Tag:Tony Romo
Posted on: December 13, 2011 6:56 pm
Edited on: December 13, 2011 7:00 pm
 

Jerry Jones says Jason Garrett not on hot seat

By Will Brinson



The 2012 rendition of the Cowboys can't stop collapsing -- Sunday night's loss to the Giants was just the latest in a year filled with second-half and fourth-quarter meltdowns. Despite that, Jerry Jones said Jason Garrett's job isn't in jeopardy.

Week 14 Recap

In fact, Jones wouldn't even talk about Garrett possibly being relieved of his duties when asked about it on his KRLD-FM radio show Tuesday.

“That is not a question worth responding to," Jones said, per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "The answer is no. We are just getting started here."

It's too early to speculate about Garrett's job under current circumstances -- the Cowboys are just a half-game out of first place in the NFC East and a game out of the Wild Card race, with three more games remaining.

But if things get worse and the Cowboys miss the playoffs, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Jones could consider a change, particularly if someone like Jeff Fisher is available and interested in the position.


But it's not too early to wonder what might happen if Dallas continues to lose games in the same fashion they've lost them this year. Fourth-quarter gifts to the Jets, Lions Patriots, Cardinals and Giants all stand out like a handful of sore thumbs and anything less than 2-1 the rest of the way in probably dooms Dallas in 2012.

If that's the case, Jones will be asked about Garrett's job status much more frequently, and if the manner in which the Cowboys fade is particularly disastrous, it's not inconceivable that his answer could change.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, Like Us on Facebook, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: December 7, 2011 10:43 am
Edited on: December 7, 2011 12:05 pm
 

Film Room: Cowboys vs. Giants preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


A hallmark rivalry renews Sunday night with the first of a two-game series between the Cowboys and Giants that will likely decide the NFC East. We’ve recently grown familiar with the Giants as they’ve spent the past few weeks on football’s center stage (Patriots-Eagles-Saints-Packers!).

In examining whether they can break their slump and get back above .500, we take an in-depth look at how they match up with this week’s familiar foe.


1. Stopping DeMarco Murray
New York’s most valuable contributor Sunday night might just be Jason Garrett. The Cowboys’ play-caller unwisely drifted away from Murray in the second half against the Dolphins on Thanksgiving, and he all but abandoned Murray against the Cardinals last week (12 carries, just seven after the first quarter).

Garrett’s pass-first decision at Arizona was likely in response to the aggression of the Cardinals linebackers. They recklessly attacked downhill much of the game, often as part of designed blitzes. Garrett may have felt that passing against an iffy and over-leveraged Cardinals secondary was the best response.

That said, Garrett can’t simply let Murray become an afterthought. The rookie running back has been the stabilizing force of the Cowboys’ offense. In recent weeks, the Cowboys’ front line has played with enough power in the ground game that, with the help of fluid H-back John Phillips, it’s realistic to think they could push the pile against aggressive linebacking. Even if they couldn’t, Garrett could still feature his young back in the passing game. Murray has soft hands and is smart in protection. Screen passes are a great way to punish fast downhill linebackers.
 
Expect the Giants to attack with their second level defenders much in the same way the Cardinals did. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell knows that this might make Garrett one-dimensional in his play-calling. What’s more, the way to contain Murray is to make him go east and west early in the run. He has decent lateral agility and change-of-direction but only if he’s already built momentum.

By shooting the gaps, the Giants will push Murray to the perimeter, where he’s less dangerous. If the Giants continue to operate out of their big nickel package (two linebackers, three safeties), they’ll have enough speed on the field to chase the outside runs.

2. Cowboys passing game
Shooting the gaps against Murray will leave New York more susceptible to play-action passing and one-on-one matchups downfield. That’s a risk the Giants should be willing to take. They have a quasi-shutdown corner in Corey Webster.

They likely believe they can cover Jason Witten with one of their three safeties, or even with athletic linebacker Jacquian Williams. Williams was matched one-on-one against Jimmy Graham and Jermichael Finley the past two weeks. He was defeated in both matchups, but the Giants may be inclined to trust him again this week. Witten is elite, but he’s a prototypical tight end, not an insanely athletic hybrid wideout like Graham or Finley.

The Cowboys’ passing attack is interesting. Early in the season, it flowed through Witten. A few weeks ago, most noticeably on Thanksgiving, it was flowing through Laurent Robinson (a graceful, long-striding, deceptively fast street free agent who has blossomed now that he’s finally stayed healthy). Last week, it flowed through Dez Bryant, even though Bryant was defended by rising star Patrick Peterson. And keep in mind, last season, the passing attack flowed through Miles Austin, who may return this week from his hamstring injury.

In Dallas’ system, the go-to target is often determined by whom Tony Romo feels most comfortable with. Romo’s comfort may be influenced by the rhythm of the game. When things are grinding, Witten’s the guy. When everything flows, it’s Robinson. When it’s a sporadic, sandlot type game, he likes Bryant. The Giants will have studied the Cowboys’ offense all week. Whom they decide to put No. 1 corner Webster on will tell you who THEY think Romo likes most.

3. Tyron Smith
The first-round rookie right tackle from USC has been better than advertised, showing improvement with every start. Smith, the youngest player in the NFL, has uncommonly light feet for 310-pounder. He’s dripping with athleticism, which is evident when he lands blocks off short-area movement in the run game. His technique continues to be a work in progress – he was exploited by wily defenders early in the season and had a tough time against Cameron Wake two games ago – but it’s much better at this point than most expected.

That said, there may not be a worse player to face in a war of fundamentals than Justin Tuck. The seventh-year veteran has had a down season, but he’s still one of the craftiest – if not THE craftiest – ends in football.

