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Tag:Jim Harbaugh
Posted on: January 4, 2012 10:23 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 1:47 pm
 

2012 NFL Postseason Awards

Brees and Rodgers could square off three times this year, if you count awards. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

We won't bore you by listing our preseason predictions (you can read those here), but suffice to say, all of mine were correct. Take a peak at the midseason hardware if you want too, but right now we're interested in dishing out the awards for the full season.


Speaking of which, I've already ranted on Drew Brees vs. Aaron Rodgers for the MVP, but I find it fascinating that at midseason, no one even picked Brees for Offensive Player of the Year, much less MVP. I'm not here to knock Brees, I'm just saying the award's for an entire season's worth of work.

Anyway, below are our full season picks. (You can also read Pete's full season picks here and Clark's full season picks here.)

Most are obvious but "BFA" is "Best Free Agent Addition," "WFA" is "Worst Free Agent Addition," and "DOH!" is "Pick I'd Like to Have Back." (Haha, yes I did pick the guy who eventually iced his own kicker to win "Coach of the Year." At least I was driving the Camwagon though.)

Dive in below and leave your gripes and complaints in the comments.

Award Brinson
Wilson
Katzowitz
Prisco
Judge
MVP
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers
OPOY
Drew Brees Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Drew Brees Drew Brees
DPOY
Jared Allen Terrell Suggs Jared Allen Jason Pierre-Paul Jared Allen
OROY
Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton
DROY
Von Miller Aldon Smith Aldon Smith Von Miller Von Miller
COY
Marvin Lewis Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh
ASST
Rob Chudzinski Rob Chudzinski Wade Phillips Wade Phillips Wade Phillips
BFA
Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles
WFA
Sidney Rice Braylon Edwards Santonio Holmes Ray Edwards Ray Edwards
Comeback
Steve Smith D'Qwell Jackson Aaron Maybin Matthew Stafford Matthew Stafford
Most Improved
Matthew Stafford Antonio Brown Victor Cruz Rob Gronkowski Rob Gronkowski
Surprise
Bengals Broncos Broncos Bengals 49ers
Disappoint
Eagles Jets Eagles Eagles Eagles
Executive
Rick Smith Rick Smith Rick Smith Martin Mayhew Mike Brown
DOH!
Garrett for COY Rivers for MVP Rivers for MVP Fins in/Lions out Rams in NFCW

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Posted on: January 3, 2012 12:03 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2012 1:11 pm
 

Jim Harbaugh wants Alex Smith back in 2012

Harbaugh is excited about bringing Smith back for another season. (Getty Images/US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

Jim Harbaugh said it over the summer and now, six months later, his story remains unchanged: he wants quarterback Alex Smith back in San Francisco next year. Smith's first six NFL seasons can kindly be described as tumultuous; a mix of ever-changing schemes and coordinators that resulting in inconsistent play and occasional benchings.

But under Harbaugh, Smith has flourished. The first-overall selection in the 2005 draft has benefitted from a quick-pass offense that relies heavily on the running game and a stingy defense. It worked so well that the 49ers went 13-3, won the NFC West going away, and now have a first-round bye.

On Monday, Harbaugh reiterated that Smith was his guy.

"I've told Alex that," Harbaugh said according to CSNBayArea.com's Matt Maiocco. "I wouldn't tell you (the media) something I wouldn't tell Alex.

"I told Alex, 'Hey, we're going to want you to come back here next year.' He's focused on the season, and that's where his mindset wants to be. And I totally respect that, and we'll talk about it and address it once the season is over. That's the way I understand it right now."

It's funny. Over the summer, Smith's NFL future was up in the air. The 49ers could've decided to move on, find a veteran quarterback to bridge the gap to 2011 second-round pick Colin Kaepernick, and turned the page on the Alex Smith era. Instead, Harbaugh kept Smith around, saved his career, and probably made him a lot of money in the process.

We wrote Monday that while the NFL might be a passing league but it's woefully short on passers. Smith isn't Joe Montana (or even Jeff Garcia) but in the right offense he's efficient and doesn't make mistakes. Based on the 2011 49ers, that can carry a team a long way.

