a 2 x 1 single-back set (two receivers to one side, one to the other). Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan has taken this approach because it plays to the strength of his two young backfield stars: Matthew Stafford and Jahvid Best.
The semi-spread formations clarify the reads for Stafford and propagate a lot of quick-strike throws (which he has the arm strength and compact release to execute). Because defenses are compelled to roll coverage to Calvin Johnson (by far the most athletically gifted wideout in the NFL), Stafford has opportunities to exploit the seams.
This is a big reason why Detroit drafted Titus Young in the second round. Young is an unrefined route runner at this point, but route running precision is not the end-all, be-all when you’re attacking zone coverages from the slot.
Also helping spread the field is the way Detroit crafts sideline routes for Johnson. When a receiver runs a downfield pattern outside the numbers, safety help over the top often becomes irrelevant due to the nature of the limited spacing. Thus, you get a one-on-one matchup by default. Johnson has never been great at beating double teams.
That’s partly why the Lions specifically send him on isolation patterns outside. They’ll do this at least five or six times Sunday because the Cowboys, like most teams, don’t have a corner who can handle Megatron alone.
Detroit’s running game also benefits from the three-receiver shotgun sets. The very nature of the formation creates extra spacing, which is what a finesse runner like Jahvid Best needs. It also aids Detroit’s blocking. Receiving tight end Tony Scheffler often aligns in the slot as the third receiver. Scheffler has never been a great run-blocker, but as a slot receiver he doesn’t have to rely on strength and technique as much.
When it’s a wideout in the slot, it means the Lions get to run against a nickel defense, something they’ve done with alacrity thus far. Best’s rushing numbers aren’t great, but the Lions’ run game overall is not the weakness it was a season ago.
2. Receiving X factors
Detroit’s second and third best receiving weapons are not wideouts. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew caught 11 balls for 116 yards against Minnesota. He’s a plodding runner with softer hands and more effective agility than you’d guess. Stafford loves when Pettigrew is matched up on a linebacker. It will be interesting if that’s still the case after he watches outstanding Cowboys inside linebacker Sean Lee on film this week.
Pettigrew ranks third on the team in receiving. Ranking second is Best, who has 15 catches for 182 yards. Best, who has great elusiveness and acceleration, hurts opponents as a true receiver out of the slot, and he kills them as a screen receiver out of the backfield. One of the unheralded reasons Best thrives on screens is Calvin Johnson is a superb downfield blocker.
3. The much-ballyhooed defensive line
The Lions front four is as good as advertised. And it may only get better this week if Nick Fairley debuts as a pass-rushing defensive tackle (the first-round rookie has been out since undergoing foot surgery in August). Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch plays with great leverage and tenacity. Opposite him, Cliff Avril is a vastly underrated athlete who has recently gotten faster and stronger. Inside, underrated Corey Williams can play both a one-and two-gap style.
Of course, Ndamukong Suh is the driving force of Detroit’s front four. Suh’s greatest asset is his ability to quickly exert power off of movement. Elite defensive tackles like Vince Wilfork, B.J. Raji or Haloti Ngata often overpower opponents with their sheer size and force.
But those guys all weigh 330-plus and are wide enough to play the nose. Suh, at 307 pounds, is a beast, but he doesn’t quite have that exceptional raw power to dominate every down in a phone booth. However, he compensates by having the initial quickness and agility of a Pro Bowl caliber defensive end (that’s end, not tackle).
Suh is off to an incredible start this season because he’s now learned to consistently use that quickness to create favorable positioning immediately off the snap. Moves that take most players two seconds to execute, he executes in less than one. Thus, he’s always facing blockers who are caught just a little bit off-guard. That’s all Suh needs to take their manhood.
For the most part this season, the Lions have relied on straight four-man pass-rushes. But last season, against upper-tier offensive lines, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham would have a few of his linemen roam around before the snap in order to create confusion. Given Dallas’ inexperience, it would not be surprising to see Cunningham move Suh around on Sunday.
But Cunningham won’t dig too far into that bag of tricks if he doesn’t think it’s absolutely necessary. He knows there are also plenty of ways to create matchup problems with his traditional fronts. For one example, see the illustration below:
From this alignment, Suh creates a mismatch either for himself or the defensive end next to him – it depends on how the Cowboys choose to block it.
