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Tag:Tennessee Titans
Posted on: November 22, 2011 10:00 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 11: Johnson returns to form

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.

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Mark Sanchez, Jets

It's been five days since Tim Tebow led the Broncos on a 95-yard game-winning drive against the Jets. The other, perhaps more important storylines to come out of that game: Von Miller is scary, Denver's defense is improving, and Mark Sanchez was the worst quarterback on the field last Thursday.

That's not hyperbole. Sanchez looks the part and has the pedigree but nearly three years into his NFL career and he's a replacement-level quarterback. That would be one thing if he were, say, a former seventh-round pick like Ryan Fitzpatrick (pre-shiny new deal, obviously). It's a different story altogether given that the Jets traded up from No. 17 to No. 5 to take Sanchez in the 2009 NFL Draft.

When New York's defense is one of the best in the league and the running game is working, Sanchez has been good. But that's sort of the point: you don't draft a franchise quarterback to man the controls when everything is going well. You draft a franchise quarterback to win those games that you were previously losing. The Jets are 5-5 and a big part of that is because of Sanchez.

Late in the third quarter of the Broncos game, with the Jets leading 10-3 and facing a third and short, Sanchez threw a pick-six. It wasn't a tipped pass, or a 50-yard bomb that was effectively a third-down punt. It was a jerk route to Plaxico Burress. Typically, the joke is that the defender in coverage ends up looking like a jerk on such plays.

Not this time. Sanchez's throw was off target, Burress didn't come back to the ball, and cornerback Andre Goodman jumped the route. Twenty-six yards later, the score was 10-10. And then Tebow happened.


Mark Sanchez has thrown three pick-sixes this season.

Head coach Rex Ryan defended Sanchez (Because, really, what's he going to say? "I'm happy to announce that Mark Brunell, 52 years young, will now lead us to the playoffs!")

"This is our quarterback," Ryan said at his Friday press conference. "He’s going to be our quarterback for as long as I’m here, which I hope is a long, long time. He can make all the throws. He’s a competitive guy. Has it been perfect? No, absolutely. But it hasn’t been perfect for our entire team."

But Rex, what about the children!?

Graham Gano, DeAngelo Hall - Redskins

It may seem unfair to blame Gano for the Redskins' latest loss, but let's be honest: he's the team's best offensive player. (And, hell, he might even be the team's best quarterback. We haven't seen him throw but we have seen the Rex and Becks show. It can't be worse than that.) If Washington is going to win, Gano will have to make everything, including the out-of-zip-code attempts. Instead, he missed two field goals Sunday against the Cowboys, the first from 49 yards, the last from 52. And it was that last miss in overtime that allowed Dallas to march down the field for a game-winning kick of their own.

Now, for your unintentional comedy interlude, courtesy of Redskins' Radio Network (featuring Larry Michael, Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff and by way of DC Sports Bog)…
The missed Gano field goal

Larry: We are ready, this is it, from 52 yards out. The kick is on the way, he’s got the distance, and heeeeeeeee…
Sam: He’s got it!
Larry: He missed it! He missed it wide right!
Sam: He missed it?
Larry: He missed it wide right, so the Cowboys will take over.
Sam: I thought it went through?
Larry: Wide right.
We've been saying for several weeks that there's a decent chance the Redskins lose out. They're now 3-7 and six weeks closer to that reality. Silver lining: players are taking responsibility. In fact, cornerback DeAngelo Hall thinks he should be cut. We won't disagree with him.

“It’s frustrating, but I can’t point a finger at anybody but myself,” Hall said, via the Washington Times. “The way I’m playing right now, they need to go cut me because I’m definitely not worth what I’m getting. It’s frustrating. Hopefully they see something in me and they bring me back next year, but the way things are going right now, I’m definitely not playing up to par.”

Could the Redskins really lose out?

We know Hall wasn't responsible for a wide-open Jason Witten sprinting to the end zone on a 59-yard reception midway through the fourth quarter. But Hall didn't exactly track Witten down, either. For a former "NFL's Fastest Man" champion, he sure looked slow (but not quite as slow as the time Hines Ward, wearing one shoe, outran him to the end zone).

One last thing: former NFL quarterback turned handball aficionado Jake Plummer spoke recently about playing for Mike Shanahan. The two were together in Denver from 2003-2006 until Plummer retired after it became clear that Jay Cutler would be the starter.

“It just seemed like every game I could have completed these four more passes or these five more shots here and it would have been perfect," Plummer said, via Yahoo.com. "And that just wasn’t my personality....But Shanahan wanted perfection and he wore a lot of us down there.”

We're guessing Shanahan would do just about anything to have such problems now. To Plummer's credit, he didn't take pleasure in Shanahan's current predicament (at least not publicly).

“Yeah and you know what, I don’t like to see that,” he said. “I mean I don’t want to see anybody struggle. And I’m not sitting here gloating or feeling better about his lack of success down there. As time goes you learn more things. … Hey, I was lucky to get the opportunity to play for Shanahan. He helped turn my career around and gave me a chance to show that I was a winner, regardless of how things went down."

Chris Johnson, Titans

First, some background: the Lions selected running back Kevin Smith in the the third round of the 2008 draft. After suffering late-season injuries in '09 and '10, the team chose not to re-sign him. He was out of football until two weeks ago when Detroit, in dire need of warm bodies in the backfield, gave him a call. Against the Panthers Sunday, Smith ran for 140 yards and two touchdowns, and added another 61 receiving yards and a score.

Recapping Week 11

We mention this because after Chris Johnson treaded the Panthers for 130 rushing yards last week, there were some rumblings of him "being back." Turns out, that performance was an aberration and unless the Titans are facing the Panthers every week from here on out, Johnson continues to be one of the worst backs in the league.

Back during training camp, when Johnson was parked on his couch waiting for a new deal, one of the reasons his supporters gave for paying him was that Johnson's presence in the backfield would take pressure off rookie quarterback Jake Locker. Well, Locker saw extensive action against the Falcons and he looked just fine. And he did it without anything resembling a running game.

Maybe the Titans should sign this Kevin Smith.

Which brings us back to CJ. He carried the ball 12 times in Atlanta for a grand total of 13 yards. That works out to a nifty 1.08 yards per carry. Put differently: Matt Hasselbeck, who left the game with an arm injury and probably travels 40 yards in closer to six seconds than five, was the Titans' leading rusher with 17 yards on the afternoon.

(Even more embarrassing, courtesy of colleague Will Brinson's Sorting the Sunday Pile: "There were nine -- NINE! -- quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Johnson in Week 11.")

“I know we didn’t execute some plays that we could have,” Johnson said, via the Tennessean. “They are a pretty good defense, and they made a lot of plays out there. I’m sure if we would have executed better, then we could have had a better day in the running game.”

Or, as we mentioned above, the Titans could just petition the league to face the Panthers every week.

Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars

Let's be honest: Blaine Gabbert Bears very little responsibility for the Jags' 3-7 season. He's a rookie quarterback on one of the NFL's worst offensive teams, and Jack Del Rio is a lame-duck coach who'll likely ring in the new year looking for a new job.

Jacksonville's final drive against the Browns Sunday was a microcosm of their offense and their season. Trailing 14-10 and on the Browns' 2-yard-line with 13 seconds to go, the Jaguars ran the following three plays:

1st and goal: Maurice Jones-Drew 1-yard run (eight seconds remaining).
2nd and goal: Gabbert throws incomplete to Jason Hill (three seconds remaining).
3rd and goal: Gabbert throws incomplete to Mike Thomas (game over, thanks for coming).

So that happened. When Del Rio was asked after the game why he didn't get the ball to the Jags' best playmaker, MJD, this happened:

“Our offensive coordinator [Dirk Koetter] calls the plays. I can’t speak to his thinking. You’ll have to get with him,” he said via the Florida Times-Union.

Translation: "I checked out of this job in September and I'm just going through the motions until I'm officially canned. I almost forgot we had a game Sunday."

What makes Del Rio's comment even more bizarre: Jacksonville called timeout with eight seconds left. Presumably, he had some say in the final-play strategy.

“We certainly talked about those things through the course of the drive. We got down and took our crack. You can make a case for doing that. You can guess any number of plays when you don’t connect. [It’s] a missed opportunity,” Del Rio said.

As PFT.com's Gregg Rosenthal noted Monday: "Mike Tomlin, Bill Belichick and Mike Smith would all be involved in a call like that. They are defensive coaches, but they make big decisions on offense. It’s their team."

You know what else those three coaches have in common? They ain't getting fired in two months.

Philip Rivers, Chargers

There is very little to be excited about in San Diego but there is this: Philip Rivers has played much better the last two weeks. Moral victories are for losers, but … well, the Chargers are exactly that. Unfortunately, "Not Bad" Rivers in 2011 isn't a top-5 quarterback. In fact, he might crack the top-15. But unless he can play defense, special teams and coach, San Diego's five-game slide isn't entirely on him. That said, he leads the league in interceptions, and he threw two more Sunday -- both in the fourth quarter, both in critical situations.

The first pick was another miscommunication with Vincent Jackson in the end zone (it happened in Week 10 against the Raiders). The second was inexplicably bad. Rivers, flushed from the pocket, went to throw the ball away. Somehow instead of, you know, throwing the ball away, the pass sailed right into the arms of Bears defensive back Corey Graham.


The 2011 Chargers: where not even incompletions are routine

When you're incapable of throwing an incompletion, it portends bad things for the season.

After a 4-1 start, the Chargers are now 4-6. Next up: the 5-5 Tebows are coming to town and Rivers is reduced to saying things like this:

“We’ve got to find a way to think that we have a one-game season against Denver at our place,” he said, via the San Diego Union-Tribune. “And let’s find a way to win that game.”

There are six games left in the 2011 season and barring a miraculous turnaround and a ton of luck, San Diego will miss the postseason. And that, according to the Union-Tribune's Kevin Acee, could mean curtains for Norv Turner.

"At this point, it is apparent only a drastic turnaround will save Turner, as the Chargers have lost five straight and are in last place in the AFC West, in grave danger of missing the playoffs for a second straight season. [Team owner Dean] Spanos also has wondered about repeated game management decisions, and after five years it is possible Turner has been given enough time to get done what no Chargers coach ever has – win a Super Bowl."

Maybe Rex Ryan was onto something.

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Posted on: November 21, 2011 2:15 am
Edited on: November 21, 2011 12:23 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 11

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 10 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

 

1. Bear Down

The only thing surprising about Chicago's 31-20 victory -- their fifth-straight win -- over the Chargers was that the Bears let San Diego keep it that close. But not all is good news in Chicago right now, as multiple reports indicate that quarterback Jay Cutler suffered a broken thumb during Sunday's game, may need surgery and could be lost for the season.

At a minimum, Cutler's likely to miss six weeks, so let's assume he's done for the regular season. So can the Bears still make the playoffs? Well, surprisingly, yes, but it obviously won't be easy.

If the Bears beat three of their final six opponents (we'll guess the Vikings, the Seahawks and the Chiefs) they'll finish 10-6. No one from the NFC West will cause any damage and it looks like Chicago just has to fight off the Giants or the Cowboys, the Lions and the Falcons.

They've got the tiebreaker over Atlanta, although right now the Bears lose out to the Lions because of division record. (Fortunately for them, Detroit has to play Green Bay twice.)

And Chicago has a formula for winning games without a ton of offense. The Bears defense knows how to score and Devin Hester can alter the outcome of a game every time he stands back to return a kick. The passing game should all but disappear, however.

Which means that Chicago will lean heavily on a below-average offensive line and ... Matt Forte.

Perhaps they should reconsider their stance about paying him after all.

2. Little Giants

Everyone always expects the Giants to swoon late in the season (because it's something they do, which is fair I suppose) but this year looked different after New York's win over New England two weeks ago and a tough loss in San Francisco last week.

Until Sunday night, when the Giants coughed up a 17-10 loss to the Vince Young-led Eagles anyway.

"This is as big a disappointment as we have had around here in a long time," coach Tom Coughlin said Sunday.

It should be, because things aren't going to get easier for Coughlin's squad any time soon. They face the Saints in New Orleans next week and then welcome the potentially undefeated Packers to New York in Week 13 before squaring off against the Cowboys in Dallas in Week 14.

That's about as big a nightmare as a schedule can be for an NFC East that just kicked itself out of the playoffs, and the Jets still loom, as does a second matchup with Dallas.

The Eagles wanted to give away this game too. DeSean Jackson had a ridiculous taunting penalty that (also somewhat ridiculously) resulted in a loss of 50 yards for the Eagles. Vince Young had three terrible picks. LeSean McCoy never really got going (53 yards on 22 carries before his final 60-yard run to end the game). Riley Cooper was the top receiver.

But the Giants wanted it less, and couldn't get any offense going, as receivers egged on easy passes and the offensive line got no push. Some of the playcalling was suspect, and it put the Giants in a pretty untenable position late in the game.

Which is probably fitting since that's where their 2011 season stands as well.

And even though it's OK to anticipate a Giants swoon, let's hold off on talking about the Eagles running the table just quite yet, please. We were here three weeks ago when they handled the Cowboys too.


3. Missing Pieces

One look at Cincinnati's 31-24 loss to Baltimore, and it's pretty clear how much the Bengals missed wide receiver A.J. Green and cornerback Leon Hall.

Andy Dalton got a shot at boosting his Rookie of the Year stock on Cincy's final drive, but came up short when the Ravens defensive line stepped up in a big way in their own red zone. Dalton missed Andrew Hawkins on first down, was busted for intentional grounding on second, threw incomplete to Jerome Simpson on third and was sacked by Pernell McPhee on fourth. One has to wonder how the goal line playcalling changes if Green's in the game.