And it's why Harbaugh wants Smith back in San Francisco for 2012. Beyond that, who knows. Which is why Smith might want to get while the getting's good, cash in on a lucrative long-term deal and play elsewhere next season. Then again, he owes Harbaugh for saving his career. Maybe loyalty is more important than money.

Either way, these are good problems to have. Usually this time of year we're talking about who should replace the current coach and/or quarterback. Instead the 49ers are preparing to host a playoff game for the first time since the 2002 season.

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Posted on: December 21, 2011 8:57 pm
 

Jim Harbaugh: Seahawks better on D than Steelers

It may seem like a stretch, but Seattle's defense has played as well if not better than Pittsburgh's. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Jim Harbaugh isn't stingy with the compliments, even if they might seem preposterous. On Tuesday, a day after the 49ers handily defeated the Steelers, he said that not only is Alex Smith the team's quarterback of the future, he considers the former first-overall pick a Pro Bowler this season.

"There's other great players out there in the National Football (Conference)," Harbaugh said. "I believe there's three that go to the Pro Bowl, right? Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Alex Smith -- I think those are the top three, in the NFC in my humble opinion."

Pay no attention to Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan or Eli Manning.

On Wednesday, Harbaugh was back at it, this time flattering the 49ers' next opponent: the Seattle Seahawks.

“We thought the Steelers were good on defense, preparing for them, and we think the Seahawks are even better,” he said according to CBSSports Rapid Reporter John Boyle.

On the surface, it's a ludicrous thing to say; Seattle is 7-7 and long shots to make the playoffs. Not only that, but they were blanked by the Steelers 24-0 in Week 2.

But here's the thing: Seattle may have looked like one of the NFL's worst teams through the first half of the season (they were 2-6 heading into Week 10), but they're 5-1 since November 13 and that includes convincing victories over the Ravens, Eagles and Bears. And while a resurgent Marshawn Lynch and an improved Tarvaris Jackson have something to do with the success, the defense that deserves most of the credit.

The unit's been so good, in fact, that Football Outsiders' advanced metrics ranks them ahead of the Steelers' defense. Through Week 15, Seattle is the NFL's ninth-best defense (ninth vs. the pass, 10th vs. the run), Pittsburgh is 10th (sixth vs. the pass, 13th vs. the run).

The Steelers' D has been more consistent over the course of the season, which makes sense given the Seahawks' slow start. Still, it's a startling revelation; we just assumed Harbaugh was laying it on thick in an effort to butter up the next opponent. Intended or otherwise, it turns out he was onto something. Maybe Pete Carroll really does have a plan

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Posted on: December 21, 2011 9:46 am
Edited on: December 21, 2011 2:20 pm
 

Steelers loss 'changed the mood' of the Ravens

By Will Brinson

Week 15 was an up-and-down experience for the Ravens (and the Harbaugh family0: they rolled into San Diego and got whupped, handing the Steelers a chance at taking over the AFC North. Pittsburgh blew their shot, thanks to a big game out of the 49ers, and now the Ravens are back to controlling their own destiny.

The prospect has them, according to Ravens running back Ray Rice, in a totally different mood.

"It changed the mood of the team today," Rice said about the Steelers loss Monday per the Baltimore Sun. "Coming in here, guys are happy. I'm not saying we're never a happy bunch. We know how to take a loss on the chin [and] we want to get better from that film, but we don't have to look at it as critical as we would have had to, [or] put as much time into San Diego anymore. We know you got to get onto Cleveland, but at the same time, we still control it. We don't have to take our show on the road if we take care of business."

Now, it's pretty obvious that "the mood in Baltimore after a Steelers loss" >>>>> "the mood in Baltimore after a Steelers win." You don't have to be a math major and/or a genius to figure that out.

What concerns me here is the way Rice is framing the Ravens attitude as a team. One, it sounds like they knew they were dead men walking if they needed to go on the road during the playoffs and they were basically expecting the Steelers to win on Monday. It's one thing to be mad about a loss; it's an entirely different thing to dwell on it like that, particularly if you've got another game in just a few days.