In this formation, the Cowboys have three players to block two. But personnel is still a problem. By splitting the defensive end out wide (in what’s called a nine-technique) and putting Suh in the B-gap (between the offensive guard and tackle) the Cowboys have three options here, all of which put them in an unfavorable position.
Option A: They double-team Suh with guard Kyle Kosier and tackle Tyron Smith, which leaves their tight end (either Jason Witten or Martellus Bennett) overmatched one-on-one against Cliff Avril.
Option B: They let OT Smith block Avril, which leaves a terrifying one-on-one matchup for G Kosier against Suh.
Option C: They send the tight end on a passing route, but it will have to be a short one because they’re still dealing with a one-on-one matchup between G Kosier and Suh.
Option D: The Cowboys slide protection to the right side, which is unlikely because it makes life too easy for Detroit’s other two defensive linemen and could also compromise the left side of the field for passing route options.
4. Lions pass defense
The secondary has been the Lions’ Achilles heel the past two years. But this season, the Lions are allowing only 188 yards per game through the air, fourth best in the NFL. That could just be a function of weak opponents, though. In Week 1, the Lions faced a Bucs receiving group that lacks speed. In Week 2, the Lions faced a Chiefs offense that was without dynamic tight end Tony Moeaki and thin behind the seemingly detached Dwayne Bowe.
In Week 3, the Lions faced a Vikings team that humorously believes Michael Jenkins and Bernard Berrian form an adequate one-two punch outside. A true test for the Lions secondary may have to wait another week, as the Cowboys without Miles Austin have a fairly feeble receiving corps.
Quality of opponent aside, give this secondary credit for its improvements. The Lions play a lot of Cover 2, but their corners have performed well in man coverage on third downs. Plus safety Louis Delmas has sharpened his ball-man prowess against tight ends.
5. What to expect
The Lions have not seen a defense as conceptually difficult as Dallas’. Against the Bucs and Vikings, Stafford had to only read zone coverages behind basic four-man pass-rushes. This Sunday, he and his offensive line will have to decipher more blitzes and sub-package personnel.
They have an ultimate resource in Calvin Johnson, though. The Cowboys simply can’t cover him.
If the Lions can exploit that mismatch early and play from ahead, they’ll make the Cowboys offense one-dimensional and vulnerable in long-yardage situations. That should be enough to get to 4-0.
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.
Tags: Andy Benoit, B.J. Raji, Bernard Berrian, Brandon Pettigrew, Calvin Johnson, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Cowboys vs. Lions, Cowboys vs. Lions Preview, Dallas Cowboys, Detroit Lions, Dez Bryant, Film Room, Gunther Cunningham, Haloti Ngata, Jahvid Best, Jason Witten, Jim Schwartz, Kyle Kosier, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Martellus Bennett, Matthew Stafford, Michael Jenkins, Miles Austin, Nate Burleson, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, Sean Lee, Tony Moeaki, Tony Romo, Tony Scheffler, Tyron Smith, Vince Wilfork
Posted on: September 27, 2011 10:37 am
Posted by Josh Katzowitz
For a guy who made such a big proclamation about going after Tony Romo’s ribcage and Felix Jones’ shoulder, for a guy who can talk such a big game, Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall didn’t make much of an impact in the Redskins 18-16 loss to the Cowboys on Monday night.
He had six tackles, tied for second-most on the team, but the biggest play of the night featuring Hall was when Romo scrambled on a third-and-21 in the fourth quarter and found Dez Bryant open for the first down. Guess who covered Bryant on that play? Hall. Guess the other mistake Hall made on that play? Yep, he tackled Bryant, in part, by grabbing his facemask to earn a 15-yard penalty.
Now, should Hall be blamed totally on the play that extended the Cowboys game-winning drive? No, because it’s nearly impossible to blanket a receiver in coverage for that long during the course of a play. But for Hall, who made such a big announcement before the game and then did next to nothing in it, he looked rather foolish.
Yet, that didn’t stop him for blasting the referees and the Redskins gameplan in the locker room afterward, especially on that game-losing series when defensive coordinator Jim Haslett continued to dial up all-out blitzes, leaving his corners in single coverage.
CBS Washington has the audio of Hall’s comments, and it’s clear Hall feels outraged by the game’s result. And by the play-call that preceded his burning.
“Sooner or later, somebody is going to f------ figure it out,” Hall said. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to f------ figure it out.”