If the Giants cared about our viewing entertainment, they’d move Tuck to the defensive right side and let Jason Pierre-Paul, the most dynamic young athlete playing defensive end today, go mano-a-mano against Smith.

4. Rob Ryan’s pass-rush tactics
Rob Ryan’s primary focus is on creating one-on-one situations for DeMarcus Ware. The league’s most prolific sack artist over the last five years almost always aligns on the open side of the offensive formation (i.e. away from the tight end).

To help ensure more one-on-ones for Ware – and to simply generate as much pressure as possible – Ryan walks safeties down into the box (Abe Elam’s physical strength is a plus for this), uses fire-X blitzes with his inside linebackers (where the left linebacker attacks the right A-gap and the right linebacker attacks the left A-gap) and often brings cornerback Orlando Scandrick off the edge from the slot (Scandrick is an excellent blitzer).

Ryan may want to be a bit cautious this week. Eli Manning is superb at identifying blitzes and audibling. Plus, it was on a double A-gap blitz that Ryan got outsmarted by Ken Whisenhunt with a screen pass for LaRod Stephens-Howling on the overtime touchdown last week. Ahmad Bradshaw is very good in the screen game.



5. Defending Cruz
Over the years, the Giants have had a field day going after Orlando Scandrick with slot receiver Steve Smith. Scandrick has drastically improved all-around in his third season. But the Giants also have a more dynamic slot weapon in surprising 1,000-yard receiver Victor Cruz. Cruz has big, ball-plucking hands and sinewy body control that allow him to make late adjustments to the ball. His powerful elusiveness after the catch makes him a threat to score on any play.

If Scandrick is blitzing or outside, the Cowboys are more likely to play a zone or some sort of off-coverage in the slot. The Cardinals had their outside and slot receivers align tight to one another last week, which the Cowboys defended by playing off-coverage inside. That left easy eight-yard completions on the table. Manning will gladly take those if given the opportunity.

The Cowboys may defend the seam with safety help – which could keep Cruz, as well as surprising downfield producer Jake Ballard, in-check. In that case, Scandrick would be an underneath defender, where he’s most comfortable. The cost here is that this safety help would either water down some of the blitz designs or leave one-on-one coverage against Hakeem Nicks outside.

Rob Ryan’s best bet might be to mix and match with disguise, in hopes of setting up a Manning turnover.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 14 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 24, 2011 7:35 pm
Edited on: November 24, 2011 8:28 pm
 

Tony Romo's clutch play propels Cowboys to win

Posted by Will Brinson

Tony Romo started off Thursday's Thanksgiving win over Miami in Dallas acting like it was Christmas, he was Santa Claus and the Dolphins were present-desperate children.

But after throwing two early interceptions, Romo gathered himself and propelled the Cowboys to a 20-19 last-second win over the Dolphins in Cowboys Stadium.

Romo hit Laurent Robinson for two touchdowns and finished the day with a surprisingly efficient 22 of 34 performance for 226 yards and two touchdowns in addition to the picks.

The Cowboys defense deserves some credit too, of course, as they sacked Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore three times and did their best to keep Miami out of the end zone -- a 35-yard catch from Brandon Marshall (as he was getting mugged) were the only points the Dolphins scored that weren't provided by kicker Shayne Graham.

But it can't be understated that Romo -- on the nationally televised CBS game, in Cowboys Stadium, on Thanksgiving, with the NFC East lead on the line -- got the ball back from the Dolphins with three minutes left and the Cowboys trailing by two points.

Romo and Jason Garrett proceeded to use a nice mix of runs and passes to carve up the Dolphins for a 54-yard drive that took up the full three minutes and got Dan Bailey within range for a 28-yard field goal.

It's not like Romo took the ball 95 yards to win the game or anything, but under the brightest spotlight, one of the most criticized players in the NFL did the most clutch thing, and Dallas finds itself 1.5 games up on the Giants for the division lead and the pressure squarely shifted to Philadelphia and New York on Sunday.

Romo hasn't transformed to the best quarterback in the NFL or anything, but his play over the Cowboys four-game winning streak has been outstandingly efficient. And on Thanksgiving he was far from the turkey everyone expected him to be.



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Posted on: November 23, 2011 4:17 pm
Edited on: November 23, 2011 5:22 pm
 

Chiefs claim Kyle Orton off waivers

Orton, Tebow

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Kyle Orton and the Bears won’t be reunited after all. Rapid Reporter Bob Gretz has confirmed an ESPN report that the Chiefs have claimed him off waivers from the Broncos.

Which makes perfect sense for Kansas City. Considering Matt Cassel is out for the season and Tyler Palko wasn’t great (but not completely terrible) last Monday against the Patriots -- he went 24 for 37 for 230 yards, three interceptions and a 48.3 rating in a 34-3 loss -- the Chiefs obviously feel like Orton gives them a chance to compete for the AFC West title.

Where they’re competing against (surprise!) the Broncos for a potential division championship. The two squads will face each other Jan. 1 in Kansas City in a contest that could have major playoff implications, especially if Tim Tebow continues to lead Denver to wins and Orton can reinvigorate the Chiefs. Entering this week, the Raiders are 6-4 to lead the AFC West, but the Broncos are 5-5 and are followed by the 4-6 Chiefs and Chargers.

The Tebow, Orton eras begin ...
So, basically, the entire division is up for grabs.

For those who wonder if Orton would decline to travel to Kansas City to fulfill his obligations, I think you can safely close the door on those thoughts. Don’t you think he would vastly enjoy ruining the Broncos season for his new team’s own benefit?

Yet, that’s also what makes this transaction strange. The Broncos must have known there was an awfully good chance the Chiefs would claim Orton -- I mean, John Elway probably watched that Monday night game and saw what Palko means to that team , right? -- if they waived him. Since Orton will be a free agent after this season, there’s a decent chance he’ll sign elsewhere in the offseason, and that means the Chiefs could win a compensatory draft pick* if they lose him.