On defense, the previously stout Bengals unit was gashed by the Ravens own rookie, Torrey Smith. Smith notched six catches for 165 yards, one touchdown and a number of different catches where he was wide open but made some fantastic grabs on throws from Joe Flacco that was a bit off.

There were three big plays that stand out for Baltimore's passing game: a 35-yard touchdown catch by Anquan Boldin (he was wide open), Smith's 38-yard TD (also wide open) and a 49-yard bomb that Smith reeled in near the goal line, where he just torched Nate Clements (watch below).


It's clearly not a coincidence when a team loses its best cornerback and subsequently gives up a bunch of big passing plays the next week.

And lest we leave this game without pointing out the obvious, the Ravens won once again when Ray Rice was productive and got more than five carries. That's not a coincidence either.

4. Silent Bob Strikes Back

Three weeks ago, Kevin Smith was unemployed, sitting at home, doing nothing. Or signing himself to various Madden rosters, which is even more depressing. On Sunday, he piled up 201 all-purpose yards, revived the Lions rushing attack, and was the catalyst in a 49-35 comeback win for the Lions over the Panthers that kept Detroit at the forefront of the NFC Wild Card race.

It's an awesome story, and Smith deserves all the love he's getting from analysts and all the love he got from the Detroit sideline every time he scored on his three touchdowns.

Three questions stand out to me with respect to Detroit's playoff hopes. 1) Can they avoid early deficits? 2) Can Smith sustain this success? 3) Did Matthew Stafford get healthy at halftime?

With no running game and an injured Stafford, the Lions look like the walking dead against Chicago last week. It was much of the same story in the first quarter against the Panthers, as Stafford threw two picks, looked terrible and the Lions mustered less than 10 yards on four rushes. But a Keiland Williams fumble with 2:30 left in the first quarter gave way to Smith, and he started off his second-chance Lions career with a 43-yard run and followed it up with a 28-yard touchdown catch on the next play.

If Smith is the answer -- and I'm not completely sold yet, but only because a one-legged homeless guy off the street could put 100 yards on that Panthers defense -- and Stafford's healthy, the answer to question No. 1 should be "yes."

We'll find out when Detroit plays Green Bay (twice) and New Orleans over the next six weeks whether they can avoid needing comebacks to win. If they can, there won't be a question about whether or not the Lions are playoff-worthy.

5. More Like a Tropical Storm

For 149 consecutive weeks of NFL action, a former Miami Hurricane has scored a touchdown. Consider that there are 17 weeks in each NFL season, and it works out to more than eight and a half years since a Hurricane failed to score in the NFL. That's bananas.

And yet we sit here, heading into Monday night's Patriots-Chiefs matchup and no member of "The U" has scored in Week 11. (Yes, this is considerably ironic since the 'Canes announced Sunday they wouldn't accept a bowl bid.)

Complicating matters for fans of Miami is the fact that it's pretty unlikely that a Hurricane will score on Monday night. There are only two players left that went to school in Coral Gables: Allen Bailey, a rookie defensive end for the Chiefs who's played in nine games, started none and recorded four tackles, and Vince Wilfork, veteran defensive tackle for the Pats who's inexplicably got two interceptions this season.

Wilfork's the best bet to score, but it'll almost certainly have to come on a fumble in the end zone or a red-zone interception. We've already seen Wilfork try to take on to the house this season, and it didn't work well.

So if you see Bill Belichick trot Wilfork out in a goal line formation during a late-game blowout, you know why. Of course, that alone would totally be worth seeing "The U" continue to tout itself as a producer of fine athletics.

Perhaps the craziest part of Miami alums not scoring? As pointed out Monday by my colleague Bruce Feldman, ex-Cane Kellen Winslow scored a touchdown but it was called back because he pushed off a defender. That defender was Sam Shields ... also a Miami alum.

6. The Jermaine Gresham Rule

I understand that Gresham actually fell victim to the "Calvin Johnson Rule" but he might deserve his subsection at the very least if/when the NFL addresses this disastrous rule.

See, the rule got the nickname when Calvin Johnson lost possession in the end zone. But that's the key -- he was in the end zone. Johnson caught the ball there and then lost it there. (Watch here at the 2:20 mark.)

Gresham, on the other hand, actually crossed the plain with possession. He had his feet in-bounds.

If he was a running back, we wouldn't have this issue, right? I'm pretty sure we wouldn't. Because possession would've been established (vis-a-vis the handoff, etc).

Technically, the officials got the call right, because Gresham lost possession as he fell to the ground, and he didn't make a "football-related move" inside the end zone.

But if you are in possession of the ball and cross the plain with said possession, that should be a done deal, right there. That's the reason why the goal line extends in hypothetical perpetuity. If a running back dives into the end zone over a big pile of people and fumbles after the ball's crossed the plain, it's a touchdown.

But if a wide receiver crosses the plain with possession of the ball, gets a freaking foot into the end zone and then doesn't maintain control all the way to the ground -- even if he had possession before he got into the end zone! -- it doesn't count?

Come on. That makes no sense. Let's fix it, please.

7. Chris Johnson Is 'Back,' Alright

Over the last week, I was repeatedly blistered by people who didn't believe me when I said that Chris Johnson was not "back" to his CJ2K form, despite a 130-yard rushing effort against the Panthers.

I watched that game closely, and what stood out to me was that Johnson's effort and burst and general running ability didn't mesh with the statistics he produced.

After Sunday's 23-17 loss to Atlanta, well, there's no question that Johnson's 2011 season remains lost. The Titans leading rusher in Week 11 was Matt Hasselbeck (one carry, 17 yards). Matt Ryan had a higher yards-per-carry average than Johnson. There were nine -- NINE! -- quarterbacks with more rushing yards than Johnson in Week 11, and it was almost ten as well as two on his own team:


If you take out Johnson's "long" run of the day, he finished with seven rushing yards on 11 carries. That's just flat-out embarrassing and any opponent with a modicum of rush defense can shut him down and make him ineffective.

That's really quite a shame, too, because Hasselbeck's renaissance season would be a lot more interesting with a rushing attack.

And while I'm doing rookie Jake Locker a disservice by not pointing out how good he was in backup duty for Tennessee, it's not as big a disservice as Johnson is doing to the team and the rookie quarterback who might have to overcome one of the most-talented backs in the NFL getting paid and totally disappearing from relevancy.

8. Moore Please

There's a fun little debate about whether the Dolphins, on a three-game winning streak that seemed unfathomable just, um, three weeks ago -- or the Bills -- on three-game losing streak after holding with the AFC East lead as late as the middle of October -- are the bigger story after Miami knocked Buffalo around 35-8.

But maybe the bigger story is the convergence of these two teams on a metaphorical NFL elevator, with the Dolphins trying their best to get out of the lobby and the Bills falling like Dennis Hopper rigged their ride.