For the record, Shanahan defended the play-call, saying, "We had a chance to have a sack there. (Romo) did a good job scrambling and made a play. It happens. That's the nature of the game. It didn't work."
Hall also had some words of wisdom for the official who penalized him for the facemask call that added 15 yards onto the end of Bryant’s 30-yard reception.
“It was a f------ terrible call,” Hall said. “I told the ref that he was going to f------ lose his job. I told him that might be the worst call of the game. He’s going to get some demerit points for that call. That wasn’t no facemask, man.”
Except that replays (and in the photo above) showed Hall clearly grabbed, even if for just a split-second, Bryant’s facemask in the process of bringing him down to the turf.
But the facemask hardly matters in the scope of Hall’s performance. Hall made some big plans before the game, and he failed to deliver. Not just in hurting Romo and Jones and/or knocking them out of the game.
But in failing to make a positive impact whatsoever.
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Posted on: September 24, 2011 4:26 pm
Edited on: September 24, 2011 6:36 pm
Posted by Ryan Wilson
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, who was limited in practice Saturday, has been listed as questionable on the injury report two days before Dallas hosts Washington on Monday night. In general, "questionable" means there's a 50 percent chance a player participates in the game, although it appears like Romo's chances of taking the field against the Redskins are much higher than that.
Whatever the exact probabilities, it's welcome news given that he suffered a punctured lung six days ago against the 49ers. That has since healed, although Romo still has a broken rib which will necessitate him wearing a protective vest against the Redskins.
Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who suffered a quadriceps injury in the Week 1 loss to the Jets and missed last week's 49ers game, is listed as questionable, too. Bryant was limited in practice Saturday but, like Romo, it looks like he'll play Monday, even if he's not completely healthy.
Romo's other go-to wide receiver, Miles Austin, has been ruled out after suffering a hamstring injury during overtime of the San Francisco game. (Other Cowboys ruled out: guard Derrick Dockery, cornerback Orlando Scandrick.)
Running back Felix Jones (separated shoulder) is also questionable, but like Romo and Bryant, also expected to play.
In other injury-related news: cornerback Terence Newman (groin) is listed as probable and should see his first action of the 2011 season. Other Cowboys with a 75 percent chance to play: cornerback Mike Jenkins (shoulder), linebacker Anthony Spencer (shoulder), center Phil Costa (knee) and guard Bill Nagy (neck).
For completeness, the Redskins injury report:
Questionable: S LaRon Landry, FB Mike Sellers, S DeJon Gomes and FB Darrel Young. All were limited in practice.
Probable: CB Josh Wlson, KR/PR Brandon Banks, TE Chris Cooley, LB Keyaron Fox, CB DeAngelo Hall, CB Josh Wilson and TE Logan Paulsen. All participated in the full practice.
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Posted on: September 21, 2011 2:56 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2011 3:31 pm
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit
One of the most storied rivalries in pro football is renewed Monday night when the Cowboys welcome the Redskins to Big D for their home opener. Mike Shanahan’s team is a surprising 2-0. The Cowboys, after two close games, are 1-1, ensuring their performance on Monday’s national stage will spark an overreaction from Football America (at 2-1, people will ask if the Cowboys are legit Super Bowl contenders; at 1-2 they’ll ask if Jason Garrett is right for the job).
1. Perpetually Maligned Quarterbacks
Are any other two quarterbacks, fair or unfair, viewed as blunder-prone as Tony Romo and Rex Grossman? If Grossman were a star, he’d be Romo. If Romo were a bum, he’d be Grossman. Their performances this season have been overanalyzed in contrasting extremes.
Everyone took part in National Dump on Romo Week (Sept. 12-18) and pilloried the sixth-year starter for being a “choke artist”. While Romo has made his share of mistakes in crunch time, in reality, prior to the interception he gifted Darrelle Revis in Week 1, the only late-game mistake that 90 percent of fans could instantly identify with Romo was his botched field goal hold in the January ’07 playoff loss at Seattle (a play that had nothing to do with his quarterbacking ability).
Reputations rarely form by accident, though. The truth is, Romo is mistake prone.
He’s mistake prone because he has trouble deciphering defenses before the snap, and he tends to take aggressive action on faulty hunches. This is problematic, especially if Dallas has Super Bowl aspirations. That said, at the end of the day, Romo still has respectable playmaking talent. Hence his 345-yard performance with a fractured rib and punctured lung at San Francisco.