*Can you imagine if the Chiefs beat the Broncos, expose Tim Tebow, win the AFC West and THEN get a mid-round draft pick for him?

On the Denver side, Tebow, who knocked Orton out of the starting quarterback role, seemed happy for his former colleague.

"Congratulations to him,” Tebow said, via the Denver Post. “That’ll be fun to play him the last game of the year."

But won’t Orton have a big advantage in knowing what kind of offense the Broncos run and the signals they use? After all, Orton ran that offense for the first five games of the season.

"Obviously he knows it pretty well, so he could probably give away a few things,” Tebow said. “But I think we’ll be OK.”

The Bears and Cowboys also made waiver claims on Orton, meaning that even if the Chiefs didn’t win him, Orton would be traveling to Dallas now based on the waiver order. What’s interesting about the claim made by the Cowboys -- who obviously have a starting quarterback named Tony Romo but have a backup in Jon Kitna who has a balky back -- is that it smells like Dallas claimed him simply to block Chicago from getting him.

That’s because the two teams will battle for one of the NFC wild card spots, and the Cowboys know as well as anybody that Chicago would have a better chance of accomplishing that if it played Orton instead of Caleb Hanie.

Meanwhile, the Bears announced that Jay Cutler underwent thumb surgery Wednesday and should begin rehab “within the next few days.” Chicago will still have Hanie starting this week and the forseeable future, though the team also announced that it’s signed Josh McCown to a one-year deal Wednesday. Not quite as exciting as landing Orton. But it’s something, I suppose.

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Posted on: November 23, 2011 11:17 am
 

Keep an Eye on: Thanksgiving preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Lions vs. Packers
The nice thing about having a defense built around your four-man front is that when facing a seemingly unstoppable passing attack, you don’t have to concoct a complicated gameplan and hope that your speed-oriented defenders can somehow give the performance of a lifetime. Because an erupting front four, by nature of alignment, can cut off the lifeline of any pass play by flooding a quarterback’s face, you can stick with your traditional zone concepts on the back end.

This is the standard, obvious approach for the Lions. And really, it’s their only prayer for upsetting the undefeated Packers. The Lions selected Nick Fairley in the first round because they knew that with Ndamukong Suh already inside, they would have at least one favorable one-on-one matchup on every passing down. Those visions have started to play out in recent weeks, as Fairley, in limited reps, has shown uncommon quick-twitch burst for a man of his size.



A way teams have lately combated (or tried to combat) Detroit’s interior quickness is with draws and misdirection runs and screens (think receivers running ghost reverses during a handoff or quarterbacks faking the action one way and going to a ballcarrier the other way). The idea is to let the defensive tackles take themselves out of position with their quick penetration and to get Detroit’s incredibly fast-flowing linebackers going in the wrong direction.

This approach, however, is not conducive to Green Bay’s personnel. The Packers are good at screen pass execution, but none of their running backs have the initial quickness or speed to execute delay-type plays. Thus, expect the Packers to combat Detroit’s inside pass-rush by spreading the field and putting Aaron Rodgers in three-step drops.

Normally, offenses spread the field to stretch the defense and make it easier for the quarterback to recognize blitzes and coverage concepts. That’s not necessary against a basic zone scheme like Detroit’s. But what spreading the field still does is create more space for the defensive backs to cover. Detroit’s defensive backs have improved this season, but they’re still not dynamic or deep enough to contain Green Bay’s receiving corps in large open areas.

Final note: much of Aaron Rodgers’ presnap brilliance derives from his use of dummy snap counts. However, those won’t be relevant if the Ford Field crowd is as loud as expected. The Packers may want to consider going hurry-up. They know they won’t be able to communicate vocally anyway, so they likely installed a bunch of hand signals in practice this week. They’re prepared.

What’s more, they know that a hurry-up can swing momentum and take the crowd out of it, plus it would prevent the Lions from rotating their defensive linemen -- a tactic they rely heavily on.

Cowboys vs. Dolphins
Both teams come in riding a three-game win-streak, thanks largely to the play of their quarterbacks. Tony Romo has posted passer ratings of 113, 148 and 112 his last three outings. Matt Moore has posted 133, 75 and 147.

Romo is having, by far, the best season of his career. He’s been accurate, poised in the pocket and sound in his decision making. These are the effects of his improvements. What analysts don’t focus on often enough are the improvements themselves.

Romo is doing a better job at diagnosing defenses in the presnap phase and adjusting his protections in response. Consequently, postsnap, he’s not surprised by blitzes, plus he’s recognizing coverage shifts and how they impact his receivers’ route combinations. These had been Romo’s areas of weakness.

As for Moore, he’s been steady, but the Dolphins would be foolish to think they don’t still need to look for a quarterback after this season. Lately Moore has often thrown out of base personnel, which means he’s been going against base defenses. That’s fine, but it won’t be as easy against the Cowboys, whose base personnel includes a versatile superstar in DeMarcus Ware and superb pass-defending linebacker in Sean Lee.

Dallas has the resources to take away Dolphins underrated receiving fullback Charles Clay, and Rob Ryan is willing to mix things up no matter what personnel he has on the field. Remember, Moore has only had half a week to study Ryan’s multitude of defensive looks.



Ravens vs. 49ers
Because Ray Rice is averaging less than nine carries per game in his team’s three losses this season, there’s the assumption that the Ravens must run the ball in order to win. But last week against Cincinnati, the Ravens won on the strength of their passing attack. They got 104 yards rushing on 20 carries from Rice, but 59 of those yards came on one run.

Overall, the sustaining element that a run game is supposed to provide simply wasn’t there. The Ravens struggled in short-yardage -- though not on the goal-line, where Marshal Yanda stood out and where Rice has been effective all season -- and could not pound on the ground when trying to protect their fourth quarter lead.