To me, it might just be more about these two teams playing closer to what we expected. Buffalo's early-season run was an awesome storyline, but it was unsustainable, particularly with the loss of Eric Wood at center and Kyle Williams on the defensive line. Add in defenses figuring out that the Bills don't have a legit deep threat, and it's no surprise that they're not winning anymore.

Although considering the ridiculous amount of money they handed Ryan Fitzpatrick, they'd probably like to see something resembling offense. At least there aren't a ton of great quarterbacks in this upcoming draft class!

The Dolphins will likely be taking a quarterback at some point in the upcoming draft, but the question is how high they'll be picking, and that largely depends on how sustainable Matt Moore's current level of play under center is. Well, history tells us it's actually possible for him to succeed the rest of the way in.

In 2009, while playing with the Panthers, Moore stepped in for Jake Delhomme and closed out a lost season with a shocking 4-1 record for Carolina that saw him average 16 of 25 passing (62.7 percent) for 198 yards and two touchdowns per game. And that was in a John Fox offense, no less.

Don't expect him to backdoor the Pro Bowl or anything, but don't be surprised when the once-hapless Dolphins keep playing spoiler because Moore keeps streaking.

9. Best Draft Class ... Ever?

I've noted in this spot a couple times in the past few weeks that the 2011 NFL Draft class is one of the best we've seen in a long time, and maybe, dare I say, ever.

The first seven picks of the draft have been outstanding thus far into the season, and that doesn't even factor in Andy Dalton or DeMarco Murray, who might be the leading candidates for Rookie of the Year honors.

Well, two more guys made their mark on Sunday for this class.

Jake Locker entered the game for an injured Matt Hasselbeck against the Falcons on Sunday, and proceeded to nearly lead the Titans to a comeback, completing nine of 19 passes for 140 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Atlanta was up 23-3 at the time, so it's not like they were playing their opening-game defense, but Locker looked darn good in relief duty and the Titans should be excited, even though Hasselbeck will remain the starter.

Prince Amukamara, who the Giants took at 19th overall when he fell past Houston, made his first start on Sunday and also picked up his first career interception, while generally looking like a veteran against the Eagles. And yes, it still counts as an interception, even if Vince Young threw it.

10. Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

Early in the season, the Thanksgiving games contained only a little bit of drama, thanks to the Harbaugh family reunion in Baltimore. But suddenly we've got three of the best games in the NFL taking place on Thursday, and one of the most memorable Turkey Day slates we've seen in a while.

All six teams playing on Thursday won on Sunday and, collectively, those six teams are on a 26-game winning streak this season.

The Lions and Packers square off with Detroit getting its first shot at ending the Packers undefeated season, the Cowboys have a shot at really generating some separation in the NFC East as they host the inexplicably hot Dolphins and the Ravens/49ers square off to determine who gets all the pie at the Harbaugh household.

It's a collection of three fantastic games and it's almost enough to make me boycott my family's lunch-time festivities away from electronics. Thank goodness for DVR. And 200-person pot-luck lunches.

MUFFED PUNTS

Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Cam Newton set the rookie record for rushing touchdowns on Sunday (twice, technically) as he's got nine on the season now.
... Aaron Rodgers is just the second quarterback in history to throw for 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in his team's first 10 games; the other was Tom Brady in 2007.
... 2011 is the first season in NFL history to feature three quarterbacks with 3,000 yards and 20 or more touchdowns through 10 games, as Rodgers, Drew Brees and Brady all met the criteria this year.
... The Dolphins became just the third team in NFL history to win three straight games after losing their first seven or more games.
... After Keloah Pilares' TD return, six 100-yard kick returns have happened so far in 2011, which is one short of the NFL record.
... The Lions became the first team in NFL history to record three comebacks of more than 17 points in a single season on Sunday.

WORTH 1,000 WORDS


GIF O' THE WEEK

No Michael Vick and too many Vince Young interceptions make Andy Reid go something-something.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Mike Shanahan: Six losses in a row for the Redskins, who showed some promise by only losing in overtime. Or something.
  • Norv Turner -- The Chargers keep collapsing and there's nothing promising about their schedule. Three games against Jacksonville, Denver and Buffalo have to mean 2-1 at worst, or it might be time for Turner to move on.
  • Todd Haley: If the Pats whip the Chiefs on Monday night while the Raiders and Broncos keep winning, his seat just gets warmer.
  • Jim Caldwell: The Colts were upset by their bye. What can I say?
  • Steve Spagnuolo: I don't really understand the heat, but it's there.
  • Tom Coughlin: Also don't understand this heat, but let's just go ahead and get out front on this before the fans do.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (-1000): Haha, but no really, they were upset by their bye. Do you see?
Vikings (+125): See: below.
Panthers (+150): The Colts have to win two games.
Rams (+250): Again, it would require the Colts winning games.
Redskins (+300): If only they hadn't won three games early.

MVP Watch

Despite playing -- ahem -- "poorly," Aaron Rodgers is still the clear-cut favorite to win the MVP at season's end. I'm not sure what it would take to derail him, but I think it's probably an injury and an injury only. Tom Brady's got a shot to come from the outside because he's Tom Brady and the Pats schedule stinks, but if the Packers go undefeated, he won't have a chance. Meanwhile, I still like Tony Romo to get darkhorse candidacy by Week 14. Maybe we should just talk about the other awards.
Posted on: November 20, 2011 8:53 pm
 

Munchak: Hasselbeck still the starting QB

J. Locker did a nice job replacing M. Hasselbeck (AP).Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Just because rookie quarterback Jake Locker, while replacing the injured Matt Hasselbeck, led the Titans to 14 unanswered points and nearly led a comeback against the Falcons before Tennessee fell 23-17, that doesn’t mean a quarterback controversy is brewing in Nashville.

That’s because Titans coach Mike Munchak said after the game that there was no doubt that a healthy Hasselbeck is still the starting quarterback.

Hasselbeck was unimpressive today, completing 13 of 25 passes for 124 yards and an interception and leading Tennessee only to a field goal (he didn’t, um, get too much from Chris Johnson, who carried the ball 12 times for 13 yards). But after a Falcons defender hit Hasselbeck in the arm, causing a sprained elbow, Locker gave the team a spark, throwing both touchdown passes to Nate Washington.

As Rapid Reporter Matt Rybaltowski wrote, Locker made plays with his athleticism and his ability to extend plays, and he looked good while throwing on the run.

Hasselbeck will undergo tests to determine the extent of his injury, but Munchak doesn’t expect it to be serious.



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Posted on: November 16, 2011 7:30 pm
Edited on: November 16, 2011 7:34 pm
 

Keep an Eye on: Week 11's finer analysis

Why isn't Asomugha being used as a cover corner in Philly? (Getty Images)

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


Giants-Eagles
Notice to Eagles fans looking for things to gripe about (which has to be pretty much all Eagles fans at this point): forget about the wide-9 defense for now – your team has actually started to shy away from that in recent weeks. Instead, focus on the use of Nnamdi Asomugha. Your team paid an arm and a leg to acquire the league’s best cover corner not named Darrelle Revis. So far, that cover corner has spent roughly half the snaps defending the slot or playing dime linebacker.


