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Tag:Kevin Kolb
Posted on: November 3, 2011 1:39 pm
 

Kevin Kolb (turf toe) unlikely to play Sunday

K. Kolb might be sidelined by turf toe (US Presswire).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Where is Derek Anderson when you need him? That’s a joke, people, but now that it’s unlikely Kevin Kolb will play this Sunday for Arizona because of turf toe (that’s according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter), the Cardinals have to look at other quarterbacking options.

Like John Skelton, who showed some promise last season but ultimately produced a stat line that looked like this: five games, 47.6 completion percentage, two touchdowns, two interceptions, 62.3 quarterback rating.

So, that’s not particularly encouraging.

But to Kolb’s credit, he hates that turf toe is the injury that might keep him out of action.

"I remember Deion Sanders was the first one I ever saw that had 'turf toe,' and I was thinking the same thing as a fan: 'What? Why is (he) out for two weeks with a turf toe?'" Kolb said in a radio interview, via the Arizona Republic. "Then you get one and realize it's a little more painful than it comes across as."

The good news, though, is that Kolb is out of his walking boot and using an unlaced sneaker on his foot.

"He has come a long way in two days," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "That thing was swollen and black and blue. It's going to be how much movement he can get back into it and if the swelling will go down."

In that radio interview, Kolb also said the turf toe moniker made him sound like a “weenie.” I’m not sure that’s true. But I do know this: using the term “weenie” makes him sounds like, well, a weenie.

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Posted on: October 27, 2011 11:39 am
 

Keep an Eye On: Week 8's finer points of analysis

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Giants vs. Dolphins
One of the more confounding issues with the Dolphins this season has been the decline of their pass-rush. After recording 39 sacks in 2010 (tied for 10th best in the NFL) Miami entered last week’s game against Denver with just eight. They wound up recording seven sacks in the game, but that was in part because of Tim Tebow’s inability to make quick reads or get the ball out.

The Giants’ reshuffled offensive line has been hit or miss in pass protection thus far (more “hit” than “miss”). At Arizona in Week 4, their brilliant protection practically won the game. But the next week it waffled against Seattle’s underrated D-line (Chris Clemons rather enjoyed facing left tackle Will Beatty).

The Dolphins have one of the game’s best all-around edge-rushers in Cameron Wake, the reigning AFC sack leader. His leverage and tenacity give him strength that’s much better than his size indicates. Wake has been oddly quiet in non-two minute situations this season, though he abused Denver’s somewhat lumbering right tackle, Orlando Franklin, last week.

Giants right tackle Kareem McKenzie is more polished than Franklin but has slower feet. He’ll need help. On the other side, Miami may have an under-the-radar pass-rushing talent in Jared Odrick, who somewhat resembles a thicker Jason Taylor.

Ravens vs. Cardinals
The Ravens offense owes everyone a good performance after ruining one of our 17 precious Monday night games. They should be able to get on track against a Cardinals defense that has struggled to generate a consistent pass-rush despite aggressive blitzes from new coordinator Ray Horton.

The intrigue is on the other side of the ball. Roughly two months after the trade and $20-million-plus investment in Kevin Kolb, some Cardinal fans are actually wondering if the 27-year-old quarterback should be benched. That’s the kind of ridiculous thinking that those who don’t actually contribute any skin in the game can get away with. Ken Whisenhunt knows that he’d never get another coaching job if he were to bench Kolb for John Skelton.

Kolb hasn’t been great, but he’s hardly the problem. Arizona’s “non-Fitzgerald” receivers have not been able to get open. General manager Rod Graves may deserve some heat for letting Steve Breaston get away this past offseason, though Graves’ logic was understandable at the time. Third-round rookie Andre Roberts showed intriguing potential as a speedy slasher last season.

Roberts looked like a future starter, and he cost a fraction of what Breaston would have cost. So Graves banked on him. Roberts has responded by failing to reach 40 yards receiving in every game this season. The good-looking prospect prior to Roberts, Early Doucet, has been equally ineffective.

Teams can sometimes get away with having only one quality wide receiver, but not if their offensive tackles stink. And there’s no denying that Levi Brown and Brandon Keith – two heavy-footed lumberers with inconsistent technique – stink.

So far Kolb has been awful when throwing off-balance. It’s doubtful he’ll get to be on balance much against a staunch Ravens D.

Bills vs. Redskins
Don’t pick the Redskins this week. It’s a matter of principle, if nothing else. No team should have expectations placed on it after making a change at quarterback and losing its top wide receiver, running back, tight end, left tackle and left guard in a two-week span. This will look like a preseason version of the Redskins. How will they cope?

It helps that Mike Shanahan’s system runs more fluidly with John Beck than it does with Rex Grossman. Beck is smoother reading the field and much better at play-action rollouts and bootlegs than Grossman. Accuracy is a bit of a concern, however. As for the other injuries and replacement ...

RB Tim Hightower (knee – out for season) had found his niche in this zone-run scheme, but he’ll be missed most in the passing game. Ryan Torain is a decent upright power-runner with a spring in his step, but he can’t stick pass-rushers the way Hightower could.

WR Santana Moss (hand – out 5-7 weeks) was Washington’s only creator on offense. He could generate his own space and turn an underneath catch into a 60-yard scamper. Either Niles Paul or Anthony Armstrong will replace him. Both have flashed at times, but neither is completely trustworthy. And, unlike with Moss, defenses won’t have to even ponder the possibility of double coverage.

TE Chris Cooley (finger, knee – out for season) was trending down and losing his role to Fred Davis prior to get hurting. Davis can fill Cooley’s receiving shoes. But the Redskins are now down a good in-line blocker in the run game. With Cooley and Davis, Washington had the benefit of balancing its formation with a viable pass-catching tight end on each side. This often compelled defenses to stay in basic front seven looks. New backup tight end Logan Paulsen won’t command that kind of respect.

LT Trent Williams (high ankle sprain – out 0-4 weeks) has missed most of the last two games. Pretty easy to identify the impact of his absence: backup Sean Locklear is experienced but much slower than Williams all-around.

LG Kory Lichtensteiger (knee – out for season) was one of the unheralded heroes for this team down the stretch last year and prior to going down in Week 6. Center Will Montgomery moved one spot to the left to fill Lichtensteiger’s void. Montgomery is interchangeable that way, but his replacement in the middle, Erik Cook, a seventh-round pick in ’10, was a noticeable downgrade coming off the bench. He had issues snapping the ball and was overwhelmed by defensive tackle Mike Peterson on a few plays. The Redskins can only hope those were Cook’s jitters working themselves out.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 8 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: October 25, 2011 9:57 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 7: Carson Boller, everybody!

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

Raiders quarterbacks (take your pick)
Remember Raiders head coach Hue Jackson in the days leading up to the Chargers game, joking about about drinking irish coffee before deciding on his quarterback? He was coy and evasive about whether Carson Palmer would start less than a week after Jackson swapped two first-rounders for him and save Oakland's season. Carson had spent the previous nine months on his couch refusing to play for the Bengals, and while the Raiders was a better situation for him (think about that for a moment), he didn't know the offense or his teammates, and would no doubt be rusty from having taken nearly a year off.

