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Tag:Chris Johnson
Posted on: October 5, 2011 2:37 pm
Edited on: October 6, 2011 4:52 pm
 

Film Room: Steelers vs. Titans preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


The Tennessee Titans are off to a 3-1 start under first-time head coach Mike Munchak. Are they for real? The Titans have had the good fortune of facing the Jaguars, Broncos and Browns this season – all teams that run a bland 4-3 and suffer from a dire lack of weapons in the passing game. The Titans did, however, defeat a Ravens team that humiliated the Steelers in Week 1.

Which brings us to the next question: how are the Steelers right now? They’re 2-2 but have looked hardly “Steeler-like”. Ben Roethlisberger (sprained foot) is expected to play Sunday, but James Harrison (fractured orbital bone) is out. How serious of a test do the Steelers pose to this minimally tested Titans club?


Here are five keys of the matchup.

Run powers struggling
1. Titans run offense
The natural assumption is that Chris Johnson held out for virtually all of training camp and has therefore been rusty early in the season. An examination of the film reveals that ... this is exactly the case.

Johnson has not shown his usual initial quickness or burst out of the backfield. He’s had a tendency to stop his feet at the first sign of trouble, which is why he’s not creating his own space. These issues were apparent even in his 101-yard performance against the Browns last week.

The fourth-year running back is not the lone culprit for Tennessee’s anemic ground game. Interior linemen Eugene Amano, Leroy Harris and Jake Scott have been inconsistent at times, and right tackle David Stewart seems to have lost a bit of the power that once backed-up his nastiness.

Also, fullback Quinn Johnson is no Ahmard Hall. Hall’s return from suspension this week will be most welcomed – he has great feel and recognition in this Titans offense.

2. Steelers run defense
It ranks 22nd and has looked downright feeble in both losses this season (Week 1 at Baltimore, Week 4 at Houston). The Ravens and Texans both feature a stretch zone rushing attack, which the Steelers have been uncharacteristically poor at defending. James Harrison, coming off back surgery, has not played with the same physicality as past years.

He’s out this game; replacement Lawrence Timmons has superb athleticism but, as a run defender, he’s better equipped for his customary inside position, where he can chase down ball-carriers in either direction. This week, Timmons will have to be an edge-setting outside ‘backer, and against arguably the game’s steadiest left tackle in Michael Roos.

There’s too much history of success to think the Steelers run defense will continue to struggle (though the film through four weeks has often supported the wide-held notion that the Steelers are getting old fast). They have the ultimate X-factor in Troy Polamalu, but the real key to turning things around is at defensive end.

The Steelers’ secret to success is that they’ve always had incredibly active ends who can create chaos in the trenches and allow the linebackers to play downhill. But those ends – Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, who’s been out the past two weeks with a strained PCL – along with stalwart nose tackle Casey Hampton are also well into their thirties.

Creating big plays: natural vs. manufactured
3. Steelers passing offense (natural)
The Steelers are a pass-first team. It’s been that way for several years now. And it will remain that way as long as Mike Wallace is around. The third-year sensation is the most lethal big-play receiving threat in the game today. He’s DeSean Jackson only with a longer stride.

The Steelers have done an excellent job of designing their route combinations around Wallace. His lifting of the safety is often what allows Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown to get open in the 18-25-yard range. But not everything about Pittsburgh’s passing attack is done through design.

There’s a lot of natural talent driving the force. Much of the production comes from Ben Roethlisberger’s incredible ability to not only extend the play, but make accurate throws downfield off that extension (there isn’t a better off-balance, improvisational passer in all of football).

The key to stymying Big Ben’s improve is to get to him with multiple pass-rushers. It’s hard enough getting just one pass-rusher to a quarterback, but the Steelers’ offensive line is porous right now. The Texans swarmed Roethlisberger by blitzing inside, which crowded his sight lines (thus making him break down earlier than usual) and forced shaky offensive tackles Trai Essex and Marcus Gilbert to work one-on-one.

4. Titans passing offense (manufactured)
A bulk of Matt Hasselbeck’s passing yards have stemmed from big plays that were well-crafted and called against the perfect defensive look (the best of many examples: receiver Damian Williams setting a pick against Cleveland’s man coverage that left Nate Washington wide open for a 57-yard game).