Just because Asomugha came over from Oakland doesn’t mean he’s Charles Woodson. In Green Bay, Woodson has masterfully transformed from cover corner to rover. That’s because he has the fluidity and quickness to react and weave through traffic. Asomugha is not that brand of athlete. He’s an upright player whose physicality is expressed up high with jams and shoulder bumps, not down low with dives and snaking swipes. Furthermore, Asomugha’s brilliance in press coverage is in the way he uses the sideline. Obviously, you lose that element when operating in space.

It will be interesting to see how the Eagles use Asomugha Sunday night. He’ll have some trouble if forced to stay with Victor Cruz’s sharp change-of-directions in the slot. And Eli Manning will audible into plays that force Asomugha to be a tackler if he lines up as an underneath/flats defender in dime. The logical move would be to have Asomugha shadow Hakeem Nicks, thus taking away New York’s best receiver for the entire night. But ostensibly, logic does not apply to a team that buys a new Corvette only to use it for off-road towing.

Palmer actually got things going two weeks ago against the Broncos(Getty Images)

Raiders-Vikings
The Raiders have to be extremely encouraged by what they’ve seen from Carson Palmer. Most fans believe that the ex-Bengal’s breakout performance came last Thursday at San Diego (14/20, 299 yards, two touchdowns, one interception). But Palmer was actually quite impressive the previous week in his starting debut against the Broncos. Yes, he had three interceptions in that game. But one came in desperation garbage time and another was a good throw that Champ Bailey simply made a Champ Bailey-like play on. Palmer’s 32 non-intercepted passes that game yielded 332 yards and three touchdowns.

Stats, however, do not always tell the whole story. That’s why there’s film. Palmer has looked terrific on film. He’s moved well in the pocket, showing fundamentally sound footwork in sensing and sidestepping the rush. He has worked through his progressions elegantly, pushed the ball downfield with velocity and shown a willingness and ability to fire strikes through tight windows. It’s confident quarterbacking to a tee (or just about).

There’s a world of difference in the Raiders offense now. Their speed at wide receiver is actually paying dividends. A great way to capitalize on speed is to prolong the down and increase the number of receiving options on a play. The further downfield the wideouts can get and the more spread out everyone can align, the more space there is for the speedsters to attack. The Raiders could not attack that space with Jason Campbell – he was too cautious and too mechanical for them to even try. The opposite has been true with Palmer. And keep in mind, Palmer hasn’t even played with Darren McFadden yet.

Will the running game be a big part of these offenses going forward? (Getty Images)

Titans-Falcons
Both of these teams have had trouble finding their offensive identity this season. That’s surprising given that both were clearly run-oriented clubs the previous two years, and both entered this season with the same backfield personnel. Atlanta, however, got away from Michael Turner early in the season, going instead to more semi-spread concepts. Presumably, they were eager to play with their new toy, first-round pick Julio Jones. Offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey’s play-calling may have also been influenced by the fact that his team fell behind in some of those early games.

The Falcons, however, found themselves ill-prepared to play predominantly through the air. For one, they don’t have an offensive line that’s athletic enough to hold up for long stretches in pass protection. Secondly, the Falcons early on used simplistic route combinations with their wide receivers (perhaps to make life easier on the young Jones, though that’s an outsider’s speculation).

When Jones hurt his hamstring in Week 6, Atlanta returned to the heavy formations and ground-in-pound approach. They’ve averaged 149 yards per game on the ground since then, after averaging just 98.9 in Weeks 1-5.

The Titans were lost on the ground as well early on, though not because of a newfound predilection for passing. Instead, superstar running back Chris Johnson was, well, just plain bad. Johnson did not have his usual burst, quickness or acceleration. Had he gotten in the open field, we probably would have seen that his speed was gone, too. Tennessee’s blocking was not outstanding and the absence of suspended fullback Ahmard Hall hurt a little. But really, the problem was Johnson.

With backup Javon Ringer getting more snaps in recent weeks, Johnson has started to come back to life. He rushed for a season-high 130 yards against Carolina. But this year, everyone rushes for season highs against Carolina. The jury is still very much out on whether Johnson can regain the form that he lost during the league’s lockout and during his own personal lockout.

The Titans, fortunately, have managed to go 5-4 despite ranking dead last in rush offense. Shrewd pass route designs from new offensive coordinator Chris Palmer have manufactured some big plays through the air, though with no particularly dynamic receiving weapons, big aerial strikes can’t be heavily relied upon down the stretch. The Titans’ playoff hopes, just like the Falcons’, hinge on their once-great running game.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 11 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 8, 2011 8:19 pm
 

Chris Johnson fighting for integrity of his hair

JohnsonPosted by Josh Katzowitz

If you happened to be the recipient of “Dreads on a Stick” -- and really, shouldn’t we all be so lucky -- and thought Titans running back Chris Johnson was making any money off it, you could very well be incorrect. And that doesn’t make Johnson very happy.

According to TMZ, the product is designed as a wig so Johnson supporters can imitate the style of his hair, and though Johnson’s name and image apparently are being used to sell the product, Johnson said he is in no way involved.

"My lawyers on are on it ... the site has already been shut down ... and I'm investigating to see if these guys made any money off of this deceptive scheme,” Johnson told TMZ.

But the creators of the product have a different story to tell.

They’ve told BlackSportsOnline that their company has been involved with Johnson and his business team for the past six months, and they will seek legal remedies against Johnson and his business partner “for serious physical threats of harm made to us.”

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Posted on: November 6, 2011 9:58 am
Edited on: November 7, 2011 11:13 am
 

Could Titans part ways with Chris Johnson?

What's going on with Chris Johnson in Tennessee? (US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

It's Week 9 and Titans running back Chris Johnson, one of the NFL's best players right up till the moment he signed that huge contract in the offseason, has a grand total of 302 yards this season.

Things have gotten so bad so fast that head coach Mike Munchak had to publicly announce that he had no plans to bench his running back. And there's even talk that the organization could choose to walk away from Johnson at some point in the near future. NFL Network's Jason La Canfora broke down Johnson's contract details Sunday on NFL GameDay Morning.

"[The Titans] looked at this as a long-term deal … but there are always certain caveats. [Johnson] got $30 million guaranteed. Thirteen million of it came this year -- that was fully guaranteed. The other $17 million is not at this point fully guaranteed for injury and skill -- just injury.

"So because of diminished production, he could be let go at some point. Eight million of that $17 million will come the fifth day of the league year in 2012 -- in March -- the other $9 million comes a year after that. Then it becomes fully guaranteed for both.

"So conceivably, [the Titans] could get out after one year for $13 million. After two years, if this continues into 2012, for $22 million. And if [Johnson] doesn't get 1,000 yards rushing this year, $300,000 comes off his $8 million salary in 2012."