The QB changed, the results didn't (Getty Images)
So when the Raiders took the field Sunday, it was with backup Kyle Boller. Not ideal, but it's what you have to do given the circumstances. What you can't do, no matter how bad things get against a division rival: you absolutely can not bring Palmer in.

First, because, as we've established: HE'S NOT READY. Second, long-suffering Raiders fans have something this October that they haven't possessed in a decade: hope. (The Raiders entered Sunday's game with a 4-2 record. Since 2002, the last time they went to the Super Bowl, Oakland won four games or fewer for an entire season four times. And they haven't had a winning record since 2002.)  After gazing on Palmer in all his unmitigated awfulness, now that's been taken away from them, too.

Jackson panicked. Boller threw three first-half interceptions, the Raiders got down early, and Jackson, perhaps finally realizing that he had mortgaged Oakland's future, decided to get Palmer some work against a Chiefs team that suddenly looked like defending division champs.

Bad idea. Because when Palmer entered the game in the third quarter, he picked up right where Boller left off, tossing three interceptions of his own. And all the talk about the zip on his throws? He must've left that on the practice field, too, because our first glimpse at 2011 Palmer looked a lot like the 2010 Palmer that struggled with the Bengals.

Yes, we get it, that was his first game action since last season. But that's our point: don't even subject him, his fragile psyche and the fans' hopes and dreams to that in the first place. Not now. It's okay to lose convincingly with Boller. People expect it. But to throw Palmer in the mix and to have that happen … well, that's bad. Really, really, bad.

Not to worry, though.

"This football team is not going to blink," Jackson said after the game. "We've got to play better. We've got to play better offensively. I take full responsibility, because this is a team that I lead, and we didn't play like the Raiders can play."

Um, okay. It gets better (or worse, depending on your perspective).

"We knew they had a quarterback controversy," said the Chiefs' Kendrick Lewis, who pick-sixed Boller's first pass of the afternoon. "We studied film and studied their routes and knew they would have a limited playbook. When we had the opportunity to make big plays and capitalize, that's what we did."

No argument here.


The 4th interception of the day for the Kansas City defense was a pick six off of the newest member of the Oakland Raiders Carson Palmer.

Chargers' two-minute offense
San Diego scored 21 points in the first half against the Jets, and led New York for three and a half quarters. And then, when they needed to score a touchdown with just under two minutes to go, the offense showed all the urgency of a team trying to run out the clock. It was only slightly more inexplicable than the defense's decision to cover Plaxico Burress until he got into the red zone because quarterback Phil Rivers, one of the league's best quarterbacks, is supposed to excel in these late-game situations. Sunday, he did not.

A recap:

* 1:29 on the clock, ball on Chargers' 24-yard line. Rivers to Antonio Gates for 18 yards. Perfect start. We've seen this before, right?

* With no timeouts remaining, Rivers sashays up to the line of scrimmage like it's the first drive of the first quarter. Compounding matters: head coach Norv Turner appears to be in no rush to get the play call into Rivers. Twenty-nine seconds later, the Chargers finally snap the ball. Rivers, perhaps drawing inspiration from Tim Tebow, takes a deep drop before throwing a four-yard pass nowhere near the sidelines. Patrick Crayton makes the catch, the clock continues to run.

* Rivers liked the previous play so much, he runs it again, but only after 46 seconds have elapsed. Seriously.

* On third down, the ball is snapped with 17 seconds left in the game and the Chargers having gained a grand total of 25 yards. Thankfully, Rivers throws the ball a) downfield and b) to the sidelines. It falls incomplete. If nothing else, the clock stops.

* On fourth down, needing 51 yards and with just 11 seconds to do it, the Chargers will undoubtedly call a play that gets them a quick first down and then take one last chance in the end zone. Because, really, they're out of other options at this point, right? Turns out, not exactly. Rivers did something nobody expected: he throws the ball … out of bounds.  And we don't mean in a position near the sideline where only his receiver can make a play. We mean: over the bench, almost into the crowd.

So, yeah, that happened.

"Very disorganized," Tony Dungy said Sunday during NBC's Football Night in America. "You expect more Philip Rivers and that offense." Yes, yes you do, Tony.

Chargers tight end Randy McMichael agrees.

“We had them down and took our foot off the gas,” he said. “I’m not giving credit to anybody. This is our fault. Nothing to do with the play calling … Their secondary isn’t anything. It’s our fault. The guys in this locker room, we lost the game. The San Diego Chargers beat the San Diego Chargers. Nothing to do with the New York Jets. It’s embarrassing.”

Unfortunately, the San Diego Chargers don't get a win and a loss for beating themselves.

Jets cornerback (and former Coach Killers honoree!) Antonio Cromartie had a different take.

"When you're up by 11 points in the fourth quarter, and you can't even finish the game up, that shows what kind of team you are: a team that can't finish," Cromartie told The Newark Star-Ledger. "And that’s been San Diego the whole time. There it is."

And Rex Ryan's response when he was asked about McMichael's comments? "Stay classy, San Diego." We're not kidding.

Week 7 Recap

Kevin Kolb, quarterback, Arizona
You think the Cardinals regret a) trading a second-round pick and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kolb, and b) then giving Kolb a $62 million extension? Because we're almost positive Arizona could go 1-5 with pretty much any combination of Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton.

Against the Steelers, Kolb looked like … well, the same dude we saw behind Donovan McNabb in Philly. We were confused when the Cards gave up so much (and then paid so much) to get him in free agency since Kolb hadn't shown that he was anything other than a quality backup and spot starter.

Kolb threw an interception on Arizona's first possession, which led to seven Steelers' points, and he now has just as many TDs as picks (7) this season. He's also completing just 58 percent of his passes, and missing wide-open targets. On Sunday, he short-hopped a ball to tight end Rob Housler on what should've been a first-half touchdown, and the TD pass he did throw -- a 73-yarder to LaRod Stephens-Howling -- was a Tebow special: the ball traveled 10 yards and Stephens-Howling did the heavy lifting for the final 63 yards to the end zone.

As long as we're making comparisons, here's one more: through six games, Kolb is basically Kyle Boller with a permed mullet. This is not a compliment. (Upside: if there's ever a movie about his life, Danny McBride's getting the lead role, though Kenny Powers might have a better arm.)

Like he did in the team's previous loss, Whisenhunt vowed to examine what the Cards are doing and who's doing it. Clearly, Kolb is part of that examination, although there has been no discussion of replacing him. "I"m not saying that," Whisenhunt told the Arizona Republic's Kent Somers when he brought up the possibility. This is what happens when you pay guys $62 million and you're not really sure if they're going to pan out: you have to play them while you find out. Through six games, Kolb's struggling.

That said, he said after the Steelers loss that he felt he was making progress.

"When you have lost five games in a row, I don't think anybody is progressing at the rate we need," Whisenhunt said when apprised of Kolb's remarks.