These kinds of plays are fine – it’s what good coaching and preparation are all about – but they can only carry you so far. At some point, you need a threat like Mike Wallace to build around. The Titans had such a threat before Kenny Britt tore his ACL.

5. Injuries impacting outcome
If the Titans can’t find their run game, they’re in trouble. The Steelers, even without James Harrison, have a far stronger pass-rush than the Jaguars, Broncos or Browns. The Titans handled the Ravens’ potent pass-rush well in Week 2, but they were able to build their aerial attack around Britt. Britt’s replacement, Nate Washington, isn’t that type of receiver – especially against a top-tier cover corner like Ike Taylor.

Running the ball could be equally important for the Steelers. With Roethlisberger less than 100 percent and the front five hurting, Pittsburgh’s best bet might be to challenge the Titans inside. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey has been outstanding against the run, but center Maurkice Pouncey has the technical aptitude to temper Casey’s raw power. On Pouncey’s left, guard Chris Kemoeatu is arguably the best pulling blocker in the game. The Steelers should relish opportunities to get him on finesse middle linebacker Barrett Ruud.

Of course, putting a dent in Pittsburgh’s ground game is the fact that Rashard Mendenhall left last week’s contest with a hamstring injury. Isaac Redman, the spotlight could be on you.

So who will win? Check our NFL Week 5 expert picks for all the games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: October 3, 2011 12:43 am
Edited on: October 3, 2011 1:36 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 4


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.

Muffed Punts
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
  • Tony Sparano: It would almost be an upset if he made it past the bye at this point.
  • Jack Del Rio: Very impressive that JDR figured out a way to make Maurice Jones-Drew completely ineffective during the first half of a game that was pretty closer during the first half.
  • Leslie Frazier: It might only be his first year, but looking terrible against a terrible Chiefs team ain't helping his cause. 
  • Todd Haley: Can Minnesota visit every weekend?
  • Juan Castillo: New guy for the Eagles, their defense is a leaky ship and someone needs to take the fall.
Chasing Andrew Luck (All odds mine)
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 ...

MVP Watch
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.
Posted on: October 1, 2011 6:16 pm
 

Tributes pour out for Heimerdinger

Mike Heimerdinger, takling with V. Young, died Friday night (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

After the death of longtime assistant coach Mike Heimerdinger from cancer on Friday, his former colleagues and players have released statements expressing their sadness and their condolences. Here are a few of them (you can find more of them from our Rapid Reporters):

Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt: “We are saddened today to hear the tragic news of Mike's passing. Mike was a good man that brought a great level of dedication and professionalism to his job. He was brave in his fight over the last year and showed such a commitment to the game. Nothing was going to stop him last season from being a part of the team and having his stamp on the games. Our thoughts go out to Kathie and his kids through this difficult time. Mike and his family will always be with us.”

Titans coach Mike Munchak: “My prayers are with his family. Mike was a great football coach; and over the years, we had a great relationship. I learned a lot of football from Mike and I have a number of great memories and experiences that will always be with me. It is just hard to believe he is gone. It is a sad day for his family and for those who knew him.”

 Titans running back Chris Johnson: “He was a great coach and a tough coach. I know I wouldn’t have become the player I am without his confidence and the trust that he showed in me. My thoughts go out to his family.”

Former NFL center and NFLPA President  Kevin Mawae: “It is with great regret and sorrow that we learn of the passing of Coach Mike Heimerdinger. "Dinger", as many people knew him, was a great coach and a good man. For those who knew him and played for him, they knew Dinger was a man who loved his family, enjoyed his players, and loved the game of football. Dinger's fight with cancer was indicative of the type of person he was; determined and courageous. It was my privilege to play for Dinger while with the New York Jets and the Tennessee Titans. I am better for having known and played for him. The NFL community has lost a great member of its fraternity this week. On behalf of the National Football League Players Association, the players offer their condolences to Kathie, Alicia, Brian and the rest of the Heimerdinger family."

Redskins coach Mike Shanahan, who employed Heimerdinger as an assistant in Denver and was a roommate of Heimerdinger’s at Eastern Illinois: "We lost a very special person and my best friend in Mike Heimerdinger. I know the man upstairs needed a superstar so he took him earlier than we all wanted. His love for his family was unprecedented and I will forever miss him."

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who was coached by Heimerdinger with the Broncos: "Thoughts and prayers are with the Heimerdinger family. We lost a great man last night."