A league source tells PFT.com's Mike Florio that several teams think Tennessee could release Johnson before the fifth day of the 2012 league year precisely for the reasons La Canfora outlined above.

Johnson's productivity falling off a cliff is certainly surprising -- the man averaged 1,500 rushing yards per year in his first two seasons (including 5.0 yards per carry) -- but the real story here is the organization's decision to give a running back a huge pay day.

We wrote about it three months ago before Johnson got his money and we'll mention it again in the hopes that other teams learn from Tennessee's mistake: of all the positions on an NFL roster, running back is among the easiest to replace. The takeaway: don't devote a non-trivial slice of the salary cap to them because there are certain to be bigger, harder-to-fill needs on the team.


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Posted on: November 2, 2011 9:48 am
Edited on: November 2, 2011 2:31 pm
 

Matt Forte: Bears are 'grinding me to a pulp'

Posted by Will Brinson

Bears running back Matt Forte might very well be the most underpaid player in professional football. Forte's averaging 96 rushing yards a game behind a Swiss (cheese) built offensive line, he's averaging 59.9 receiving yards a game, he leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,091 and he accounts for over 40 percent of Chicago's offensive yardage produced.

Yet the Bears refuse to pay him. Or even talk about paying him. And may just end up using their franchise tag on him. All of which is starting to grind Forte's gears.

"The running back position is the most physically demanding on the field," Forte said Tuesday, per the Chicago Sun-Times. "Everyone acknowledges that. So to continue to give me the touches I’ve had since my rookie year but not award me a long-term contract sends the message that you’re OK grinding me into a pulp."

Look, the Bears and Forte are in a weird situation. He's blowing up this season and he probably deserves to get paid. And the Bears desperately need him on their roster.

Latest NFL News

But if you're Chicago, and you're watching what happened with Chris Johnson and the Titans this season, how can you reasonably carve out a chunk of your payroll to give Forte a big-time deal when you don't have to? Especially since the franchise tag will be available after this season, even if it's something that won't make Forte too happy.

"If they think by just slapping the franchise tag on me that’s going to silence anything, they’re sadly mistaken," he said. "That’s not going to cure everything. It’s not a solution, I would say."

Reading between the lines, it's not implausible to think Forte might consider holding out if the Bears apply the franchise tag to him. It's reasonable for him to be upset, because he'll turn 27 in December and 28 the December after that, which means he wouldn't see his first non-rookie guaranteed contract until he was 29, should the Bears only franchise him once.

It's a legitimate quandary and although Forte's incredibly valuable to Chicago -- and the primary reason they've had any offensive success whatsoever -- his value takes a serious hit if the running back's contract takes up a substantially bigger portion of Chicago's payroll.

And if he's ground to a pulp, well, he doesn't do them much good at all.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: October 31, 2011 4:13 am
Edited on: October 31, 2011 4:29 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 8

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



1. Denver Gets Tebowned
The past week was full of far too much talk about Tim Tebow, leader of men, winner of games and erstwhile quarterback-at-large. The Broncos quarterback even got his own meme -- Tebowing. And call me crazy, but I don't think any of this attention and chatter and one-knee posing sat to well with the Detroit Lions, who rolled into Mile High Stadium on Sunday and delivered a 45-10 beatdown on the Flying Tebows.

But it wasn't enough for Detroit, coming off two-straight losses with their playoff-contender status potentially wobbling, to simply sack Tebow seven times and limit him to 172 passing yards and 63 rushing yards, most of which was well after the Lions victory was in hand.

No, they made things personal, mocking Tebow's pose several times through the course of the game. First there was Stephen Tulloch Tebowing directly behind Tebow immediately after sacking Tebow.



It was a marvelous moment of meme-worthy irony that would make Xzibit proud. But it didn't end there. Tight end Tony Scheffler caught a pass from Matthew Stafford and busted out Tebow's "celebration" too.

Of course, the Lions aren't saying they were coming after Tebow -- after the game Tulloch said that "it's just fun, no disrespect" meant with his celebration, and that he even told Tebow as much. Tulloch had an even better point, though, when he was asked about all the hype that surrounds the former Florida Gator.

"It’s not his fault; it’s the media that gives him that hype," Tulloch said.

This is true, and it's really the most important thing to mention when talking about Tebow right now, because the debate as to whether or not he's good isn't a debate -- it's one-sided argument with some people using intangible and inconsequential analysis to try and support Tebow under center.

Tebow's failure to be a good quarterback isn't on him. I mean, ultimately, it is him that decides whether or not he succeeds, of course. But the only reason people are up in arms about his shortcomings as a quarterback is that too much is made out of whether not he can be a quarterback.

We saw this same thing happen with Cam Newton, who was the talk of every single NFL conversation during an offseason that featured furious debate about whether or not he could succeed. Now he's succeeding and Cam -- in terms of loud, screaming media scrutiny -- is on the backburner.

Yes, that's right. Cam's success made him less of a focus for the media. There's no one forcing themselves to doubt his ego and character in the face of folks who trump his athleticism and win-loss record. In short, it's the complete opposite of Tebow, who's continued lack of statistical -- if not empirical -- success still manages to generate a substantial amount of debate in the media.

Which is pretty unfortunate for him.

2. Steeling the AFC
For the first few weeks of the season, a lot was made of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their crumbling dynasty and "old" defense. As it turns out, Phil Simms was spot-on when he told Warren Sapp that his comments were a "tremendous over reaction." And if Sapp didn't believe Simms in Week 2, he should certainly believe him after Pittsburgh shredded New England 25-17.

The score doesn't tell the full story of this game, either, because the Steelers were certainly more than eight points better than the Patriots on Sunday. They held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game (their time of possession, 39:22, dwarfed the Patriots 20:38) and out-Pats-ed the Pats, as Ben Roethlisberger utilized all of his available options and a ball-control passing attack to keep the rock out of Tom Brady's hands.

Pittsburgh was dominant on defense too, even if the Steelers looked a little less devastating when LaMarr Woodley left with a hamstring injury that could keep him out against the Ravens on Sunday night in Week 9. Brady was fairly efficient, completing 24 of his 35 passes, but he only managed 198 yards, good for 8.25 yards per completion, more than five yards off his season average of 13.5.

So who's the best team in the AFC now? Well, it's not the Ravens at the moment. Even with Brady under center it's hard to give the Pats the nod with their secondary so depleted. And I'm not quite ready to shove all my chips in the center of Chan Gailey's table. Pittsburgh, though, if they can stay healthy on defense, showed Sunday exactly why they're probably the best bet to repeat their success in 2010.

3. Nine Times? Nine Times
It's pretty hard to believe that since Mike Shanahan became offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1985, he was never shut out by an opposing defense until October of 2011 against Buffalo ... in Toronto. (Can you imagine if he went back in time and told 1985 Mike Shanahan that? I'd definitely pay upwards of $5,000 for a YouTube of 85 Shanny's reaction.)