And two, are we supposed to buy into the idea that the Ravens don't overlook certain games on their schedule? The obvious answer to the team's problems is that they don't travel well. But Rice's statements really make me think that Baltimore's struggles against inferior opponents (they lost to three 7-7 teams and one 4-10 team this year) might be because they're looking ahead and/or too busy celebrating a previous victory.

Maybe I'm reading too deep into what the running back's saying. Or maybe not -- but there's a good chance we find out Week 17 when they travel to Cincinnati.

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Posted on: December 14, 2011 1:06 pm
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Steelers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


At 10-3, the San Francisco 49ers are fighting for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. With two losses in their last three outings, questions are starting to lurk. Are the Niners indeed a top-tier club with a powerhouse defense and limited-but-fundamentally sound offense? Or are they, like the ’08 Dolphins or 08 Titans, just another middle-tier team that happened to rack up a lot of wins thanks to the good fortunes of turnover differential? (The Niners are currently first in the league at +21).

San Fran’s recent two losses have been to quality 3-4 defenses (Baltimore and Arizona). The Monday night matchup against Pittsburgh could provide the “moment of truth” for Jim Harbaugh’s club.


1. Niners’ protection woes
The Cardinals defense, led by former Steelers assistant Ray Horton, came after Alex Smith & Co. with fervidity and dimension. Horton’s panoply of blitzes brought rushers from all four linebacking spots and, on a few occasions, the secondary. San Francisco’s offensive line, particularly inside with LG Mike Iupati, C Jonathan Goodwin and RG Adam Snyder, floundered in their identification and reaction speed. Two weeks before, those three linemen, along with backup guard Chilo Rachal, were physically manhandled by Haloti Ngata and the tough Ravens front three.

The Niners spend most of their time in base offensive personnel, which has them line up against base defensive personnel. The Steelers are less aggressive than the Cardinals when it comes to blitzing out of base personnel (most of Dick LeBeau’s blitzes come from nickel and dime packages). And, physically, the Steelers defensive front three is not as powerful as the Ravens’.

That said, the trenches mismatch will still be glaring and hard for the Niners to avoid (see items 2 and 3).

2. Niners run game
Jim Harbaugh’s is a run-oriented offense in the purist form. On first and second downs, the 49ers align almost exclusively in 21 or 22 personnel (i.e. two backs and one or two tight ends). The Steelers, at times, even in their base defense with vociferous nose tackle Casey Hampton, have uncharacteristically struggled in run defense this season. But those struggles have come against zone-blocking teams like the Texans, Ravens or Bengals.

The 49ers are a power-blocking team. Their ground game is predicated on size and force, double-teams and interior pulls (Iupati is very mobile; Snyder is often ineffective off movement but can at least physically execute the plays). Power-blocking is not a good formula when facing the Steelers. Their defensive line cannot be consistently driven, and inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior play too fast for slow developing pull blocks to work.

3. Niners pass game
If the Niners do try to stick with their power ground game, they’ll inevitably face a handful of third-and-long situations. That will compel Harbaugh to spread into three-receiver sets. That’s when LeBeau will take advantage of San Francisco’s interior pass protection issues.

One of the hallmark blitzes in LeBeau’s portfolio is the Fire-X, which is when both inside linebackers crisscross and attack the A-gaps. The Steelers execute Fire-X’s better than any team in football. James Farrior is brilliant in timing his blitzes and setting up pass-rushing lanes for teammates. Lawrence Timmons is more explosive than Acetone Peroxide when firing downhill.

What’s more, Troy Polamalu’s versatility becomes more pronounced in passing situations. That’s problematic given how much trouble Adrian Wilson (a poor man’s Polamalu) gave the Niners last week.

Because rushing yards could be tough to come by, it’s very likely that the Niners will throw on early downs out of base personnel (they had success with this formula against the Giants a few weeks ago). To help Alex Smith thrive in these scenarios, Harbaugh has implemented several changes this season – such as using play-action and specific route designs that allow for one-read throws, eliminating sight adjustment routes to ensure that the receivers and quarterback are always on the same page and being very judicious in calling “shot plays” downfield.