Houston Chronicle sports writer John McClain: “I've been covering the NFL for more than 30 years. Only one coach ever called and thanked me for covering him when he left: Mike Heimerdinger.”

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.

Posted on: October 1, 2011 4:16 pm
 

For the gambler in you, Week 4

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Each Saturday, we’ll take the best -- and most clever -- odds collected by bodog.com for the upcoming week and give our take. This is important stuff, perhaps the most important post you’ll read all week. Because if you can’t lose money while watching a game in which you have absolutely no effect, what’s the point of watching sports at all?

Odds to win the Super Bowl XLVI
                                                Pre-Season      Last Week        Current
New England Patriots                   11/2                  9/2                    9/2

Green Bay Packers                      7/1                    11/2                  9/2

Philadelphia Eagles                     15/2                  8/1                    14/1

Indianapolis Colts                       20/1                  150/1                200/1

Detroit Lions                                30/1                  18/1                  16/1

Minnesota Vikings                       40/1                  75/1                  200/1

Kansas City Chiefs                      50/1                  200/1                500/1

Washington Redskins                 100/1                  45/1                  45/1

Carolina Panthers                      125/1                125/1                150/1

Buffalo Bills                               150/1                75/1                  28/1

Cincinnati Bengals                     150/1                 150/1                250/1

My, how things have changed for the Colts, Vikings, Chiefs and Bills. I still would take the Packers to win the Super Bowl, I certainly wouldn’t take the Dream Team, and just for fun, I’d give the Bills a shot (and I doubt that Fred Jackson would disagree with you). And if you said the Colts season is 10 times worse than you could have imagined, technically you’d be right according to these odds.

Said Richard Gardner, the Bodog sportsbook manager: “The big story this week is the Buffalo Bills who were 150-1 preseason have gone all the way down to 28-1. That is the lowest they have been in years and are a team to be reckoned with all of a sudden.”

Will the Minnesota Vikings blow a double-digit lead this week against the Kansas City Chiefs? 

Yes +650    

No  -1200  

It’d be pretty awesome if they did (Vikings fans might disagree), since they’ve done exactly that the first three games of the season. But Minnesota is playing the Chiefs, so the Vikings should be safe from another disastrous second half.

How many total interceptions will Tom Brady throw in the 2011 regular season?

Over/Under 14.5

After throwing four interceptions last week against the Bills (and, busy man that he is, he threw four touchdowns as well), Brady has five on the season. Do you remember the last time Brady threw 15 interceptions in a season? Neither do I, because it’s never, ever happened (he has thrown 14 picks three times, though). Take the under.

How many times will Tony Romo fumble or drop the snap Week 4?      

Over 1½ (+110)

Under 1½ (-150)

(Must hit a part of Tony Romo and hit the ground.)

Call this one the Phil Costa section of the post. He’s the Cowboys center who made at least four bad snaps that hit off Romo or went over his head that led to fumbles, though the Redskins -- who were allegedly distracting Costa by calling out the snap count -- didn’t recover any of them and they lost. Somehow, I think Costa will be perfect this week. Go under.

When will Chris Johnson record his first 100-yard or more rushing game in the 2011 regular season?

Week 4 vs. Cleveland +200

Week 5 or after -300

Johnson has 98 yards on the season (on the season!!!). But the Browns rank 29th in the league with 128.7 rushing yards allowed per game. So, it’s kind of a tossup. I don’t like the +200, but I think you’d have to go with Week 4. It’s time for a Johnson breakout and the Browns seem like the perfect opportunity.

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Posted on: September 29, 2011 11:57 am
Edited on: September 29, 2011 11:58 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Most underrated

D. McFadden is one of the league's most underrated players (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

You know all the big-name players, even if they’re past their prime. Guys who once were great and impactful and who were rated exactly as their athleticism required. Now, though, some of those players have begun their descent into the final phases of their career, but fans, remembering their past exploits, still think of them as high-end performers on the field.

Now, they’re making way for players you’ve probably heard of but can’t place. Players who you’ve seen but can’t remember on which team they reside.Players who are overshadowed and under the radar. The players who won’t be considered underrated for much longer.

In this week’s Top Ten with a Twist, we feature the best players who are not as well known as they should be. You can call them underrated and call them under the radar, but their teams and their teammates know how important they are. They are, in fact, some of the best players in the league who aren’t necessarily considered the best players in the league.