"I think you're naïve if you say that. I'm not saying Kevin is naïve to say that. Kevin has made progress in some areas, but I think all know there have been some plays he's left out there."

We don't think Kevin's naive, either. Saying "I'm progressing!" is a coping mechanism.

Titans offense, defense
The biggest game of the season against a hated division rival and Tennessee decides to take the afternoon off. That sums up nicely what we can expect from this team the rest of the season. The Titans stumbled out of the gate losing to the Jags, then beat the Ravens in Week 2, got to 3-1 and then were smoked by the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Following their Week 6 bye, they came out wholly unprepared against a team they see twice a year every year, and following a 41-7 beatdown are now 3-3.

And there were no bright spots Sunday. Texans running back Arian Foster, not happy to just run all over the Titans, added an arial assault to the whipping. He had 115 receiving yards in the first half, including a 68-yard pitch and catch from Matt Schaub. By the time it was over, he had 119 yards receiving and another 115 rushing and three touchdowns.

“We got embarrassed in our own backyard. That’s the tough thing about it,” safety Michael Griffin said. “It can get worse. No team is going to look at us as a team that won three straight games. They’re going to look at us as a team that was 0-and-2 against good teams. We’ve got to turn this thing around.”

Luckily, Chris Johnson and his Amazing Disappearing Act, isn't to blame. At least according to Chris Johnson.

“Basically, if you are watching the game and you really can’t tell what is going on with the run game then I would say you really don’t know football,’’ Johnson said. “I wouldn’t say I am the issue. I am very confident I have been doing the things … I do.”

And in 2011, "doing the things I do" means rushing for 18 yards on 10 carries. Yes, Chris, keep doing that. It's a huge help.

Kyle Boller haunted the Ravens on MNF. (Getty Images)
Tie: Rams defense/Ravens offense
Lord have mercy on both these units. It's the unstoppable force and the immovable object having taken the shape of ridiculously bad football. The Rams, an admittedly dreadful team, got steamrolled by a Cowboys' run defense that, prior to Week 7, didn't exist. Remember: Dallas couldn't run the ball late in the game last week against the Pats' porous D. Against the Rams? It looked like Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith joined forces, hopped in a time machine, and went off.

Instead they just lived vicariously through rookie DeMarco Murray, Dallas' third-round pick. Murray's first touch of the game came on the Cowboys' first possession, on first and 19 from the Dallas nine-yard-line. Ninety-one yards later … touchdown. That set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Murray, who saw extended action because Felix Jones was out with an injury, rushed 25 times for 253 (TWO-HUNDRED FIFTY-THREE!) yards.

Jeff Gordon's Rams Report Card in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is … well, about what you'd expect: Defensive line - F, linebackers - F, secondary - D-minus (woo hoo! passing!).

Head coach Steve Spagnuolo got an "F" too. "Spagnuolo was supposed to build this team from the lines out . . . and yet the Rams keep getting manhandled in the trenches, despite heavy investments there. Overall sloppiness remains pervasive six games into this winless season. … The death march continued."

And that's about the best thing you can say about the 2011 Rams.

The Ravens, meanwhile, entered Monday night's game as one of the best teams in the AFC, with their always-stout defense and a young offense that was supposedly improving. Other than the Week 1 hurting they put on the Steelers (which included seven Pittsburgh turnovers and great field position for Baltimore's offense), and the hapless Rams, the Ravens' offense looks to be right out of the era prior to the invention of the forward pass.

And that's fine if offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is feeding the ball to Ray Rice, easily the team's best weapon. But against the Jags, Rice fumbled early and ended up spending much of the evening on the bench. Predictably, Baltimore's offense faltered. (By the way, if Joe Flacco was benched every time he had a turnover he'd be on the practice squad by now.)

By the time it was over, Rice had eight carries for the night. In related news: the Ravens scored seven points, and that came on the next-to-last drive. Ironically: Flacco threw one of the worst interceptions you'll ever see on the last drive, sealing the win for the Jags.

“It's about as bad as you can play on offense,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said afterwards. “I don't know if we could play any worse than that until that [late] drive."

You can't. We checked. The Ravens didn't get their first first down until the third quarter.

“If we don't get the consistency on offense, we're not going anywhere," Harbaugh continued. "You can't play like we played tonight on offense and expect to win. We all know it. We got our butts handed to us from that sense, and we'll go back to work just like we always do.”

Linebacker Terrell Suggs, like everybody else, has no idea what the offense was doing.

"I don't really know what the game plan was," he told CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco after the game. "When I have a Pro Bowl running back, and he's not getting his touches, I'm going to feel some kind of way about it. He wants the ball. And I think we should feed him. Ray Rice is a phenomenal player. You have to use your phenomenal players. I have to question how many touches Anquan [Boldin] had. We've got guys on this team that can do some great things. We have to use those guys. It's that simple."

And this is why the torch-and-pitchfork crowd will be mobilizing this week and calling for Cameron to be fired (it's a weekly occurrence, but the cries should be especially loud this week after losing to the previously 1-5 Jaguars).


Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 105 yards against the NFL's best run defense, Josh Scobee kicked four field goals and the Jaguars snapped a five-game slide with a 12-7 victory over the Ravens on Monday night.

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Posted on: October 24, 2011 2:00 am
Edited on: October 24, 2011 2:31 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 7

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


1. He's Just a Winner
For the second time in three weeks, we lead the Pile with a story about Tim Tebow, thanks to Denver's 18-15 win in Miami on Sunday. And for the second time in three weeks, we lead the Pile with a story that was going to involve the phrase "Tim Tebow is a bad quarterback." And for the second time in three weeks I fully expect to be thrashed in the comments for not giving Tebow enough credit because he's a "winner."

This is fair, because Tebow did win. But it's unfair because Tebow looked unlike anything resembling an NFL quarterback for the majority of the game. Ask anyone who watched the game and they'll agree with you. My colleagues Pete Prisco ("looked lost," "isn't close to being a good quarterback") and Josh Katzowitz ("a mirage," "terrible," "horrendous," "no idea what he was doing") threw down lines on Tebow that belong on the back of the straight-to-DVD cover for the latest Adam Sandler movie.

To sum up everything about this game, let's watch the two-point conversion when Denver tied the game at 15. Before you click play, though, I want you to imagine you're a Dolphins defender and you know the Broncos only need two yards.


OK, presuming you played along, that video got McFly'd, because it never happened. Since, you know, anyone with a modicum of football sense saw the quarterback draw from Tebow coming on the play and snuffed it out. Somehow, the Dolphins failed to do this.

There's plenty of blame to go around, of course. Everyone on Miami's defensive coaching staff should be embarrassed for not knowing that was coming. And everyone on the Dolphins defense should be embarrassed for not recognizing what was happening, regardless of the playcall. Tony Sparano should be embarrassed after he went for a two-point conversion at the beginning of the fourth quarter with the Dolphins up 12-0; an extra point would have rendered this entire discussion moot.