Grossman is on the other end of the spectrum. He’s not a naturally talented playmaker. But he can be functional when properly used. His two performances this season have received mostly positive reviews. He threw for 305 yards against the Giants and 291 against the Cardinals. But he was somewhat inaccurate in Week 1 and benefited from several terrific catches by Redskins receivers.
He also struggled in the face of pocket pressure (fortunately he had just one turnover from it, which didn’t prove to be costly). Grossman came back to earth a bit against Arizona and, given his track record and limited role in Washington’s offense (his reads are defined, his audible powers are minimal), he’ll likely level off over the coming months.
2. Washington’s ground game
The Redskins have shown a commitment to running the ball these first two weeks. After posting lackluster numbers against New York, Tim Hightower was sharp versus Arizona, registering 96 yards on 20 attempts. Hightower is a much better fit for Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme than he was in Ken Whisenhunt’s pounding approach.
Reason being, Hightower does not have great burst when coming from a standstill, but he has proven to be an effective momentum runner.
A zone-blocking scheme allows for a one-cut downhill run, but as the illustration below shows, the nature of the sliding blocks allows a runner to take a few extra steps in the backfield, which a runner like Hightower needs in order to build momentum before breaking through the line of scrimmage.
Hightower – as well as his backup, fourth-round rookie Roy Helu, who runs with good tempo and changes direction fairly well – benefitted from stellar offensive line play last week. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and left tackle Trent Williams were particularly impressive landing blocks on the move and taking angles that created natural running lanes.
3. Tight ends significant
Washington’s offense makes great use of the tight end, in large part because a tight end crossing pattern is a natural outlet off the rollouts and bootlegs that Shanahan’s scheme uses frequently.
While Chris Cooley has had a modicum impact coming off a knee injury, fourth-year pro Fred Davis has emerged as a fluid target in an elevated role. Davis makes good adjustments to the ball and has the athleticism to be effective in space.
For the Cowboys, Jason Witten becomes all the more significant with Miles Austin (hamstring) out and Dez Bryant’s (quad) status in question. Witten is the ultimate safety valve. Generally the beneficiary of mismatches created by others outside, he should be able to create a few of his own mismatches inside, as Redskins linebacker London Fletcher tends to struggle covering elite tight ends.
4. The outside ‘backers
DeMarcus Ware has registered more sacks than anyone in pro football over the past five years, and he appears to be even more potent in Rob Ryan’s scheme (Ryan, like Wade Phillips, has aligned Ware primarily on the weak side of the formation, where one-on-one matchups are easier to come by). Opposite Ware, Anthony Spencer (in a contract year) is a stout playside run defender.
But the Cowboys may soon have the second best outside linebacking corps in the NFC East. Brian Orakpo has made two Pro Bowls his first two seasons and has superb strength to compliment his edge speed.
Opposite him, first-round rookie Ryan Kerrigan has flashed monstrous potential through two games. Kerrigan, a high-motored Big Ten player who drew predictable comparisons to Aaron Kampman coming out, has the swiftness to chase plays as a backside run defender and the body control to outmaneuver blockers in the phone booth. He’s a much, much better athlete than many had guessed.
5. Something to keep an eye on ...
The Redskins are a fairly blitz-heavy team, but those blitzes have usually involved safeties. They caught the Cardinals off-guard last week by blitzing their inside linebackers aggressively. Fletcher in particular blitzed with great timing and downhill speed.
His blitzes were done not necessarily in an effort to get sacks, but to make Kevin Kolb move before throwing. Romo is better throwing off movement than Kolb, so perhaps Jim Haslett won’t use this tactic as much in Week 3.
But with the Cowboys having a young offensive line and depleted receiving corps, the reward could be greater than the risk.
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.
Tags: Aaron Kampman, Andy Benoit, Anthony Spencer, Brian Orakpo, Chris Cooley, Dallas Cowboys, Darrelle Revis, DeMarcus Ware, Dez Bryant, Film Room, Fred Davis, Jason Garrett, Jason Witten, Jim Haslett, Ken Wisenhunt, Kevin Kolb, London Fletcher, Mike Shanahan, Miles Austin, New York Jets, Rex Grossman, Rob Ryan, Roy Helu, Ryan Kerrigan, Ryan Torain, Seattle Seahawks, Tim Hightower, Tony Romo, Washington Redskins
Posted on: September 19, 2011 3:01 am
Edited on: September 19, 2011 12:53 pm
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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