10. Sean Lee: He won’t be a name only hardcore fans recognize for much longer. He was just named NFC defensive player of the month after a sensational start to the season (31 tackles, two interceptions, and two fumble recoveries). Lee had knocked long-time starting linebacker Keith Brooking out of the lineup, and with the way he’s playing, you can certainly see why. He has been scary this year.

9. Hakeem Nicks: Considering wide receiver is one of the most glamorous positions in the sport, it’s tough to find a guy who you could call underrated -- conversely, there’s no shortage of players we could consider overrated at this position. But Nicks is one of those guys who doesn’t get the national attention (even though he plays in New York!) of a Calvin Johnson, an Andre Johnson or a DeSean Jackson. And while Nicks might not quite be on the same level as those receivers, he’s close. His 79 catches, 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 is a testament to that.

8. Ryan Kalil: You might have been shocked when the Panthers gave him a six-year, $49 million ($28 million guaranteed) deal before this season to make him the highest-paid center in the game, but those around the league know his value. He’s versatile in pass protection and run-blocking, and he doesn’t get called for holding penalties. Is he the best center in the league? Probably not as long as Nick Mangold is playing, but Kalil is still one of the top guys out there.

7. Vince Wilfork: He gets plenty of attention -- especially when he’s picking off passes and strolling his way back up the field -- but when compared to defensive tackles like Haloti Ngata, Ndamukong Suh or (gasp!) Albert Haynesworth, Wilfork doesn’t get the admiration he deserves. Despite his size -- he very well could be playing in the 400-pound range -- he’s one of the most athletic big men you’ll see. He’s one of the best run-stoppers around, and he’s the anchor of the Patriots defense. You know him, but he still hasn’t made his way to superstar status.



6. Darren Sproles: It was thought that the new kickoff rules would hinder Sproles, and that was probably one of the reasons the Chargers didn’t re-sign him in the offseason. But Sproles has continued to prove his wealth, settling into the Saints backfield, where he’s shown he can still rush (7.4 yards per carry), catch the ball (21 receptions, second-best among running backs) and score (he’s recorded a touchdown in all three games). He’s like a Reggie Bush who actually is effective for the Saints. Oh, and he can still return kicks (sixth in the league among those who have at least five chances) and return punts (second in the league).

5. Tramon Williams: Although he helped the Packers to a Super Bowl, Williams isn’t mentioned in the same breath as the Eagles cornerback trio (Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) or the Jets duo (Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie). Plus, he plays in the shadow of Charles Woodson, who is still one of the best cornerbacks in the league after 14 seasons. But Williams has shown why he’s a top-10 cornerback. He’s not avoided by other team’s quarterbacks quite as much as Asomugha and Revis -- that’s a byproduct of playing with Woodson -- but he’s shown that when his receiver is targeted, Williams is one of the better cover corners in the league.

4. Rob Gronkowski: Who are the best tight ends in the league? Antonio Gates? That’s true if he’s healthy. Tony Gonzalez? That’s true if this was five years ago. Jason Witten? Yes, he probably is the top tight end out there. But you know who’s really close to him? That’s Gronkowski -- who, in his second season in the league, is one big reason the Patriots offense has been so dominant this season. He was decent as a rookie last season, but he’s exploded for five touchdowns already this year, and with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the lineup in New England, that is a tough, tough matchup for the opposing teams’ linebackers.

3. Brandon Pettigrew: Last Sunday was the perfect example of why Pettigrew can make a Lions fan’s mouth water. He played through a shoulder injury, yet he managed to catch 11 passes for 112 yards in Detroit’s huge comeback victory against the Vikings. He’s probably not on the same level as Witten or Gronkowski, and yes, he drops the easy passes way too much (even if he also makes the spectacular catches). But in his third season in the league, he shows real potential to be a top-five tight end.

2. Trent Cole: He’s always good for between 55-80 tackles a year. He’s always good for between eight and 13 sacks. He’s almost always assured to be making life difficult for whichever offensive tackle who is charged with slowing his momentum. Cole might be the best player many NFL fans don’t know anything about. But this year, he’s off to a hot start in Philadelphia with three sacks. He’s a monster, and even if you haven’t heard his name very much, you can be sure the league’s offensive linemen have.