There’s still hope for the run game this season. Aside from overrated left tackle Bryant McKinnie, Baltimore’s front five is adequately suited for this zone-blocking scheme -- especially now that left guard Ben Grubbs is back. Rice and Ricky Williams are smart runners, and Vontae Leach is a top-three fullback.

That said, don’t expect a breakout this week. San Francisco has the best run defense in pro football (by a wide margin, in fact). The brilliant play of inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman is the primary reason why.

Willis and Bowman pose additional issues for the Ravens. Against the Bengals, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron compensated for the lackluster run game by calling play-action rollouts for Joe Flacco. That forced the Bengals linebackers to be decision-makers and pass defenders – which they’re capable of, but not simultaneously. Willis and Bowman won’t be manipulated like this. Both hunt up coverage assignments extremely well and both have the athleticism to cover Baltimore’s underneath mismatch creators, Rice and Ed Dickson.

The Ravens’ best chance at offensive success Thanksgiving night is to go max protect and take downfield shots with Torrey Smith and Lee Evans. Their best chance at overall success is to protect field position and wait for their defense to make a big play in a low-scoring game.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 12 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 15, 2011 4:47 pm
Edited on: November 15, 2011 5:21 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 10

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 10 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman   Fitz  Carter  Hester McCarthy
Judge   Fitz  Carter  Hester   Fox
Prisco  Romo  Carter  Hester  Whiz
Brinson  Romo  Carter Hauschka   Fox
Katzowitz  Romo Wimbley Hauschka   Fox
Wilson  Romo  Carter Hauschka Carroll
Another NFL week's in the books, and that means it's time to hand out the hardware.

Our Eye on Offense Award goes to Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, whose matchup against Larry Fitzgerald for the trophy was much closer than his beatdown of the Buffalo Bills.

Andre Carter was the near-unanimous selection for our Eye on Defense Award. That's what happens when you produce the best pass rush New England's seen since the Bush administration.

Steven Hauschka -- a fellow Wolfpacker! -- stole Devin Hester's award away from Devin Hester thanks to five field goals that propelled the Seahawks to a (somewhat?) shocking win over the Ravens, and is our Eye on Special Teams recipient.

And John Fox, who continues to befuddle AFC West opponents by properly utilizing Tim Tebow, ran away with our Eye on Coaching Award for Week 10.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Larry Fitzgerald Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
On a crap team, with a crap quarterback, in a crap game, on a crappy throw, he makes one of the top catches of the week. Then again, week in and week out, that's what Fitzgerald does. He sometimes gets lost amid the talk of the best receivers in the NFL but he was the biggest reason the Cardinals beat Philly and I'd take Fitzgerald over any other WR.
Larry FitzgeraldLarry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
He has 146 yards in catches, two touchdowns and sets up the winning score with a diving reception near the goal line ... and all from John Skelton. The Cards weren't supposed to win on the road. They weren't supposed to win with Skelton. And they certainly weren't supposed to beat the Eagles. They did, and Fitzgerald is why.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Tony Romo Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
Romo completed 23-of-26 passes setting a Cowboys record for completion percentage, and threw three touchdowns in the Cowboys blowout of the Bills. Romo was poised in the pocket all day and never seemed to get unsettled.
Tony RomoTony Romo, QB, Cowboys
Romo had arguably the best game of his career against the Bills, throwing just three incompletions with three teeters, and the only reason his production wasn't better is that Dallas blew Buffalo out. Prediction: we'll be calling Romo a darkhorse MVP candidate by Week 14.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Tony RomoTony Romo, QB, Cowboys
He started the game 11/11 and finished by completing 88.5 percent of his passes (23/26) and throwing for 270 yards and three TDs. Forget about the loss of Miles Austin. With Dez Bryant beginning to show his talent and with the emergence of Laurent Robinson, Romo, at times, shows why he could be a top-five quarterback. That’s what he accomplished in destroying the Bills. 
Tony Romo Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys
According to Football Outsiders, Romo is a top-5 NFL quarterback. You wouldn't know it after watching him against the Jets and the Lions but you certainly would after his performance versus the Bills Sunday. He threw just three incompletions all day (that's three fewer than Tim Tebow ... while attempting 18 more passes) and had three TDs.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Andre CarterAndre Carter, DE, Patriots
The easiest choice to make for these awards. I watched Carter against a moderately talented offenisve line and he destroyed it with 4 1/2 sacks. I didn't think Carter had it in him. I didn't think the New England defense was capable of anything remotely like that. 
Andre Carter Andre Carter, DE, Patriots
The biggest problem with the league's last-ranked defense, people tell me, is that the Patriots can't rush the quarterback. Well, this just in: They just did, with Carter producing a career-high 4 1/2 sacks by himself. Rex Ryan wasn't outcoached. His players were outplayed, with Carter simply too much for the Jets' offensive line.
Prisco Brinson
Andre CarterJared Allen, DE, Vikings
Carter had 4 1/2 sacks against the Jets and could not be blocked. For a team that lacked a pass rusher for much of the season, they may have found one.
Andre CarterAndre Carter, DE, Patriots
The Patriots dynasty was dead (again). Until Andre Carter did to the Jets on offense what Tom Brady did to them on defense, exploding for 4 1/2 sacks and generating the first pass rush we've seen in New England in a while. If he keeps his motor running like this, watch out.
Katzowitz Wilson
Kamerion Wimbley Kamerion Wimbley, OLB, Raiders
On the day when Carson Palmer was celebrated for leading the Raiders to their first win under his stewardship, Oakland’s outside linebacker accumulated four sacks, three additional hits and seven pressures on Rivers. Not bad for a guy who had just two sacks on the season coming before.
Andre Carter Andre Carter, DE, Patriots
The Patriots' defense has alternated between punching bag and laughing stock all season. Against the Jets they were neither, harassing Mark Sanchez into mistakes all evening. Carter had 4.5 sacks, a personal and team best. 

Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
Thanks to Hester producing yet another return touchdown (this time an 82-yard run to the house), he was the second easiest choice this week. How about this? Stop kicking to him. STOP KICKING TO HIM. And put him in the Hall of Fame.
Devin Hester Devin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
One of these days someone will figure out that no one in NFL history has more punt returns for touchdowns than this guy, so maybe it's not a good idea to kick to him. Hester sets up one score with a 29-yard return, then produces a touchdown on an 82-yard runback. The numbers don't lie, people. This guy is the best there ever was.
Prisco Brinson
Devin HesterDevin Hester, WR/KR, Bears
He had a punt return for a touchdown, his 18th return for a score in his career. Why do people kick to him?

 

Steven HauschkaSteven  Hauschka, K, Seahawks
Doesn't Hauschka kind of look like he should be named "Steve" instead? Whatever, the N.C. State product kicked like his name was Morten on Sunday, banging home five field goals and generating the majority of the scoring for the Seahwaks in an upset only one person saw coming.
Katzowitz Wilson
Steven Hauschka Steven Hauschka, K, Seahawks
In Seattle’s upset of the Ravens, Hauschka matched the franchise record by kicking five field goals (22, 38, 39, 35 and 30 yards). They weren’t long attempts, and they weren’t game-winners. But without his capability, Seattle doesn’t provide the week’s most surprising result.
Steven Hauschka Steven Hauschka, K, Seahawks
The former Raven was an integral part of the Seahawks' "death by 1,000 field goals" gameplan. He was 5 for 5 and accounted for all but seven of Seattle's points in their win over Baltimore, the league's most inconsistent team.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Mike McCarthyMike McCarthy, HC, Packers
Monday night against Minnesota was the perfect time for a letdown game and the Packers respond by wrecking the Vikings. I know. Division rival. But it isn't easy playing those type of games when their lead in the division is so large and the opponent is no good.

John Fox John Fox, HC, Broncos
Not only did he beat Kansas City in Kansas City, he won by completing two passes all afternoon. Of course, it always helps when you run for 244 yards, but Fox's Broncos did it with their top two backs missing most of the afternoon. Fox is smart to tailor is offense to his quarterback's talents, and that tinkering has the Broncos a game out of first in the AFC West.
Prisco Brinson
Ken WhisenhuntKen Whisenhunt, HC, Cardinals
Playing with backup quarterback John Skelton on the road against a supposed good team in the Eagles, Whisenhunt got his team to pull off an upset as a 14-point underdog. That's impressive.
John FoxJohn Fox, HC, Broncos
Fox is a run-first/play-defense type of guy, so you have to think he rather enjoyed beating the Chiefs when his offense only completed two passes all day. Mock the read-option at your own risk: what Fox and his staff are doing with Tim Tebow is the very definition of great coaching.
Katzowitz Wilson
John Fox John Fox, HC, Broncos
You can call the offense he’s helped install a college-style offense. You can call it outrageous to current NFL sensibilities. But you also have to call it a winning formula so far. Fox isn’t known for his offensive capabilities – he came up on the defensive side of the ball – but with offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, this read-option style of play has Denver at 3-1 when Tim Tebow starts at quarterback.
Pete Carroll Pete Carroll, HC, Seahawks
Jim Harbaugh deserves some credit too, because Carroll hoped the Ravens would get away from Ray Rice and the run game and that's exactly what happened. It's not every day you're out-schemed by Carroll. We can only hope that during this post-game handshake Caroll reminded John to say hello to his brother Jim for him.

Posted on: November 14, 2011 3:55 am
Edited on: November 14, 2011 10:18 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 10

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


1. Houston We Don't Have a Problem

"Who's the best team in the AFC?" -- that's a question I got asked a couple of times on the radio this past week, and I pointed out each time that we shouldn't be sleeping on the Texans. Following their 37-9 pimp-slapping of the Bucs in Tampa, I doubt I'll be the only one saying that this week.

Yes, they play in one of the NFL's worst divisions and, yes, they have a ridiculously cake schedule this year. No, Matt Schaub is not "elite." Yes, the Ravens have beaten them this year.

I don't expect people to stop using those arguments to knock down the Texans. That's fine -- but people need to realize that Houston is as complete a team as there is in the NFL.

They can run: Arian Foster and Ben Tate are the most dangerous backfield combo in the NFL, Derrick Ward's a nice third option and their offensive line is criminally underrated. (All three guys scored Sunday against the Buccaneers.) They can pass: pan Matt Schaub all you want, but he's thrown just three picks in the six games since losing Andre Johnson, and when Johnson returns after the bye he'll only get better.  They play defense: after ranking 30th in total yards allowed in 2010, the Texans find themselves as the stingiest defensive team in football through 10 weeks of the 2011 season.

The Texans rank third in the NFL with 14 interceptions. That's one more than they had in all of 2010. And their point differential (107) currently tops the league.

Heading into Week 10 the Texans were the only team to rank in the top 10 of Football Outsiders efficiency metrics on offense, defense and special teams. The Steelers could join them in that distinction after this week, but thanks to an absolutely dominant game in Tampa Bay, there's zero chance the Texans will see their stock fall.

Look, it's perfectly OK to expect the Texans to figure out a way not to make the playoffs. It's what they do. But it's not like they're working on some fluky formula here. Their offense won't slow down, particularly with Johnson returning, and their defense, despite losing Mario Williams, really appears to be gelling.

And because the division's so terrible, there's a distinct chance the Texans clinch their first AFC South title before Christmas.