But in most games, there are points when a quarterback and his receivers simply have to make things happen. Smith doesn’t have the dynamic tools to consistently do that against a D like Pittsburgh’s. His primary wide receivers don’t have the speed and quickness to regularly separate outside (especially against a star cornerback like Ike Taylor). And, most concerning, his offensive tackles, particularly lackluster second-year pro Anthony Davis, are not formidable enough in pass protection to stave off LaMarr Woodley or even Jason Worilds.

4. Niners defensive line vs. Steelers O-line
The good news for Harbaugh is his defense is capable of posing nearly just as many problems for the Steelers offense. Obviously, Ben Roethlisberger’s health will have a significant impact on this game. You already know the advantages Big Ben gives the Steelers.

Almost as important is the health of center Maurkice Pouncey. Like Roethlisberger, he’s battling a Grade 1 high ankle sprain. Pouncey could not finish the game against Cleveland but says he’ll play Monday night. That’s huge. Without Pouncey, the Steelers would have to slide Doug Legursky from left guard to center, which poses a substantial drop-off in mobility and strength (even if Legursky has been somewhat of an overachiever the last year).

What’s more, Chris Kemoeatu would be forced back into the lineup at left guard. Kemoeatu has been a top ten player at his position the past few years. But for whatever reason, he’s fallen flat on his face this season – mainly in pass protection, where he’s shown poor lateral agility and a proclivity for holding.

Even at full strength, the Steelers offensive line is average and, thus, incapable of completely neutralizing the 49ers front line over four quarters. Left end Justin Smith is as good as they get. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga has blossomed into a plugger who’s mobile enough to make plays anywhere in the box.

Right end Ray McDonald is healthy again and flashing uncommon initial quickness. And on passing downs, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith are lightning fast, supple edge-rushers with versatile short-area explosiveness. It’s highly doubtful the Steeler tackles can contain them one-on-one.

5. San Francisco’s defensive back seven
Even if Patrick Willis’ hamstring keeps him out a third-straight game, the Niners have enough speed and burst with NaVorro Bowman and strong safety Donte Whitner to answer Pittsburgh’s methodical rushing attack. The key will be whether San Francisco can hold up in pass defense. The Niners like to play zone in base D and man in nickel or dime.

Without Willis, San Francisco’s zones become somewhat vulnerable inside (we saw this on Early Doucet’s 60-yard touchdown last week). In man, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver are all capable of hanging with Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace, but not if Roethlisberger is able to extend the play (Brown is simply too good at making late adjustments to his route, Sanders is similar and Wallace obviously has lethal speed if he can get downfield).

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 15 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 13, 2011 8:00 pm
 

Harbaugh: Frank Gore is 'not 100 percent'

By Will Brinson

Sunday, the 49ers suffered a surprising 21-19 loss to Arizona, and thought it doesn't affect San Francisco's standing in the division, there's a good reason for concern, since running back Frank Gore was limited late in the game.

Gore carried the ball just 10 times Sunday, and only twice after a 37-yard touchdown run put the Niners up 19-7 in the third quarter. On Tuesday, Harbaugh admitted, per our 49ers Rapid Reporter Michael Erier, that not all was right with Gore.

"He’s got some things," Harbaugh said on Tuesday after practice. "He’s not 100 percent."

The good news for the 49ers is that they've already locked up a playoff berth, so Gore will have an opportunity to rest over the next three weeks or so.

The bad news is they still want to try and lock down the No. 2 seed, and if Kendall Hunter only produces a 2.5 yards-per-carry average like he did on Sunday against the Cardinals, winning games down the stretch is going to be tough.

Week 14 Recap

Unlike many of the other top-tier teams in the NFL, the 49ers don't depend solely on their quarterback for success. That's a blessing sometimes, but when the health of the running back is an absolute necessity it can be problematic.