1. Darren McFadden: Along with Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, McFadden might be a top-three running back in this league. But since he plays in the black hole of Oakland, he wasn’t discussed as much as those who have lesser talent. That’s changing this year with the Raiders off to a 2-1 start and McFadden performing like the best back in the league. In 2010, McFadden gained 1,664 yards from scrimmage, and through three games this season, he’s rushed for 393 yards and three touchdowns while catching 11 passes for 84 yards and another score. If he keeps playing like that, he won’t belong on this list next year. Because everybody is going to know about him.

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Posted on: September 28, 2011 3:03 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 3:05 pm
 

Titans sign Donnie Avery, place Kenny Britt on IR

Donnie Avery will get another chance with the Titans(US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Now that Kenny Britt is officially done for the season after suffering a knee injury against the Broncos Sunday, the Titans are in need of a wide receiver to replace him on the roster. The team put at least seven players through the paces the last two days: David Clowney, Mardy Gilyard, Johnnie Lee Higgans, Tiquan Underwood, Buster Davis, Donnie Avery and Juaquin Iglesias.

On Wednesday, the Titans settled on Avery, the Rams' 2008 second-round pick who was released earlier this month. The 27-year-old came into the league with 4.3 40 speed, but was slowed by an ACL injury that kept him sidelined for all of 2010.

In his first two seasons, Avery totaled 100 receptions for 1,263 yards and eight touchdowns. Solid numbers on bad teams, although relative to other NFL wideouts, Avery's performance ranked near the bottom. In 2008, according to FootballOutsiders.com, he was 75th in total value among all wide receivers, and 71st in value per play. Those numbers actually worsened in 2009: Avery was 80th in total value and 77th in value per play.

But the Titans aren't expecting Avery to replace Britt, one of the NFL's most dynamic pass catchers. They just need someone to complement Nate Washington, now the de facto No. 1 receiver.

When the Rams released Avery earlier this month, the St. Louis Dispatch's Jim Thomas wrote that the team "weighed what he could do to stretch defenses with his speed against his injury history and the fact that he didn't seem to come down with many contested balls. It's perhaps another indication, too, that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels likes bigger receivers."

Whether Avery is capable of stretching defense or coming down with contested passes remains to be seen. But it's not like the Titans have a lot of options at this point. And who knows, maybe this is the week running back Chris Johnson starts earning that new contract.

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Posted on: September 27, 2011 4:49 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 4:51 pm
 

Wednesday NFL Week 3 expert chat

Every week, our CBSSports.com NFL experts answer your questions about, well, anything having to do with the NFL. The fun starts Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET. Be there or be square. (Getty Images/US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Eye on Football Staff

Pete Prisco thinks Michael Vick should shut his mouth. He also thinks Chris Johnson is a prime example of why you should never overpay running backs.

Clark Judge wonders if it's too early to say the Bills are legit, and he'll try to diagnose what's wrong with the Eagles.

Both will be in our NFL expert chat at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday so you can tell them directly what you think on those issues and more. Let 'em have it.



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Posted on: September 27, 2011 1:22 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 3:40 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 3: Ochocinco's rough patch

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Justin King, CB, Rams. No one had a tougher day than King, who probably headed to work Sunday morning thinking, "Man, Lee Evans is out with an injury and the Ravens will have to put Torrey Smith out there against me. And he's a rookie!" By the time it was over (and it was over in record time), King would've happily taken his chances against Evans.

Instead he was torched (and we can't stress that enough) by Smith, who hauled in three first-quarter touchdowns of 18, 41 and 74 yards. Smith, who had seen limited action the first two weeks because somebody somewhere thought he wasn't comfortable enough in the offense, finished the day with five receptions for 152 yards.

To his credit, King took responsibility for what Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and Smith did to him.

Week 3 Recap
"You know what, I just could have made the play,'' King said when asked what he could have done differently in the Rams' 37-7 loss to the Ravens on Sunday. "That's what I get paid to do. I'm paid to man-up on guys. He made (plays) and I got beat. I have to show character now and get back to work and fix the mistakes.''

King also verbalized what became apparent about two plays into the game. "I didn't give [Flacco] a reason not to throw it at me,'' he said.

No, no you didn't. But we applaud the positive attitude.

Antonio Cromartie, CB, Jets. Cromartie has been a perfectly adequate cornerback for the Jets, which would make him a really could CB on most other teams. But because he plays opposite Darrelle Revis, he's usually the guy offenses target. Eventually, that means you're due for a rough stretch, and Cromartie found it against the Raiders.