2. The Only Stat That Matters ...

If I told you that Tim Tebow would go two of eight passing on Sunday while Willis McGahee and Knowshon Moreno left the game early with an injury, you'd assume that a) the Chiefs rolled the Broncos and b) Tebow got benched. You would not assume what actually happened, which is that the Broncos beat Kansas City 17-9 to hand the Chiefs their second-straight inexplicable victory.

And what's weirder, that Tebow was 0-fer at halftime, missing on all five of his passing attempts? Or that he only attempted three more passes in the second half? Or that his second completion was a straight-up NFL throw that resulted in a 56-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker?

Or maybe that Broncos coach John Fox was clearly overjoyed to beat a division rival with an offensive gameplan that probably caused the NFL's marketing arm to set fire to the highlight reel within 15 minutes of the final whistle.

"It's just a mindset. It's a low-risk offense. It's not an indictment on Tim Tebow or whoever our quarterback is," Fox said. "It's just whatever is working for us. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. We tried to possess the ball and keep our defense fresh."

That sounds kind of ridiculous, and I guess it is. But we're talking about John Fox here -- he's not exactly an offensive innovator, much less someone who cares in the slightest how many passing attempts his quarterback has, particularly if the team wins.

But hey, there's a precedent for this kind of game -- it's the 27th quarterback time since the merger that a team's won a game despite having a quarterback who completed two or less passes on eight or more attempts. The parameters are weird, and the list is weirder, especially because several of the quarterbacks weren't the only guy to take snaps for their team. Most interesting (to me) are a pair of names on the list with Tebow: Kyle Orton ... and John Elway.

Tebow's not the same quarterback as the man in charge of his future, but he's now 3-1 since taking over as the Broncos starting quarterback. He's improving, Denver's figuring out how to design offensive schemes around his specific skillset, and they're turning what looked like a lost season into an interesting little run in a weak AFC West.

3. Texas Is Big Enough for Two Teams

It really is nuts how much the NFL playoff picture can change in a matter of weeks. Or days. Or hours -- the Cowboys entered Sunday morning two games back of the Giants for the NFC East lead with the potentially resurgent Eagles hot on their heels. Less than 12 hours later, after a 44-7 whipping of Buffalo? Dallas is one game back of the Giants, the Eagles look done, and it's like the Cowboys season was never in jeopardy.

"We needed a game like this," Jason Witten said. "This needs to be the foundation of what lies ahead for this team."

"A game like this" equates to what might be the best game of Tony Romo's career. The oft-maligned quarterback was 23 of 26 for 270 yards and three touchdowns, and the only reason his numbers were suppressed is Dallas 28-7 halftime lead. Romo attempted just seven passes in the second half and set the Cowboys franchise record for completion percentage, hitting 88.5 percent of his passes.

Could it be a coincidence that Romo got rid of his flak jacket for the first time since his broken ribs in Week 2? Maybe. But over the course of the next few weeks, it probably won't look like it, because the Cowboys go to Washington, play Miami and travel to Arizona before hosting the Giants on December 11.

Given that the Giants play the Eagles, the Saints and the Packers in that same time frame, don't be surprised if we're approaching that Week 14 matchup throwing out terms like "division-leading Cowboys" and "darkhorse MVP candidate Romo."

Things change, because this is the NFL. But watching the Cowboys bounce back over the past two weeks, and knowing that Romo's now 17-2 in November (his .895 winning percentage in the month is the highest of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era), it's hard not to think they're getting hot at the right time.

4. Bold But Bad

Mike Smith's decision to go for it on a fourth-and-inches on his own 29-yard line in overtime will be analyzed a lot over the next seven days, because it giftwrapped a 26-23 victory for New Orleans Sunday. And, most importantly, it put the Falcons way behind the eight ball for a shot at the NFC South title, as they're now two games back of the Saints.

Atlanta's still in decent position for a wild card berth, and I'm OK with the call Smith made, even if, like my man Pete Prisco, I probably wouldn't have made the call. (This is hindsight creeping in -- I hated it at the time.) The Saints are terrible against the run (a league-worst 5.2 yards per carry allowed), handing the ball to Drew Brees in overtime is the football equivalent of suicide, and Michael Turner is the perfect back for that situation.

My beef is with the playcall, which was precisely the same play that Atlanta used on fourth and one with six minutes left in the third quarter. Witness what the Saints defense looked like then:



Obviously New Orleans is playing to stop the run, but they're not selling out. They got no penetration, and they're certainly wary of the possibility that Matt Ryan could roll out, or that Turner could cut outside to try and pick up the first down.

The second time around, in overtime, that wasn't the case.



As you'll recall, Gregg Williams called a timeout right before Atlanta broke the huddle not in punt formation for this second try. Do you think he might have pointed several Saints defenders in the direction of where Michael Turner might be running with the ball?

Judging by the relative positions of said Saints defenders in the two pictures above, that seems like a pretty reasonable assumption.

And I understand that Turner's a bowling ball and that the Falcons have Smith's back on this and they appreciate his confidence in them picking up a half-yard or less in such a situation.

But knowing that you showed Williams this exact same play less than an hour ago, you have to be more creative with the playcall, especially when there's a division title on the line.

5. Deja Vu All Over Again

After the Patriots lost to the Giants in Week 9, there was a weird feeling of deja vu. You should have that same feeling right now, because after New England pummeled the Jets 37-16 in New York, every single "the Patriots are dead" column from the past week is totally pointless.

Making the premature eulogizing of the Patriots even more irritating is the similarity between 2010 and 2011.

Last year, the Patriots lost their second game of the season when the Browns shocked them 34-14 in Week 9 in Cleveland. The loss of Randy Moss meant that the Patriots couldn't get vertical and ergo/therefore/henceforth the Pats were dead men walking. Naturally, Tom Brady waltzed into Pittsburgh on November 14, went 30 for 43 for 350 yards and hit Rob Gronkowski for three touchdowns.