In case you don't believe me, just look at the rollercoaster that is the win probability for the Broncos over the course of Sunday's game, courtesy of AdvancedNFLStats.com:



I realize that knocking on Tebow after he led a comeback on the road (well, kind of) in the face of adversity makes me a jerk, especially when that adversity includes a) a coach who might not want him to succeed, b) no real help at the other offensive skill positions and c) lacking the appropriate skills to play quarterback in the NFL.

But you know what he does have? The best attitude in the NFL.

"It's a good stadium," a smiling Tebow said after the game. "I enjoy playing here. Sometimes you have to find a way and keep believing and keep fighting."

That's classic Tebow, even if he had no business winning the game. I like what I heard on Twitter Sunday -- that Tebow is everything his critics say he is and yet, at the same time, everything his fans say he is -- because it's true. Tebow's a mechanically flawed, imperfect quarterback for the NFL, but he's fantastic young man who works his ass off and has such an improbably high level of faith in a higher power that he's automatically a lightning rod for discussion and/or controversy.

Look, I like Tebow and I don't necessarily enjoy taking the side of the argument where I have to dog the guy. I don't, I swear. But so very much about the Broncos victory in Miami was about the Dolphins inability to operate as a successful football team, and so very much of the Broncos victory was not about Denver's ability to dominate offensively.

But pick a side -- you have to, of course! -- and call me a jerk in the comments either way. Just remember that if you're the one screaming about how he's a winner you're on the same side as Skip Bayless and and LeBron James.

2. A Hue, Tiny Mistake
On the bright side, Tebow only cost the Broncos one first-round draft pick. Carson Palmer might, depending on how Oakland finishes the season, cost the Raiders two of them. Although if Palmer plays like he did on Sunday afternoon, it's pretty unlikely, since throwing three picks in one half isn't a great formula for making it to the AFC Championship.

Palmer did just that on Sunday, helping Kansas City blowout the Raiders 28-0 in Oakland. Oh yeah, it's awkward, and we'll get to that. But real quick, let me say I'm sorry, personally, to my colleague Matt Moore (not the guy who stinks for the Dolphins; and no, that never gets old) for consistently ripping the Chiefs over the past few weeks. They've now won three-straight games and next week they're playing the Chargers to determine who'll be in first place in the AFC West. Yes, the NFL is as insane as you think.

Back to the Raiders: for the most part, Hue Jackson's done a nice job with this team so far in 2011 but he's shown an ability to botch a decision or two. And he botched a big one on Sunday, waiting until 10 minutes left in the third quarter to bring in Palmer for Kyle Boller, who was the first quarterback in Raiders history to throw three picks in the first half of a single outing.

It's not that Hue should have yanked Boller more quickly, or that Hue should have left Boller in. It's just that he went into the game with no idea of how to handle the Palmer situation and by bringing in Palmer -- who obviously wasn't ready, because otherwise he would have started, right? -- for part of the second half, he not only offered up a pile of doubt for Raiders fans to judge Palmer on, but he put his would-be franchise quarterback out there for injury.

"Uncertainty at quarterback is not what led to interceptions or anything like that," Jackson said on Sunday, instead chalking up the lack of a clear-cut decision and the uncertainty at quarterback to "some gamesmanship."

Jackson was in a bad situation, because Darren McFadden was injured and Boller looked miserable, but if you're coaching this team and you're the guy who pulled the trigger on the Palmer trade, you need to have a plan locked in and stick with it regardless of how poorly things are going.

3. Elsewhere in the AFC West ...
For such a seemingly shoddy division, the AFC West is slinging some Week 7 storylines -- we've got Tebow, the Raiders controversy and the Chiefs getting back into the race. Oh yes, and the Chargers losing a "shoulda won" game against the Jets on Sunday, falling 27-21 in New York on a day that, instead of establishing the Chargers as one of the elite teams in the AFC, exposed them as having the same flaws they've always had.

"We can sit here and think of a bunch of reasons why," Philip Rivers said after the game. "The bottom line is that we came out playing really well. We just didn't finish off the game."

The Bolts came out white-hot -- on the fourth play from scrimmage, Donald Butler stripped Dustin Keller and took a "fumble" to the house to give San Diego an early lead. The Chargers caught a break on a Nick Mangold holding call that led to a Mark Sanchez interception and turned it into an Antonio Gates touchdown.

Gates return was the early key for San Diego, who appeared to solve their red-zone woes with the future Hall of Famer in the starting lineup.

But Brian Schottenheimer and Sanchez figured out that the Chargers had a bigger problem -- they don't have anyone that can matchup man-to-man with Plaxico Burress who, just a few months removed from being in prison, caught three touchdowns in the Jets win.

There's another problem for Norv's team, too, and it's Rivers playing poorly. I'm not sure whether or not the two-minute drill they ran at the end of the game was Turner's doing or Rivers' work, but it was one of the most mangled series of plays I've seen in a long, long time.

After holding the Jets to a field goal and a six-point lead, the Chargers started their final drive with 1:29 on the clock. They then proceeded to run five plays, move the ball a whopping 25 yards and burn 1:18 off the clock, meaning that in the most dire of circumstances, one of the most high-powered offenses in the NFL moved the ball a quarter of the field at a snail-like pace of 3.12 seconds per yard.

Can you imagine how hot Turner's seat would be if the Chargers had coughed up a couple of their September squeak-by victories?



4. Quite Unprobable
It's a shame that Emmitt Smith's no longer dropping knowledge bombs on television, because I'd love to hear what the Hall of Famer would say about rookie third-rounder DeMarco Murray breaking his single-game Cowboys record for rushing yards in a game after piling up 253 yards on 25 carries.

As I wrote in this space after Week 2, "the former Sooner is a highly-talented receiver out of the backfield, and has the potential to be a serious threat." That was based on what I'd seen from Murray in very limited action through the first two weeks and, clearly, it was an understatement.

The Cowboys still didn't fire on all cylinders, but it doesn't take a maximum effort to beat up on the Rams, even to the point of a 34-7 whipping. Murray won't run like that every week but, man, even if you take away his first-quarter, 91-yard touchdown run, Murray still averaged 6.75 yards per carry against St. Louis.

Having talent, though, is typical of the Cowboys. Using it to maximize their success on gameday's the bigger issue. But with Seattle, Buffalo, Washington, Miami and Arizona on the schedule over the next six weeks, it's hard not to want to double down on their chances of winning the NFC East.

5. Six Or One-Half Dozen
One of the reasons to love the Cowboys? The Redskins are in the middle of a freefall. And it's all on the Jekyll and Jekyll combo that Mike Shanahan is rolling out under center this year.

Honestly, what would it take for Shanahan to admit that he made a mistake coming into 2011 with Rex Grossman and John Beck as his starting quarterbacks? Because before the season started, it was an indefensibly ridiculous gamble, the kind that seemed just bat-poop crazy enough to work but obviously wouldn't anyway.

Yet after four weeks, the Redskins were 3-1, held sole possession of first place in the NFC East. Sure, the end of the world was nigh, but at least Shanny seemed smarter.

Now, after John Beck's performance -- 22/37 for 279 yards, a passing touchdown, a rushing touchdown and a pick -- on Sunday in a 33-20 loss in Charlotte, it's really impossible to imagine that they'll be a mathematical contender for much longer.