He was called for four penalties (two for pass interference and two for holding), two of which came on Oakland touchdown drives. But it was a special teams faux paus that doomed the Jets.

Following a Raiders touchdown that gave them a 24-17 lead with 40 seconds left in the third quarter, Cromartie muffed a Sebastian Janikowski kickoff that was -- you guessed it -- recovered by Oakland. Two plays later, Michael Bush scored from a yard out, the Raiders led 31-17 and the Jets' afternoon, for all intents and purposes, was over.

Making an already crappy day worse for Cromartie? He suffered bruised ribs and lungs in the loss.

Regarding the muffed kickoff, head coach Rex Ryan was able to succinctly put things into perspective. “When you look at it in hindsight … obviously, [Cromartie] should have let it go,” Ryan said. “At the time, the guy’s trying to make a play.”

Coincidentally, Raiders owner Al Davis tried to sign Cromartie prior to training camp, and reportedly offered him more than the four-year, $32 million deal he ended up signing to return to New York. On Sunday, it was almost as if Cromartie was playing for Oakland because he sure played a big role in their win.

Bears pass-catchers/running game/o-line. Basically everybody but Jay Cutler, who we've never cared much for but feel obligated to defend because he's suddenly become the poster boy for the wussification of the quarterback position. Even though, by virtue of taking 400 hits a week, might be one of the NFL's toughest players. (Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger may disagree, but we're quite certain they're the only QBs who'd have a legitimate gripe.)

Last week, we highlighted Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz in this space because he thought it would be a swell idea to pass the ball on 82 percent of the offensive snaps which, predictably, led to Cutler taking six sacks against the Saints, countless hits and an admission that he didn't know if he'd survive the season.

Against the Packers, Cutler's pass-catchers didn't do him any favors. Roy Williams, Johnny Knox and Kellen Davis all dropped what should've been easy receptions. And running back Matt Forte, who recently announced that the team clearly doesn't consider him an elite back sought to prove just that by rushing for two (!) yards on nine carries. (Related: Cutler led the team in rushing with 11 yards on three attempts.)

Nothing went right for Chicago, including what should have been the niftiest special teams touchdown we can remember. Unfortunately, the officials threw a flag on … something and the play was called back. We can't even blame Martz for that.


Chris Johnson, RB, Titans. This is the first time in Coach Killers history that a player from the winning team has made the list, but Johnson has been nothing short of dreadful since signing that fat contract just in time for the regular season. In three games, CJ's rushed for 98 yards on 46 carries, which works out to a mind-blowing 2.1 yards per carry. The next touchdown he scores will be his first.

We had him unofficially hitting rock bottom following the Titans' victory over the Broncos Sunday. Tennessee's two leading rushers? Johnson and … punter Brett Kern, who both galloped for 21 yards. It gets worse: Johnson needed 12 more carries than Kern, who managed to run 21 yards at one time after bobbling a poor snap during a fourth-down play in which he had every intention of punting the ball. Instead, he fielded the short-hop, ran down the sidelines, and 21 yards later, the Titans had a first down and quite possibly a new threat in the running game.

In case we haven't reminded you in 15 minutes, there's a reason you shouldn't overpay running backs. Silver lining to the dark cloud of losing Kenny Britt: Johnson did catch four passes for 54 receiving yards. Maybe the Titans should give serious consideration to splitting him out wide. It's not like he can get worse, right?

Ochocinco might not be long for New England (Getty Images)
Chad Ochocinco, WR, Patriots. If Ochocinco and Terrell Owens were Batman and Robin a year ago in Cincinnati, the 2011 Ochocinco is the NFL pass-catching equivalent of Wile E. Coyote. The man can't catch a break -- or a pass -- and on Sunday you could make the case that it played a non-trivial part in the Patriots losing to the Bills.

With Aaron Hernandez and Taylor Price out with injuries, Week 3 was supposed to be Ochocinco's opportunity to show that he had a grasp of the Patriots' offense and had earned Tom Brady's trust. Instead, he looked lost, as he often has this season, and in addition to running the wrong route (that led to one of Brady's four interceptions), he also had a huge drop in the fourth quarter that would've been an easy touchdown.

(If New England gets rid of Ochocinco -- and at this point we don't think it would surprise anyone if they did -- perhaps they can unload him on the Bears, who seem eager to corner the market on no-catching wideouts.)

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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