On Sunday (Week 10! November 13!) Brady waltzed into the New Meadowlands and carved up Rex Ryan's defense, going 26 of 39 for 329 yards and hitting Gronkowski for two touchdowns.

In case you forgot, Brady closed out last year in pretty good fashion -- he didn't throw an interception for the rest of the year, the Pats didn't lose another game and finished 14-2, and Brady became the first-ever unanimous MVP winner in NFL history.

My point is this: though the Patriots defense might stink, Tom Brady is still on the roster. It's not as if the defense in 2010 was all that good; they finished 25th overall in the NFL last year. But the Pats went 14-2 because Brady played at an unholy level with essentially the same offensive personnel he's got now.

In other words, Expecting the Patriots to lose three-straight games -- they haven't since 2002! -- was about as smart as writing off Belichick and Brady after what went down last season.


6. Run This Man!

I planned on taking screenshots of all the commenters who ripped me for picking Seattle to upset Baltimore and posting them here. But there were too many of them. And they were all too vulgar.

Plus, I'm sure everyone who called me names will be back to apologize later anyway.

But really, should we be surprised at this point when the Ravens fail to win after refusing to utilize Ray Rice, clearly the best offensive weapon on their team?

No, no we should not.

Week - Opponent
Rice Carries
Rice Rushing Yards
Points Scored
Result
1 - Steelers
19 107 35 W
2 - Titans
13 43 13 L
3 - Rams
9 81 37 W
4 - Jets
25 66 34 W
6 - Texans
23 101 29 W
7 - Jaguars
8 28 7 L
8 - Cardinals
18 63 30 W
9 - Steelers
18 43 23 W
10 - Seahawks
5 27 17 L

Rice's usage and subsequent success (or lack thereof) isn't a direct correlation with the win-loss record of the Ravens. He's had nine carries in a game (against the Rams) where the Ravens absolutely rolled.

But two games above really stand out in terms of similarity -- the loss to the Seahawks and Jaguars. Both were on the road, both were against teams that aren't even remotely considered on the Ravens level and both featured Rice inexplicably getting less than 10 rushing attempts.

The Ravens were behind for much of each game, but never were they in full-on blowout territory, and the downside of running the ball is really only losing a couple of seconds of game time and actually getting the defense to respect the natural balance that the Ravens offense should feature.

It's doesn't seem that hard to figure out that the Ravens are 1-3 when their best player on offense rushes the ball less than 15 times in a game. And yet somehow Cam Cameron can't do it.

7. Red Rocket

Alright, I give up: Andy Dalton, despite losing to Pittsburgh 24-17 on Sunday, deserves to be the leader for Rookie of the Year right now.

This might sound weird considering he's coming of a loss, he threw a game-ending interception (his second in the fourth quarter Sunday) and my blatant homerism deep respect for Cam Newton.

But it was ridiculously impressive that Cincy took the Steelers best shot early in the game and then rallied back to get within a touchdown, despite losing their other studly rookie A.J. Green after he hyperextended his knee.

Oh, it also doesn't help that Newton absolutely laid an egg on Sunday, failing to score a touchdown in a football game for what he said might be the first time in his life. I haven't seen any confirmation of this, but I also have no trouble believing it.

Back to Dalton and the Bengals though: if Green's injury is substantial, I don't think the Bengals make the playoffs (they currently project as the sixth seed) because not only are the Ravens and the Steelers better, but the Ravens might actually try against Cincy.

And if Newton bounces back over the next few weeks, and the Bengals lose their last three games against the Steelers and Ravens, it's going to be tough for voters to hit Dalton up.

But if he improves from the growing pains he suffered against the Steelers, he might end up stealing the award after all. And, you know, a playoff berth.

8. Andy Reid's Hot Pants

Before the season, we penciled in the Week 10 Cardinals-Eagles matchup with the idea that Kevin Kolb would lead a revived Arizona squad into Philly with a chance for redemption against the team that cast him off for Michael Vick. Instead, Kolb couldn't play Sunday, so John Skelton started and ... the Eagles still lost, 21-17.

With that L, let's just go ahead and bury the Eagles 2011 season. Instead of debating whether 9-7 is possible, let's discuss whether or not Andy Reid should be fired if the Eagles miss the playoffs.

I, unequivocally, say he should not be fired. He's got issues with his roster construction, his clock management and his balance on offense, but there's a reason why he's the longest-tenured coach in the NFL.

Additionally, this is a lockout year, and teams were supposed to struggle to adapt under circumstances. "Bringing in a bunch of new faces" is one such circumstance where there's a built-in excuse.

And perhaps the best reason to hold onto Reid: he's Michael Vick's guy, and Michael Vick just got paid $100 million. That's not to say Vick couldn't play for another coach and succeed, but Reid's mentored him on and -- perhaps more importantly -- off the field. He's turned Vick from an ex-con into a franchise quarterback.

Vick's taken a step back this season, but if Philly can beef up its offensive line and address some of the defensive issues, there's no reason why Reid can't just can Juan Castillo in sacrificial lamb fashion and come back next year, regardless of how this season plays out.

9. What the Helu?

Would the Redskins beat the Colts if they played today? Wilson and I talked about that on the podcast (I assume you hit play above and are listening now but just haven't gotten that far yet), and, um, I'm not sure?

Indy's terrible, but Washington is just depressing -- the latest feather in Mike Shanahan's cap is a 20-9 loss to Miami that not only gave Shanny his first-ever five-game losing streak, but also handed the Dolphins their first win at Sun Life Stadium in 364 days.