"I think overall John played very well first time out," Shanahan said Sunday.

Beck's numbers weren't that terrible, but he didn't look particularly adept at running Washington's offense and whether or not he's the answer for the Redskins shouldn't even be a question any more: he's not.

Adding to the problems for Washington is a report that running back Tim Hightower has a torn ACL (which would obviously put his season in jeopardy) and that receiver Santana Moss will miss 3-4 weeks with a broken hand. Oh yes, and Rex Grossman has pneumonia, so he's unlikely to be available any time soon.

Like I said on the podcast before Week 7, I'll pull a reverse Rex right now and guarantee that the Redskins finish in the basement of the NFC East. That's a better bet than them winning the division at this point.

6. Everyone Off This Bandwagon!
Those first five weeks were sweet for Lions fans, and as Mike Freeman wrote from Detroit on Sunday, it's not panic time yet, but it's getting close.

That's mainly because in Detroit's 23-16 loss to Atlanta on Sunday, their flaws as a team were really on display. With Jerome Harrison out for the season and Jahvid Best potentially sidelined for the year, this team has zero running game -- Maurice Morris led the way with nine carries for 50 yards.

They can't stop the run either; Detroit ranks 28th in the league in rushing yards allowed (129.4 yards per game) and Michael Turner carved them up on Sunday, ensuring that Matthew Stafford didn't get another shot at a comeback.

Getting a look Sunday might not be the biggest concern for Stafford either, because a bad result from the MRI he's reportedly undergoing Monday could spell for doom for what appeared to be a magical season. Stafford might be fine and then the passing game isn't a concern.

But if the Lions can't run the ball and they can't stop the run, they're going to struggle to win games against teams later in the year.

And all that swagger we've been talking about? Somehow it's backfiring. Last week it was Jim Schwartz' fiery tirade towards Jim Harbaugh; this week Lions defensive players were supposedly taunting Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan after he suffered an injury.

The Lions have enough talent to keep winning, and the future is bright in Detroit. And none of the things happening to them are, in an individual sense, devastating. But them all together and it's a quick recipe for the wheels coming off.

7. And Back on This One!
I was pretty sure the Texans would cover on Sunday. Win? Maybe. But it would be close. After all, Houston's been pretty putrid on offense since Andre Johnson injured his hamstring two weeks ago, managing just 39 points in losses to the Ravens and Raiders.

Needless to say, then, I wasn't prepared for the 41-7 smackdown that Arian Foster and company laid on the Titans. Foster piled up 234 total yards and three touchdowns, Matt Schaub missed on only five passes and the Texans defense stifled the Titans, holding them to 148 total yards on Sunday.

Chris Johnson, who said afterwards that his play is "not an issue," was, um, the biggest issue, rushing for just 18 yards on 10 carries.

"It's just a situation I got to continue to say I can't do nothing but keep working hard, running hard and doing what I can do for this team," Johnson said.

The problem is that Johnson's not running hard. Ask anyone who's watched him play this year and it's pretty apparent that he's not the same guy who deserved the big contract he held out for prior to this year. He's not showing any burst through the hole, he's got happy feet at the line and he looks like a running back who might be really fast but doesn't know how to run.

That's unfortunate for the Titans, obviously, but I'm not sure it would really matter in an AFC South race that's already wrapped up for all intents and purposes. The Texans showed on Sunday that despite their flaws, their still head and shoulders above the Jaguars, Titans and Colts. They might be second only to the 49ers when it comes to odds for making the playoffs, and with two matchups against the Jaguars, one against the Browns, one more against the Titans and a trip to Indy still on the docket, nine wins seems like a shoo-in.

Which means so is the division title; everyone else in the South is just that terrible this year.

8. Recent Super Bowl Rematches
I thought it was kind of interesting that we had a pair of matchups from the last three Super Bowls this year in Week 7, as the Colts and Saints squared off on Sunday night and the Steelers and Cardinals played during the day.

I also thought it was interesting that the teams who lost those Super Bowls are terrible -- the Colts remain winless and got absolutely whooped 62-7 by New Orleans Sunday night. I'm as guilty as anyone of discussing how important Peyton Manning is to Indy's chances, and I think they'd be a .500 team with him this year.

But they'd still be bad, because the dude doesn't play defense, and he certainly isn't responsible for Drew Brees throwing five touchdowns and only four incompletions in a single game.

As for Arizona/Pittsburgh, man does that Kevin Kolb trade look awesome or what? Kolb had a 73-yard touchdown, but it's poppycock to give him too much credit, since it was basically a five-yard drag route that LaRod Stephens-Howling turned into a long score.

I used this analogy in the podcast, but it's like the Cardinals are Netflix and Kolb is Qwikster, only the parent company doesn't have the option of hitting the reset button.


9. No Offense But ...
No offense. Like scoring and points and stuff -- there wasn't much of it during the early portion of the day games. Dolphins-Broncos, Redskins-Panthers, Browns-Seahawks; all were field-goal contests for at least the first half and, in some cases, longer.

There were plenty of scores (49, according to NFL Network's Red Zone, during the "day" games) but clearly offensive output was down from previous weeks. Brees blew up and Aaron Rodgers blew up and Ben Roethlisberger blew up, but those guys were the only quarterbacks to go over 300 yards on Sunday.

By contrast, four guys went over 400 yards in Week 1 (and 14 went over 300). Nine went over 300 yards in Week 2. 11 over 300 in Week 3. 10 in Week 4. Six quarterbacks crossed 300 yards in Week 5, and just six again in Week 6.

To me, this represents the point in the year where the defense finally caught up with the high-octane offenses in the NFL.

That doesn't mean the NFL's not a passing league any more, because it certainly is. Instead, a combination of the lockout, the reduced offseason workouts, the reduced in-season contact and rules designed to protect wide receivers and quarterbacks really set defenses back for the first few weeks of the 2011 season.

Lots of dudes could still break Dan Marino's record -- Aaron Rodgers is on pace 5,421 yards, Tom Brady's on pace for 5,768 yards -- but we've said that before only to see cold weather, injuries and improved defenses slow down incredible passing numbers.

It might just be happening again right now.

10. On Another Planet
When we see great athletes succeed, sometimes it's difficult to see just how dominant they are, because the game moves so slowly and looks so easy for them. This is often called "the zone."

Aaron Rodgers isn't just hanging out in this space -- at the beginning of the 2010 playoffs, he paid cash for about 30 acres of land in the zone and he's been living there ever since.

His level of play in his first three years running the Packers offense was incredibly impressive, but what he's doing in 2011 is absolutely phenomenal and, without being crass, watching him carve up defenses with precision is like football porn.

Rodgers has a combination of skills -- a lightning quick release, rapid movement through his reads, the ability to look off defenders, quick feet, to name a few -- that make him as deadly and precise a quarterback as we've seen in the NFL in a long time.

That's not a knock on Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, because Rodgers is different. And right now he's better -- it seems like every single drive he makes a throw that knocks your socks off and seems virtually impossible.