Then again, it's unfathomable that the Redskins head coach would come into the 2011 season expecting the duo of John Beck and Rex Grossman to lead Washington to the promised land. Because it's not happening. We talked about it last week and the story's still the same -- Beck and Grossman aren't going to get it done, but there's not a whole lot Washington can do to change that right now.

As Pete Prisco wrote Sunday from Toronto, the Bills no-name roster continuing to impress with All-Pro performances is the real story. But, really, again, how on Earth did Shanahan think that he'd end up winning this year with Grossman and Beck? And how can anyone be optimistic about Beck after he's thrown up stinkbombs against the Panthers and Bills who just aren't that good on defense?

Buffalo sacked him nine times on Sunday, and as Ed Rooney will tell you, that's too many.

I follow a lot of Redskins fans on Twitter (and also a lot of Bears fans, but I didn't realize that until they started getting all Fake Jay Cutler on me during the Panthers game), and it was borderline depressing to follow the game through that virtual medium on Sunday.

It's pretty clear that the quarterback situation is the direct result of this year's hopelessness amongst the D.C. faithful -- and can you blame them? When the option of benching your best quarterback is technically benching your backup so you can go back to starting Rex Grossman, you have a serious problem on your hands.

Unfortunately for Shanahan, neither the Colts or the Dolphins are going to trade him that top-overall pick. So here's hoping Matt Barkley really is good.

4. All Hyped Up
All season long, everyone's based the Eagles for their "Dream Team" nickname that was entirely inapplicable. So it seems only fair, after watching Philadelphia dismember Dallas 34-7 on Sunday night, to give credit where credit's due.

For starters, kudos to Andy Reid for clearly outcoaching Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan and running his record after a bye week to a ridiculous 13-0. Props to Michael Vick, who looked comfortable all night long en route to an incredibly efficient 21/28, 279 passing yard night. It probably didn't hurt him much that LeSean McCoy piled up 185 yards on 30 carries with a pair of touchdowns.

Of course, it probably didn't hurt him to get left tackle Jason Peters back on the field. Or for Philly to have an early 14-point lead, forcing Dallas to chase Vick and giving McCoy a ridiculous amount of space to get his joystick-like moves on.

This is precisely what the Eagles imagined for their team when the season began -- an athletic, big-play offense that's capable of exploding to the end zone at any moment and a defense that eliminates the opponent's passing game.

Considering that 68 of Reid's career wins (and one tie!) have come after Halloween over the course of his career, it's not crazy to think that the Eagles -- at 3-4 and now tied for both second and last place in the NFC East -- could end up winning the division.

5. Rams Over Saints
For the Rams sake, it seems like it might be smart to trot Tony LaRussa and the World Series champion Cardinals out to every home game.

But it was the Cards appearance, not LaRussa's wardrobe, at the Edward Jones Dome that inspired the Rams to rise up and knock off the Saints in a 31-21 shocker on Sunday.

"I think the Cardinals being here was great for the city," running back Steven Jackson said. "Whoever showed up today, regardless if the place was empty, today was the day.

"We came out with a mindset we were going to fight."

Because of the particular circumstances leading up to this game -- Sam Bradford out, Saints coming a 62-point outing, Rams being terrible, Al Harris being older than Rafael Furcal (no, really, it's true) -- there was zero reason to think St. Louis could cover the two-touchdown spread, much less win.

But Jackson was inspired, piling up 159 yards on 25 bruising carries. And the Rams defense was even better, limiting Brees from the start and sacking him six times. (Although I wouldn't be opposed to crediting them with just five sacks since Chris Long's third sack probably qualifies more as something you'd see in the WWE ring.)

There's no reason to get carried away and expect the Rams to start making a run in the NFC West, but take a look at their schedule. They've played some really tough teams to get to 1-6 and the schedule gets really, really, really easy from here on out, matchups against San Francisco, Cincy and Pittsburgh notwithstanding.

Or they could stop playing football and just sell tickets to see LaRussa try on Sam Bradford jerseys. I'd be fine with that too.

6. Bengals emerge
Ryan Wilson and I said before the season that the Bengals, by virtue of a puff-pastry-filled early-season schedule, could start out hot and win a few more games than anyone expected. They've done just that after a dominant 34-12 win in Seattle on Sunday moved them to 5-2.

Everyone is surprised ... except the Bengals. Naturally.

"To the people on the outside, they may be surprised and what not," cornerback Leon Hall said. "Every season we come in expecting to win. Just hopefully, we've got some big games coming up, so we execute in those games."

Hall's speaking to the widely-held belief that the Bengals will fade with  Baltimore and Pittsburgh showing up on the sked twice each in the second half of the season. That might be presumptuous, though, because this Bengals team is quietly becoming legit.

Beating the Seahawks doesn't exactly make them the Super Bowl favorites or anything, but their success is coming with a pretty simple formula that's been forgotten in this day of high-scoring NFL games: defense.

Lest you forget, the Jets made the AFC Championship game two years ago with a rookie quarterback, a stout running game and the best defense in the NFL. The Bengals aren't as good on the ground as the Jets (or even close really) and not as good on defense, but Andy Dalton's better than Mark Sanchez and A.J. Green's better than any of the receiving options the Jets had then.

Cincinnati's top-five defense will get a couple bigger tests soon in the form of the Steelers, the Ravens and a game against the Texans, but the Bengals also get the Titans, the Browns, the Rams and the Cardinals the rest of the way home.

Which means there's actually a decent chance they get to double-digit victories and one of the more shocking playoff berths we've seen in a while.

7. Ponder Wins the Weinke Bowl
The differences in Cam Newton and Christian Ponder are pretty obvious right? Their physical stature, their style of play, their respective hype coming out of college, their expectations once they were drafted ... all very different.

But they have one common thread -- they were both tutored by Chris Weinke, former Florida State and Carolina Panthers quarterback.

Ponder won their first matchup 24-21, thanks to a 31-yard honk by Olindo Mare at the end of regulation field goal that was setup by a penalty-flag honk on a holding call against Steve Smith after Cam Newton scrambled for a first down.

"I got a few texts saying already in the HD it didn't look too bad," Smith said of the official's call. "For a 70-year-old man gimping down the field, I guess that's what he saw."

Hilarious. And also probably a statement that will get Smith some kind of fine. From my vantage point, it was surprising, but not entirely unjustifiable to nail Smith with the yellow flag on the play. It shouldn't have mattered though, because as Newton pointed out after the game, the Panthers didn't do enough earlier in the game to take advantage of a game they should have won.

Once again, the problem really became that they can't stop anyone who resembles a physical running back. Adrian Peterson, who led the Vikings with 86 rushing yards and 76 receiving yards, is the definition of a physical running back, and he had his way with the Panthers defense, who let the Vikings convert seven of their 14 first downs (the Panthers came into the game ranking 29th in the NFL, allowing opponents to convert 45.5 percent of their third downs).