The saddest part of the Redskins failure on Sunday isn't even that Rex Grossman gives them a better chance to win than John Beck. That's just the truth, even if it's cringe-worthy. Although apparently Shanahan doesn't know that? Or he does? Or ... you tell me:

"We’re going to make decisions that we think gives us the best chance to win," Shanahan said about the decision to go with Grossman. "Then before the game we decided to go in another direction."

I know what he's saying (I think), but it's kind of awesome that this quote, taken out of context, sounds like "Beck gives us the best chance to win, that's why we started him. But on Sunday we changed our minds."

Anyway, the saddest part is that Roy Helu broke Art Monk's single-game receptions record last week and he was inexplicably benched Sunday in favor of Ryan Torain.

"Well, I wanted to give Ryan a chance, see what he can do," Shanahan said of the decision. "[The Dolphins] are a very good defensive team."

Again, I don't know what that means or how it's sound logic for benching Helu.

Whatever, an obviously motivated Torain carried the ball 10 times for 20 yards. Helu still managed to end the day as Washington's leading rusher, though, as he carried the ball six times for 41 yards in the second half.

This logical result would have stemmed from an illogical decision, but there's nothing justifiably rational about the Redskins right now.

10. Bear With Me Here

First of all, allow me to congratulate my colleague Matt Norlander, who not only got engaged Sunday, but got a win for his precious Bears (an awkward 37-13 slaughtering of Detroit) and a Devin Hester touchdown return.

And second of all, allow me to say I'm sorry for thinking the Bears stink. Because they don't. I can't justify saying that if I'm going to tout the Texans as the top team in the AFC; after all, the Bears play a complete brand of football. They're great on defense, they generate turnovers, they can run the ball on offense and, needless to say, their special teams are pretty good.

Now there's still room for an implosion here. Lord knows they were 2-3, couldn't protect Jay Cutler and looked like a lost team only a few weeks ago. But just like 2010, Mike Martz realized just how true the old equation of "seven-step drops + passing every down = quarterback injuries" really is and Chicago currently projects as the final NFC wild card.

The Bears getting ready to run the not-so-scary AFC West gauntlet, playing San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City and Denver over their next four games. No, that portion of the schedule could not come at a better time, and if you think that running a cover-2 against a read-option offense and having Brian Urlacher shadow Tebow depending on what side of the line he runs off won't be fun, well, you clearly don't enjoy pain.

With Seattle and Minnesota also on the sked -- only Green Bay is really scary -- and Detroit having to play the Packers twice over the rest of the schedule, Chicago could somehow easily weasel their way to 11-5. Again.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's action...
... For the third time in his career, Reggie Bush scored multiple rushing touchdowns.
... The NFL West went undefeated on Sunday for the first time since division realignment. According to my buddy RJ Bell of PreGame.com, a $100 bet on that happening would've paid out $8,400. So, yeah, everyone saw it coming.
... Tebow's the only quarterback in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass and rush for 25 yards in each of his first seven starts.
... Drew Brees passed Brett Favre for the second-longest streak of consecutive games (37) with a touchdown pass.

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF O' THE WEEK

This is unfortunate for Ray Lewis:

Hot Seat Tracker

  • Todd Haley -- Welcome back, sir! We missed you. How can one manage to not prepare for the read-option after watching another division opponent look totally unprepared for it and lose?
  • Mike Shanahan -- He's the one who thought Grossman and Beck were a winning combination.
  • Juan Castillo -- It's either him or Andy Reid right?
  • Jim Caldwell -- If Caldwell doesn't get canned, I'm convinced no one does.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (1/4): Everyone else in the NFL has two wins, and the only game Indy might even reasonably come close to winning is their Week 16 matchup against the Jaguars. We can almost call this off.
Redskins (3/1): My darkhorse! I think they'll lose out, but I just don't buy the idea of Indy winning one game, much less three.
Vikings (4/1): They play the Packers Monday and get the Lions and Bears again.
Dolphins (5/1): That whole Stephen Ross in a leopard-skin bikini thing is working out well.
Panthers (6/1): Tough schedule coming down the pipe ... and they play the Colts!
Rams (7/1): NFC West schedule and they're starting to fight a little.

MVP Watch

Aaron Rodgers will most likely extend his season-long virtuoso performance on Monday night and further give us reason to pick him as MVP. But just in case he falters, I've got my eye on a few guys who could get hot and supplant him in the second half, via what we talked about above: Brady, Foster and Romo. Brady, well, duh, he's good. And he sure wasn't a unanimous MVP winner after Week 9 (or Week 10) in 2010. So it could happen. Foster's playing as well as any running back in the NFL right now; if the Texans win out and clinch the top spot in the AFC, people will talk about it. And if Romo can blow up over the next two months and get the Cowboys a division title, well, weirder things have happened.
Posted on: November 11, 2011 11:00 pm
 

Tony Romo seems to understand his critics

Posted by Will Brinson

This Sunday, CBS Sports analyst and NFL Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe will sit down with Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in advance of Dallas home game against Buffalo.

Because it's Tony Romo, Sharpe asks why the quarterback receives so much criticism and if it bothers him. And Romo, as you'll see in the preview below, has a pretty smart answer about it.

"It's just an easy thing to say until you win the Super Bowl," Romo said. "Until then any time you lose a game it's a big game. But if you win, then it really wasn't that big of a game. That just goes with the territory."

This is a great point, actually. If you win a Super Bowl, there is really only so much "choker!" screaming that can go on whenever you lose a close game. If you need further proof, just look at Eli Manning. As we've detailed previously, Romo and Eli have nearly identical stats. One big difference is that Manning's won a Super Bowl.

Which is precisely why he, unlike Romo, can get away with an the occasional rough ending to a game. And if you don't believe me, just ask people what they think of Philip Rivers, who's basically Romo's NFC criticism doppelganger.



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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com