If Rodgers keeps up his current pace, he'll become the first player in NFL history to throw for more than 4,000 yards, complete more than 70 percent of his passes and throw less than 10 interceptions. (Drew Brees accomplished the first two in 2009 but threw 11 picks.)

There are things that could go wrong, of course, but if you look back at 2010, Rodgers didn't even really get hot until November and holy hell did he get hot.

Just remember that when you're deciding what to watch over these next few weeks.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Olindo Mare made three-straight field goals, each five yards longer than the last (35, 40, 45) because of two-straight Panthers offensive
... Brian Robison apologized for kicking T.J Lang in the groin and said it was an accident. The GIF below disagrees. Thankfully, Lang says his groin is fine. In case you care.
... Will Indy remember Sean Payton eating a hot dog the next time they play the Saints?
... The Broncos first third-down conversion on Sunday came with 4:22 remaining. In the third quarter.
... Calvin Johnson became the first wide receiver in Lions history with 10 or more touchdowns in three seasons on Sunday. That still doesn't mean Matt Millen should have drafted all those guys.
... Big ups to Tony Gonzalez for becoming the NFL's second all-time leader in receptions.
... Mike Wallace now has six-straight games with a reception of 40 yards or longer.
... The Packers are just the fourth team in NFL history to start the season 7-0 after winning a Super Bowl.
... Cam Newton extended his own streak -- only player in NFL history with seven or more rushing and passing touchdowns through seven games.
... Newton also tied Vince Young's record for rookie rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, with seven. Something tells me he breaks it.

Worth 1,000 Words



Jim Irsay Pop-Culture Referencing Tweet That's Sure to Drive Colts Fans Insane of the Week
"There's a lot of things,that can kill a man..a lot of ways 2 die...and some already dead,that walk besides me"

Ray LaMontagne probably couldn't have imagined the grizzly death that went down on Sunday night.

GIF O' THE WEEK
That the referee -- who quite clearly saw Brian Robison kick T.J. Lang in the man-region -- didn't throw Robison out for this is absolutely impressive. Even Roman Harper thinks this is cheap.



Hot Seat Tracker
It's totally worth noting that Todd Haley isn't on this list. Impressive move by him.
  • Jack Del Rio -- Some kid asked Rashean Mathis when JDR was getting fired. I texted my aunt in Jacksonville asking if it was one of her sons. She said it wasn't but that she was wondering the same thing.
  • Jim Caldwell -- Just because Indy's going to ride him out doesn't mean his job is safe.
  • Tony Sparano -- Adios, amigo.
  • Steve Spagnuolo -- The Rams are crushed by injuries but the bad losses are piling up. They need a good close to the season.
  • Ken Wisenhunt -- He's got the Cards practicing on their off day during their bye week. Might be feeling some pressure.
  • Norv Turner -- That two-minute drill against the Jets was a borderline fireable offense on its own.
  • Mike Shanahan -- What happens if the Redskins finish 4-12?
Chasing Andrew Luck
This is a heated race, folks. Certainly more interesting than the AFC South.

Colts (-500): Is point differential a tiebreaker? Because that would be good -- er, bad for the Colts.
Dolphins (-450): Their schedule is also quite bleak. At least their fans are happy?
Rams (-350): The NFC West schedule should keep them from landing the top pick, but it's not a guarantee.
Cardinals (-225): Wouldn't this be something after they traded for Kevin Kolb?
Jaguars/Vikings (-200): There sure are a lot of teams on this list who already invested heavily in quarterbacks.

MVP Watch
As I noted above, Rodgers is doing unholy things right now. There might be some sort of interesting, half-hearted argument at the end of the year, but if Rodgers keeps doing what he's done through seven weeks, he'll win in a landslide.
Posted on: October 21, 2011 2:16 pm
 

Five Questions (or more) with Aldon Smith

A. Smith has become one of the top rookie defenders in the league (US Presswire).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

The 49ers have been the biggest surprise team of the NFL this year -- they’re already running away with the NFC West, for heaven’s sake -- and helping lead the defense is rookie linebacker Aldon Smith, perhaps the biggest surprise pick of the 2011 draft.

You’ll recall that Smith was supposedly a mid-to-late round draft pick, but San Francisco, instead, took him at the No. 7 spot, and after a pedestrian first few weeks on the job, he’s exploded in Weeks 4, 5, 6, accumulating 5 ½ sacks and a forced fumble. Which perhaps is more than we would have expected from him so soon.

Earlier this week, we caught up with Smith, and we talked about the preseason prognosticators who didn’t pick the 49ers to win the division, why he loves playing for Jim Harbaugh and what he thinks about his alma mater, Missouri, heading to the SEC.

Previous Five Questions (or more):

Sept. 16:
Actor/former Patriots DB Brian White

Sept. 30: Bills RB Fred Jackson

Oct. 7: Sweetness author Jeff Pearlman

1. CBSSports.com: I think a lot of people are surprised with the 49ers. I know I picked the Rams to win the division and you could look at Arizona and Kevin Kolb before the season and say they have a chance. But you guys have kind of surprised everybody.

Aldon Smith: First of all, those opinions about us, I’m sorry for them. We’ve had faith since day one, since we got to camp. We just worked so hard from training camp through preseason to practice, and we knew the results were going to pay off.

CBS: But everybody works hard. What is it about San Francisco that you guys are playing so well, so early in the season?

Smith: Everybody has done just a good job, and everybody is doing their job right. Everybody is doing the little things, and it’s paying off for us.

2. CBS: Coming off the handshake game between Jim Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh, and obviously, you can see the kind of passion that Harbaugh has. What it’s like playing for a guy like that?

Smith: That was just him showing his personality. He’s a competitor. He’s somebody who takes the game seriously. It’s a passion of his. It’s a reflection of him. He’s a fighter, and we want to be fighters just like him.

CBS: In college or high school, had you ever played for a coach like that, a guy who’s so fiery?

Smith: I’ve had some great coaches, especially when I was at Missouri and Raytown (High School). But with coach Harbaugh, it’s just great playing for him. He’s a good guy.

A. Smith thinks Missouri will be just fine in the SEC (US Presswire).3. CBS: The 49ers have gone to the Eastern Time Zone three times in the last four weeks, but you guys won all three of those games. Then, you go back to Baltimore on Thanksgiving. How do you have so much success after doing so much traveling?

Smith: Just take advantage of your opportunity to rest. You try to get some rest on the plane. If you take advantage of your rest, everything will be all right. The whole East Coast to West Coast thing is a myth.

CBS: Really?

Smith: I don’t know (laughs). I feel good.

CBS: It really doesn’t affect you? I mean, you guys are playing at 10 a.m. body time three out of four weeks.

Smith: You can feel it a little bit. A little. It’s nothing some 5-Hour Energy can’t fix or some coffee.

4. CBS: I think a lot of people were surprised when you were taken seventh in the NFL draft. Many people thought you were more of a mid-to-late round guy, and then when you were taken seventh, it was like, this big surprise. What was your reaction?