And when you can't stop the other team's offense and your own offense stalls out for several consecutive drives in the second half, it makes winning games hard. Newton was brilliant again, and even though the Panthers are losing, fans aren't exactly getting upset at it. The future is bright.

It's bright in Minnesota too, and it kind of makes you wonder what took Leslie Frazier so long to hand Ponder the reigns. Maybe he should have called Weinke and gotten his opinion first.

8. Fast Learners
Speaking of common threads, how about six of the top seven players in the 2011 NFL Draft coming from the SEC and making an immediate impact on the NFL as rookies?

Newton (Auburn), Marcel Dareus (Alabama), A.J. Green (Georgia), Patrick Peterson (LSU) and Julio Jones (Alabama) all hail from college football's best conference and all have put a serious footprint on the league through eight weeks. Hell, on Sunday, Newton threw three touchdowns, Dareus had 2.5 sacks, Green caught a(nother) touchdown, and Peterson returned a(nother) punt 82 yards.

To take it a step further, and move away from the SEC, it looks like this year's first-round rookies are going to be a pretty damn good crop. Ponder's clearly an upgrade for Minnesota, Ryan Kerrigan's been tremendous in Washington, Robert Quinn's coming on strong for St. Louis, J.J. Watt's a day-one starter for Houston, Aldon Smith is wrecking shop for San Francisco ... and so on and so forth.

It's early -- like eight weeks early -- but it's hard to find a slam-dunk bust in the top 10 of the draft like we've seen seen the past few years. We'll know more by season's end, but the point being is that it's an incredibly impressive performance by this rookie class on such short notice.

Or maybe the lesson is to just avoid drafting for need and grab anyone who played in the SEC.

9. Needing a New Nickname
Chris Johnson is often called "CJ2K" as an homage to his 2,006 yards rushing in 2009. His performance in 2011, coming off a contract dispute, is an insult to the letter K. And perhaps the number 2.

Certainly, it's insulting to Titans fans who had to watch him grind out 34 yards on 14 carries in Tennessee's 27-10 win over Indy Sunday.

Oh and speaking of insults, what's worse for Johnson? That Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said Johnson reminds him of Hassy's old Seattle teammate Shaun Alexander, or that Mike Munchak is having him split carries with Javon Ringer?

"The running game hasn't been where we wanted it to be all year, so I guess they just trying new things," Johnson said.

I mean, does this guy care? Because it always seemed like he might care -- there are certain guys in sports that seem as if once they get paid, they're going to reduce the amount of effort they put forth. We saw this with Albert Haynesworth and the Redskins; everyone except Dan Snyder saw his lack of effort coming.

But Johnson always seemed motivated by people who questioned his ability to be a full-time NFL running back. Maybe he's still motivated and just isn't in game shape yet, but his refusal to take accountability for a holdout followed by a monster contract followed by what is easily the worst season by a running back in the NFL this year is disappointing to say the least.

10. Upset Sunday Gets Upset
The Rams taking down the Saints is obviously a big deal. Perhaps the biggest, considering the Rams were two-touchdown dogs at home. But the early goings of Sunday's action had a lot of potential for upsets, with the Ravens losing big to the Cardinals and the Giants struggling against the winless Dolphins.

Both New York and Baltimore came back to win, but the inconsistency they've both shown against mediocre teams this year is terrifying for their fans. The Ravens looked like they might lose to the Cardinal and Jaguars in less than seven days and the Giants aren't that far removed from getting beat by the Seahawks in their home stadium.

And there's one thing they have in common: inconsistent quarterback play.

Both Joe Flacco and Eli Manning are elite-level talents with big arms. Both guys are capable of great performances. But both guys are equally capable of shooting their teams out of games.

Ken Wisenhunt and Tony Sparano deserve credit for getting their undermanned squads ready to play. Particularly Sparano, since I refuse to believe that this scene didn't unfold in the Dolphins locker room before the game Sunday:



(Yeah that's right, I'm only one Teen Wolf reference away from the trifecta.)

Anyway, the point is that Manning and Flacco scare me. As Clark Judge noted, Manning's been great at times this year, but he's absolutely capable of doing what he did against the Seahawks and tossing three picks. Flacco's more concerning, of course, because he's shown zero consistency this season, and has tended to play down to the opposition (Tennessee, Jacksonville, Arizona are all good examples).

The upside of being inconsistent and talented, though, is that you can make big throws. And both guys did that late on Sunday to help their team win. They just need to show up with more regularity if they expect either squad to make it a deep run this year.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Reggie Bush recorded his second career 100-yard rushing game Sunday. Both of them came against the Giants.
... LeSean McCoy is now the only NFL player to score a touchdown in every game this season.
... Teams coming off a bye this week were 5-1. So much for that theory about being at a disadvantage.
... The Bills are the eighth team in NFL history to start a season 4-0 at home a year after starting the season 0-4 at home.
... Calvin Johnson joins Randy Moss (2007, Pats) as the only players since 1970 to record 11 touchdown catches in their first eight games of the season.
... Five times a team's come back from 20 points to win this year -- most in NFL history.
... Cam Newton, Peyton Manning, Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan are the only quarterbacks with five 250-yard passing games in their rookie season.
... Drew Brees somehow kept his TD streak alive and now has a touchdown pass in 35 consecutive games. Johnny Unitas has the record at 47.
... Patrick Peterson joined Devin Hester and Craig Yeast as the only rookies with more than one 80+ yard return touchdown in a season

Worth 1,000 Words



Jim Irsay Pop-Culture Referencing Tweet That's Sure to Drive Colts Fans Isane of the Week
"No one is "Tanking the season"...that's absurd conspiracy theory mumblings...Suck4Luck doesn't exist n Indy"

Suck for Luck counts as a pop-culture reference right? Whatever, at this point Colts fans want the team to finish dead last right?

GIF O' THE WEEK
I could watch fat men lateraling the football for hours.



Hot Seat Tracker
  • Tony Sparano -- Great effort from Miami, but they came up short. Again.
  • Ken Wisenhunt -- Tough to see that comeback by the Ravens and not get discouraged.
  • Norv Turner -- Unless he wins on Monday.
  • Mike Shanahan -- That 4-12 thing looks more realistic than it did last week doesn't it?
  • Jim Caldwell -- Charley Casserly said he's locked but I dunno.
Chasing Andrew Luck
Colts (-600): They're clearly the NFL's worst team in 2011 ...
Dolphins (-500): But they're in a harder division.
Cardinals (-300): Season. Unraveling.
Rams (-250): Hope!

MVP Watch
Aaron Rodgers somehow picked up some more space on his bye week -- Tom Brady's poor performance separates the Packers quarterback even further. Once again, though, we need to mention Fred Jackson as a viable MVP candidate (though he won't get votes). LeSean McCoy could get some run if the Eagles really get hot.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com