And though Harbaugh didn't say what's bothering Gore, a quick glance at his game log makes it pretty obvious when he started dealing with an injury. After getting white hot during the middle of the season, Gore suffered an ankle injury against the Giants and left with zero yards on six carries.

In the four games since, Gore hasn't crossed the 100-yard mark and only crossed into the end zone once. Given his ineffectiveness, the 49ers standing in the playoff race, his injury and how critical he is to the offense, it's somewhat surprising the team didn't start giving him more rest sooner.

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Posted on: November 29, 2011 3:18 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 12

Posted by Will Brinson



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

Week 12 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  Brees  Ravens Peterson  Payton
Judge  Brees  Ravens Peterson Harbaugh
Prisco  Brees  Barwin Peterson   Fox
Brinson  Brees  Suggs  Lechler Harbaugh
Katzowitz  Wells  Barwin  Raiders Harbaugh
Wilson  Wells  Suggs Peterson Kubiak
Week 12's over and the NFL's playoff picture is getting a little more clear. Maybe. Whatever, it's time to hand out awards.

Offensively speaking, there's a great case for either of our nominees this week. Beanie Wells had a dominant performance against the Rams, but, hey, what have you done for me lately? Well, Drew Brees played on Monday and he carved up the Giants.

Defensively, everyone was on board with either Connor Barwin or some form of the Ravens defense -- given that Terrell Suggs was t-sizzling all day long against the 49ers, he gets the nod. (But it was definitely a team effort.)

Patrick Peterson got in the record books this weekend and, I believe, he's now the all-time winningest Eye on Special Teams player in Eye on Special Teams history, with as many awards as he has punt returns over 80 yards this season.

As far as the Eye on Coaching award goes, well, John Harbaugh kicked the mess out of his little brother in front of the entire family on Thanksgiving. That has to count for something right?

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Drew Brees Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Wait. This is a question? Did you people see Drew Brees? The only quarterback right now in the same stratosphere with Aaron Rodgers is Brees and dare I say it...they are playing on the same level. Brees, Brees, Brees, Brees. One more time. BREES!
Drew BreesDrew Brees, QB, Saints
He didn't just dissect the Giants' defense; he shredded it, throwing so accurately and maneuvering so expertly he looked as if he was running a 7-on-7 drill. I feel for Brees. In any other year he'd be the NFL MVP. In any other year, the Saints might be a slam dunk for the Super Bowl. In any other year, he wouldn't have to go to Green Bay to get to the top.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Drew Brees Drew Brees, QB, Saints
I was there to see Brees' performance on Monday night in New Orleans against the Giants, and was it impressive. He threw four touchdown passes and ran in for another. Brees is on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yards.
Drew BreesDrew Brees, QB, Saints
There's really nothing better than a quarterback performing a clinical dissection of a defense, and that's precisely what Brees did on Monday night, becoming the first quarterback to throw for 350 yards, four passing touchdowns and rush for another score in a beatdown of the Giants.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Beanie WellsBeanie Wells, RB, Cardinals
There were some, including myself, who were pretty confident we’d never see a stat line like this (27 carries, 228 yards, one TD) from Wells. But, after the Cardinals used a second-round pick on running back Ryan Williams, Wells seems extra motivated this season. And after hurting his knee in the fourth quarter Sunday, he returned and busted out a 53-yard run.
Beanie Wells Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals
The Cardinals thought so much of Wells, their 2009 first-round pick, that they selected running back Ryan Williams in the second round of the 2011 draft. Williams went down with a season-ending injury in training camp and Wells has finally emerged as a top-flight back. He rushed for 228 yards against the Rams, more than 50 coming after what looked like a serious knee injury.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Terrell SuggsTerrell Suggs, LB, Ravens
Another easy choice given the way Baltimore's defense performed on Thanksgiving night. They sacked San Francisco's Alex Smith nine times and shut down the 49ers' running game. Now, I think the 49ers are extremely overrated, but that was still an impressive performance.
Terrell Suggs Baltimore Ravens, DST
The Ravens sacked San Francisco's Alex Smith nine times, clinching an important victory in their drive to win their division. I might nominate Terrell Suggs for this award because of his three sacks ... except teammate Cory Redding had 2.5 and Haloti Ngata had two. Nope, this one goes to Chuck Pagano and his entire defensive unit.
Prisco Brinson
Connor BarwinConnor Barwin, DE, Texans
Barwin was all over the field for the Texans on Sunday, getting four sacks against the Jaguars last week. With Mario Williams gone, Barwin has emerged as a top pass rusher for the NFL's top-rated defense.
Terrell SuggsTerrell Suggs, LB, Ravens
Alex Smith likely spent Thanksgiving night in full-body heat pack, giving thanks that he actually managed to survive against the Ravens defense, which sacked him nine times on Thursday night. Suggs picked up three of those en route to terrorizing Smith all night in a dominant defensive effort.
Katzowitz Wilson
Connor Barwin Connor Barwin, DE, Texans
This was the kind of production the Texans have salivated about when they drafted the former tight end/University of Cincinnati basketball player in the second round in 2009. Against the Jaguars, Barwin dominated with a franchise-record four sacks and 10 tackles. Barwin now has 6.5 sacks in the past three games.
Terrell Suggs Terrell Suggs, LB, Ravens
I'm not sure if the 49ers' offensive line was tired from the short week or the constant barrage of pressure, but by the second half of their Thanksgiving night game against the Ravens, they had no answer for Baltimore's four-man pass rush and Terrell Suggs in particular. Suggs had three sacks and the Ravens sacked Alex Smith nine times.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Patrick PetersonJohnny Knox, WR, Bears
Peterson is quickly becoming one of the most feared weapons in football. I think he's surpassed DeSean Jackson as a return specialist and is Devin Hester-light. He's immensely talented and I get the feeling we'll be talking about this guy for years.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
OK, it's  time to start asking the same question here that we pose with Devin Hester: Why in the world punt to this guy? I mean, he already beat St. Louis in one game with a return. So the Rams let him do it again. He has four returns for touchdowns, and that's enough for me. Someone, anyone, start kicking the ball away from him.
Prisco Brinson
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
He returned his fourth punt for a touchdown this season last Sunday against the Rams, tying an NFL record. All four have been 80 yards or more. Amazing.