Smith: It was a surprise for me. But man, I’m glad I here. I was happy as hell.

CBS: Were there higher expectations because you were No. 7 instead of going later in the first round?

Smith: I just felt the need to come and play football. There are expecatations with anything. I expect to go out and make plays. It was just another blessing.

CBS: Have you met those expectations?

Smith: Kind of. I did drop a wide-open pick last week.

CBS: For all the people who thought Von Miller and Nick Fairley were going to be the best rookies on defense coming out of the draft, you’ve really outperformed both of them.

Smith: Those guys were crazy in college, and they’ve been good (in the NFL). I’m just getting a little bit more plays.

5. CBS: What do you think about Missouri going to the SEC?

Smith: Bring it on.

CBS: But can Missouri compete in the SEC?

Smith: Yeah, we can compete in that conference. The SEC thing about them being the best conference in college football is just an opinion thing. I thought the Big 12 conference is the best in football anyway.

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Posted on: October 9, 2011 1:27 pm
 

Vikings fans chant 'We want Ponder!' early Sunday

Posted by Will Brinson

Sunday's Minnesota-Arizona is a big one for Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb. Not only does Minnesota desperately need a win, but he's going head-to-head with the guy, Kevin Kolb, who froced him out of Philadelphia.

And he's apparently pretty motivated -- Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic reports overhearing a chalkboard-material line from McNabb.

"Ain't no reason we can't blow these guys out," McNabb told his teammates in the Vikings locker room, according to Somers.

Good news for McNabb -- the Vikings got off to a pretty nice start. After a stalled drive from Kolb and the Cardinals, Minnesota marched into the end zone on an 11-yard touchdown run from Adrian Peterson.

The bad news for McNabb? He went 0-3 on the first drive, and Vikings fans began chanting "We want Ponder!" Yes, that's the first drive for Minnesota, and yes, McNabb needs to step up his game in order to avoid even more criticism than he's faced thus far in Minnesota's winless start to the season.

On the bright side, the Vikings could probably dispatch of the Cardinals as long as they don't forget that Peterson's still the best running back in the game.

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Posted on: September 21, 2011 2:56 pm
Edited on: September 22, 2011 3:31 pm
 

Film Room: Cowboys vs. Redskins preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



One of the most storied rivalries in pro football is renewed Monday night when the Cowboys welcome the Redskins to Big D for their home opener. Mike Shanahan’s team is a surprising 2-0. The Cowboys, after two close games, are 1-1, ensuring their performance on Monday’s national stage will spark an overreaction from Football America (at 2-1, people will ask if the Cowboys are legit Super Bowl contenders; at 1-2 they’ll ask if Jason Garrett is right for the job).

1. Perpetually Maligned Quarterbacks
Are any other two quarterbacks, fair or unfair, viewed as blunder-prone as Tony Romo and Rex Grossman? If Grossman were a star, he’d be Romo. If Romo were a bum, he’d be Grossman. Their performances this season have been overanalyzed in contrasting extremes.

Everyone took part in National Dump on Romo Week (Sept. 12-18) and pilloried the sixth-year starter for being a “choke artist”. While Romo has made his share of mistakes in crunch time, in reality, prior to the interception he gifted Darrelle Revis in Week 1, the only late-game mistake that 90 percent of fans could instantly identify with Romo was his botched field goal hold in the January ’07 playoff loss at Seattle (a play that had nothing to do with his quarterbacking ability).

Reputations rarely form by accident, though. The truth is, Romo is mistake prone.

He’s mistake prone because he has trouble deciphering defenses before the snap, and he tends to take aggressive action on faulty hunches. This is problematic, especially if Dallas has Super Bowl aspirations. That said, at the end of the day, Romo still has respectable playmaking talent. Hence his 345-yard performance with a fractured rib and punctured lung at San Francisco.

Grossman is on the other end of the spectrum. He’s not a naturally talented playmaker. But he can be functional when properly used. His two performances this season have received mostly positive reviews. He threw for 305 yards against the Giants and 291 against the Cardinals. But he was somewhat inaccurate in Week 1 and benefited from several terrific catches by Redskins receivers.

He also struggled in the face of pocket pressure (fortunately he had just one turnover from it, which didn’t prove to be costly). Grossman came back to earth a bit against Arizona and, given his track record and limited role in Washington’s offense (his reads are defined, his audible powers are minimal), he’ll likely level off over the coming months.


2. Washington’s ground game
The Redskins have shown a commitment to running the ball these first two weeks. After posting lackluster numbers against New York, Tim Hightower was sharp versus Arizona, registering 96 yards on 20 attempts. Hightower is a much better fit for Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme than he was in Ken Whisenhunt’s pounding approach.

Reason being, Hightower does not have great burst when coming from a standstill, but he has proven to be an effective momentum runner.

A zone-blocking scheme allows for a one-cut downhill run, but as the illustration below shows, the nature of the sliding blocks allows a runner to take a few extra steps in the backfield, which a runner like Hightower needs in order to build momentum before breaking through the line of scrimmage.



Hightower – as well as his backup, fourth-round rookie Roy Helu, who runs with good tempo and changes direction fairly well – benefitted from stellar offensive line play last week. Left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and left tackle Trent Williams were particularly impressive landing blocks on the move and taking angles that created natural running lanes.

3. Tight ends significant
Washington’s offense makes great use of the tight end, in large part because a tight end crossing pattern is a natural outlet off the rollouts and bootlegs that Shanahan’s scheme uses frequently.

While Chris Cooley has had a modicum impact coming off a knee injury, fourth-year pro Fred Davis has emerged as a fluid target in an elevated role. Davis makes good adjustments to the ball and has the athleticism to be effective in space.
 
For the Cowboys, Jason Witten becomes all the more significant with Miles Austin (hamstring) out and Dez Bryant’s (quad) status in question. Witten is the ultimate safety valve. Generally the beneficiary of mismatches created by others outside, he should be able to create a few of his own mismatches inside, as Redskins linebacker London Fletcher tends to struggle covering elite tight ends.
Week 3 NFL Preview

4. The outside ‘backers
DeMarcus Ware has registered more sacks than anyone in pro football over the past five years, and he appears to be even more potent in Rob Ryan’s scheme (Ryan, like Wade Phillips, has aligned Ware primarily on the weak side of the formation, where one-on-one matchups are easier to come by). Opposite Ware, Anthony Spencer (in a contract year) is a stout playside run defender.

But the Cowboys may soon have the second best outside linebacking corps in the NFC East. Brian Orakpo has made two Pro Bowls his first two seasons and has superb strength to compliment his edge speed.

Opposite him, first-round rookie Ryan Kerrigan has flashed monstrous potential through two games. Kerrigan, a high-motored Big Ten player who drew predictable comparisons to Aaron Kampman coming out, has the swiftness to chase plays as a backside run defender and the body control to outmaneuver blockers in the phone booth. He’s a much, much better athlete than many had guessed.

5. Something to keep an eye on ...
The Redskins are a fairly blitz-heavy team, but those blitzes have usually involved safeties. They caught the Cardinals off-guard last week by blitzing their inside linebackers aggressively. Fletcher in particular blitzed with great timing and downhill speed.