 

Shane LechlerShane Lechler, P, Raiders
Anyone who can keep the ball out of Devin Hester's hands deserves some recognition, and Lechler did just that, limiting the specialist to seven yards on two returns. He also gets credit for kicking the punt of a lifetime, as he boomed a net 60- and gross 80-yard bomb.
Katzowitz Wilson
Sebastian Janikowski Shane Lechler/Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders
These two were the co-MVPs in the Raiders win against the Bears, with Janikowski kicking a franchise-record six field goals and Lechler winning the battle against Devin Hester, including an 80-yard (!) punt. Lechler and Janikowski are the only two players from the last Raiders playoff squad, and these two, if they keep playing like this, will lead Oakland back again.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Peterson is the new Devin Hester: teams are going to have to give serious consideration to just not kicking him the ball. Or, at the very least, the Rams need to have that conversation. Peterson has twiced returned punts for touchdowns against St. Louis, and twice it was the difference in the game. Peterson has taken four punts to the house this season and there's still five games to go.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Sean PaytonSean Payton, HC, Saints
Can't stand Payton. He's a phony, abusive of the local media, and overall a very nasty man but damn he can coach. He picked apart not a great Giants defense but a solid one. Made it look like child's play. It was amazing to watch. You rarely see a team so totally dissected.
John Harbaugh John Harbaugh, HC, Ravens
He beat an opponent that won its four previous games in EST, was a field goal in overtime from being unbeaten, but he beats his younger brother, too. Trust me, this was a huge hurdle for Baltimore, which has one winning opponent (Cincinnati) on its schedule ... and that's the season finale. Winning the division is crucial to the Ravens, and they just took a big step in that direction. Who's got it better than Harbaugh and the Ravens? Noooooobody!
Prisco Brinson
John FoxJohn Fox, HC, Broncos
Say what you want about the read-option, but Fox has created a winning environment with Tim Tebow and that crazy offense. They have turned into a playoff contender, thanks to that big win at San Diego in overtime.
John HarbaughJohn Harbaugh, HC, Ravens
Even though the game was in Baltimore, the matchup didn't look good for the Ravens. But John took Jim out in the backyard and sicked his defense on lil' bro's QB at Thanksgiving. The result? A dominant defensive effort that put the Ravens in the AFC driver's seat.
Katzowitz Wilson
John Harbaugh John Harbaugh, HC, Ravens
He knocked off his brother’s squad on Thanksgiving, and at the same time, he exposed some major flaws in the 49ers roster. John Harbaugh’s teams have been wishy-washy as hell this year, but if the Ravens can beat one of the NFC’s best with relative ease, you have to figure that Baltimore will be a force in AFC playoffs.
Gary Kubiak Gary Kubiak, HC, Texans
The 7-3 Texans were supposed to beat the 3-7 Jaguars, but Houston began the game with backup Matt Leinart, and by the final whistle, third-stringer T.J. Yates was the starter. The Texans are currently the No. 1 team in the AFC but barring some Tim Tebow-inspired magic, this could be the high point of their season.

Posted on: November 24, 2011 11:30 pm
 

Who can compete with Green Bay? Not 49ers

A. Smith was sacked nine times by Baltimore (US Presswire).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

So, what did we learn today from the Thanksgiving games? No. 1, Green Bay is clearly the best team in football (as if we didn’t already know that), and No. 2, at this point, there doesn’t seem to be anybody in the NFC who has the ability to keep the Packers out of the Super Bowl.

Listen, the 49ers, who fell 16-6 to Baltimore, are a great story, and what Jim Harbaugh has done this year for them has been amazing. Quarterback Alex Smith has had one of the biggest career turnarounds this season. Frank Gore is still one of the best running backs in the league, Patrick Willis is one of the best linebackers and Justin Smith is one of the most underrated defensive ends.

But as a challenger to the Packers, San Francisco still has big problems. The 49ers offensive line was porous, allowing nine sacks, and their offense wasn’t in the least bit dynamic. And they’ve still got Smith leading the team. Sure, he’s been solid this year, but he also threw a bad interception in the end zone at the end of the first half that killed a promising drive and then got caught intentionally grounding the ball with 1:28 left to go in the game.

And once the Ravens went up 13-6 on a Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta, the 49ers simply didn’t have the capabilities to make a comeback. Yes, the 49ers had a short week and had to travel from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and that couldn’t have been easy. But if you were looking for that something special out of the San Francisco squad, it was certainly hard to spot.

So, you can count the 49ers out of the NFC title race.

As my colleague Ryan Wilson pointed out earlier today, Ndamukong Suh might have cost the Lions the game against the Packers (and perhaps their season?). At the beginning of the game, Detroit played Green Bay evenly, but the Lions top player lost his cool by trying to stomp (literally!) on his opponent and Detroit showed it's not up to playing an entire game vs. the defending Super Bowl champs.

So, you can count out the Lions.

The Cowboys? They played a Dolphins team at home, and really, they should have won by double-digits. Yes, Miami is vastly improved these past couple weeks, but Dallas is supposedly one of the better teams in the NFC. The Cowboys shouldn’t be struggling with the Dolphins so much that they needed a last-second field goal to win the game.

So, you can count out the Cowboys.

Well, who CAN compete with the Packers? The Saints? Maybe, because they’re probably the second-best team in the conference right now. The Bears? Not with Caleb Hanie running the show? The Giants? Eli Manning is having a wonderful season, but their defense has been hit hard by injuries.

Anybody?

Hell, maybe the 49ers actually could give the Packers a hard time if they were to play. After all, Ray Rice said the 49ers were the best team the Ravens have faced this year "by far." He must have been talking about the defense only.

But for now, we’re not sure if anybody in the NFC actually is good enough to play with the Packers. And now we only have eight weeks left to find out if that kind of team actually exists.

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