His blitzes were done not necessarily in an effort to get sacks, but to make Kevin Kolb move before throwing. Romo is better throwing off movement than Kolb, so perhaps Jim Haslett won’t use this tactic as much in Week 3.

But with the Cowboys having a young offensive line and depleted receiving corps, the reward could be greater than the risk.

So who will win? Check our expert picks for all Week 1 games


Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 14, 2011 10:42 am
Edited on: September 14, 2011 10:43 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Comeback players

M. Stafford, if he stays healthy, could be a candidate for comeback player of the year (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Some had disappointing seasons last year only to find themselves in a brand-new setting this year. Some had worn out their welcome in one city and were rewarded with a new home in a new part of the country. Some were injured, and some just flat-out stunk.

But this is a new season, and it’s never too early to make predictions about the 2011 comeback player of the year, especially since two-time winner Chad Pennington is out for the season and won’t be eligible for his third award until 2012.

You won’t find Albert Haynesworth on this list, because a man who duped one organization out of tens of millions dollars only to find himself holding a golden parachute to the league’s most respected franchise doesn’t need another reward if he potentially plays well (or, unlike in Washington, plays at all). But pretty much everybody else is eligible for a spot on our latest Top Ten with a Twist: Potential Comeback Players of the Year.

10. Kevin Kolb: I originally wasn’t going to put him on this list, because simply put, I’m not entirely sure he’s going to live up to his $63 million ($20 million guaranteed) contract in Arizona. But after his 18 of 27, 309-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Cardinals win against the Panthers (all while getting sucked into the “Cam Newton is awesome” maelstrom), it’s at least a possibility Kolb will play like Arizona believes he can. Kolb supporters point to an impressive two-game stretch he had in 2009 for why he’s worth all that money. I’m more interested in his 130 quarterback rating from Sunday and where he can go from there.

9. Chris Johnson: You might not know this, but last year, Johnson had a disastrous season. When you compare him to 2009, his performance declined by more than 600 yards and he scored three less rushing touchdowns. If that’s not the sign of a guy who has already become much less effective … wait, what’s that? Johnson still rushed for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns last season? Oh, never mind. But here’s the thing with Johnson. He keeps proclaiming that he’s going to rush for 2,000 yards, and while he did it in 2009, he fell woefully short last year. And yes, he won’t make it 2,000 in 2011 either. But he’ll also be better than last year, particularly since he now should be completely happy with the money he’s making.

8. Bob Sanders: We all know Bob Sanders can’t stay healthy. Not after missing 64 of 112 career games with the Colts. And because we’ve barely seen the guy (only nine times in the past three seasons) we always seem to lose sight of the fact that Sanders was once a premier safety threat  mentioned in the same breathe as Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. One good sign for Sanders’ return to respectability: he didn’t have to spend this offseason rehabbing an old injury. But Sanders also is 30 now, where the aches and pains increase rather than diminish. In his first game with San Diego, he accumulated six tackles. But at least he didn’t leave the game with an injury. Which, with Sanders, is pretty good news.

7. Tim Hightower: You’ll recall that Hightower had a bit of a fumbling problem as the No. 2 running back behind Beanie Wells in Arizona -- he had eight lost fumbles combined in the past two seasons -- and though Hightower had good production in place of the injured Wells, the Cardinals decided they’d rather have Wells than Hightower. The Redskins, who were saying goodbye to Clinton Portis, went after him, and their interest was rewarded this week when Hightower looked solid, rushing 25 times for 72 yards and a score. Just as important, though, is his pass protection and his versatility (he’s a pretty good receiver as well). Just as long as he doesn’t fumble, he could be a really good addition for Washington.

6. Steve Smith (Eagles version): We still don’t know how healthy Smith is, but the fact that he was active for the first game -- much to the chagrin of the Giants, I imagine -- is awfully impressive, considering he was coming off microfracture surgery on his knee. He wasn’t targeted by Michael Vick, and he didn’t play all that much. But the fact he was out there at all was pretty ridiculous. Smith probably won’t be healthy enough to produce the stats that would give him a legit shot at the comeback player of the year, but he’s already gone to extraordinary lengths to return this soon, so why not?

Henne5. Steve Smith (Panthers version): Aside from all those Panthers fans who now have hope, receiver Steve Smith has to be one of the biggest Cam Newton fans around. For a guy who wanted out of Carolina as soon as possible (and as receiver, why would he want to try to field passes from Jimmy Clausen?), the infusion of Newton into this offense was the main reason Smith exploded for eight catches, 178 yards and two touchdowns. Considering he only accumulated 46 catches for 554 yards and two (!) scores in 2010, a little Newton in his life apparently has gone a long way.

4. Chad Henne: Despite Miami fans chanting that they wanted Kyle Orton (who now has to hear the chants of “We want Tebow” in Denver) in the preseason, the popular storyline out of south Florida is that Henne finally will turn himself into a legit starting quarterback. Henne was a major storyline in the offseason -- coach Tony Sparano said “we’ll see” about Henne’s chances of starting and receiver Brandon Marshall laid out in detail why Tyler Thigpen was a better player until Henne began to make believers out of his teammates, who voted him offensive captain. It’ll continue to be a storyline as long as Henne plays the way he did against the Patriots (30 of 49 for 416 yards, two touchdowns and a garbage-time interception) in one of the best performances of his pro career.

3. Rex Grossman: Based on the way he played against the Giants on Sunday, I thought about putting Grossman higher on the list. But I just don’t see him as a top-15 quarterback -- this season or any other. Maybe if he got to play against the Giants shell of a defense every week. But until that happens, I don’t see him taking home the hardware. That said, Grossman surprised many people this week -- including, I imagine, John Beck -- and didn’t look like the same quarterback who was Donovan McNabb’s two-minute offense replacement. At least, he played like a legitimate starting quarterback.

2. Bryant McKinnie: Surely, McKinnie would be the first comeback player of the year award winner to have weighed 400 pounds (allegedly) and gotten released from his old team for it (not to mention earning $75,000 for getting down to a trim 372). But McKinnie, as the new left tackle for the Ravens, helped set the tone last Sunday when, on the first play of the first Ravens drive, he dispatched Steelers linebackers James Farrior and James Harrison, allowing Baltimore running back Ray Rice a 36-yard gain. Baltimore ended up beating Pittsburgh by four touchdowns, and don’t think McKinnie wasn’t a big reason for that. If he keeps it up, perhaps McKinnie can make history as the first offensive line ever to win the award.

1. Matthew Stafford: The Lions quarterback scared the daylights out of just about everybody when he hobbled to the sideline with an apparent injury in Detroit’s season-opening win against the Buccaneers. For a guy who’s missed 19 games the past two years with various ailments, that was not a moment for the weak at the heart. But it was only cramps, and during Detroit’s victory, Stafford showed that he still has the talent to be a top-five quarterback. And considering most of the comeback players of the year happen to be quarterbacks, that doesn’t hurt his chances either.

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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