Tag:Colt McCoy
Posted on: November 14, 2011 9:59 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2011 9:59 pm
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Peyton Hillis ruled out for Jags game

It's been a long strange season for Hillis. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

The season can't end soon enough for Peyton Hillis. He was one of the league's best backs a year ago, but contract squabbles, injuries and the Madden curse have all conspired against him in 2011. He hasn't seen the field since Week 6 and has only played in four games. After tweaking his hammy a week and a half ago, Hillis won't play in Week 11, either.

Browns head coach Pat Shurmur didn't need to see how the week unfolded, choosing instead to announce Monday that Hillis was ruled out for Sunday's matchup with the Jaguars.

Shurmur also said safety T.J. Ward (foot) wouldn't play against Jacksonville but hoped that both players would be back at some point this season. There are currently no plans to place either on injured reserve.

The Browns are one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the league and would clearly benefit from a healthy Hillis. So far, that hasn't happened. As a consequence, Cleveland's running game is ranked dead last in the league, according to Football Outsiders, and the passing game's biggest issue has been protecting quarterback Colt McCoy (well, that and trying not to be so predictable).

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Posted on: November 10, 2011 8:00 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2011 12:18 pm
 

Could Josh Cribbs see snaps at RB, QB?

Cribbs says he was joking but the Browns should be willing to try anything. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

The Browns offense is many things, though none are particularly laudatory. Words like predictable and inconsistent come to mind, which is exacerbated by the paucity of playmakers.

Also not helping: second-year quarterback Colt McCoy has regressed. Or more precisely: after a promising rookie season, he's failed to meet expectations through the first nine weeks of 2011. That may have more to do with the Sunday beatings he's been subjected to (and, as we previously mentioned, not much in the way of downfield threats to keep defenses honest) than his ability to consistently throw a 15-yard dig route.

It also doesn't help that running back Peyton Hillis has gone from folk hero to outcast in a few months and the Browns' running game has subsequently disappeared. Which may explain why Josh Cribbs, a Pro Bowl returner and a pretty good wideout, could be taking some reps at running back, too.

"I can't give nothing away, but they put something in that's special to me and that's all I can say about that,'' said Cribbs Wednesday, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot. "Coach is really trying to target me and the coaches are really making an opportunity for me to get the football more.''

Cribbs was asked again about the chances he could line up in the backfield. "We've got eight games left. There will be some surprises this week.''

Turns out, Josh was joshing. "I was just kidding givin'em a good story lol there is nothing big for me in the package lol," Cribbs said via Twitter Wednesday night.

We have absolutely no problem with Cribbs, whether he was joking or actually hinting that he could take some snaps at quarterback or running back. We're guessing McCoy would welcome the break from getting knocked silly, and more than that, it's not like the Browns' offense is a Rubik's cube. We've seen People magazine crossword puzzles that took less time to solve.

We mentioned it in this week's Coach Killers but just in case you missed it, here's what we're talking about:

The Browns are so married to their offensive philosophy that even the blind know what's coming (we're only half-kidding). Via the NFL Network's Mike Lombardi:

"Writing about the Browns offense leads me to a game I play every week at NFL Films. I sit in my office in Mt Laurel, N.J., put the Browns offense on my screen and call a friend who was a coach in the league, but is now in between successes. I tell my friend the personnel group, the formation, where the ball is located on the field and what hash mark and describe the motion -- if there is any -- and ask him to tell me the exact play that will be run," Lombardi writes.

"He is correct about 95 percent of the time. No lie. The Browns are so integrated into the West Coast system that their predictability is becoming legendary around the league."

So, yeah, maybe coach Pat Shurmur should let Cribbs line up wherever he wants. It's not like the Browns can get more predictable.


Sam Bradford and the St. Louis Rams will go up against Colt McCoy and the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon. Which team has the advantage? NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz go inside the numbers to preview this game.

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Posted on: November 8, 2011 10:02 am
Edited on: November 9, 2011 1:21 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 9: The curse of Carson Palmer

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

Oakland defense (added bonus: dumb penalties!)

We can forgive Carson Palmer for looking rusty. He spent the previous nine months kicking it in his La-Z-Boy, probably figuring that there was no way Bengals owner Mike Brown would trade him. Plus, it's not Palmer's fault that Raiders head coach Hue Jackson gave up a first- and (likely) second-round pick for him, and then inserted him into an actual game after a week of practice. The results were equal parts slapstick and dramedy.

But there's no excuse for Oakland's defense, which seemed completely unprepared for the possibility that Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow might actually run the ball. Because, really, there isn't any evidence that Tebow is quick to take off, especially if it means he doesn't have to flutter a medicine ball in the vicinity of would-be targets.

Tebow, who had two more rushes than completions, finished the afternoon with 118 yards on the ground on 10 carries, including runs of 32 and 28 yards, the last of which set up a Willis McGahee "this game is officially a blowout" touchdown late in the fourth quarter. McGahee, by the way, rushed for 163 yards and two scores and Oakland was helpless to stop it.


"I'm shocked," defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said, according to the Oakland Tribune. "Ain't no way I thought that team could put 38 points on us with that quarterback. This hurt more than Buffalo. … And I thought we were past this (expletive)."

"You have to do your job," defensive tackle Richard Seymour added. "The things that happened out there today ... it's Football 101."

As long as the Raiders are going back to basics, maybe they should review what are and aren't penalties. They were flagged 15 times for 130 yards Sunday, including two of the "wait, that didn't just happen" penalties on fourth down late in the first half.

With 22 seconds before halftime and the Broncos facing a 52-yard field goal, rookie Taiwan Jones jumped offsides. Undeterred, Jones was flagged on the next play for roughing the kicker. Broncos first down. Denver kicker Matt Prater would end up missing a subsequent kick three plays later, but Jones' two miscues encapsulated the Raiders' day nicely.

"I think we're not a very intelligent football team right now," head coach Hue Jackson said. "We're not playing very intelligently when it comes to penalties. Some of them are uncalled for.

"We're going to continue to address it. I don't want anyone to think we haven't. We emphasize it, and we're not going to stop. It might be Game 16 when we get it fixed, I don't know."

Nothing to worry about, people: Jackson will get it fixed, even if it takes all year.

New England secondary

Unless Bill Belichick gets ahold of some magic beans New England could have a permanent home on Coach Killers. Which is ironic since Belichick is solely responsible for the team's current personnel plight.

Yes, we know: Leigh Bodden wasn't happy with his role and Darius Butler and Brandon Meriweather were high-round disappointments. But would the Patriots be a better team with them on the field than, say, Sergio Brown, Phillip Adams or Antwaun Molden? Well, they couldn't be much worse. 

Reviewing Week 9

Belichick knows better than anybody that his defense is in shambles. He tried to pressure Eli Manning Sunday and it blew up in his face. The Giants picked up the blitz and Manning carved up the secondary (just like Ben Roethlisberger did the week before). It's easy to just blame it all on inexperience but the Patriots traded for Albert Haynesworth in the offseason to shore up the run D and as an antidote for any deficiencies in the defensive backfield. Haynesworth was last seen on the field Sunday with 9:10 left on the clock in the third quarter.

(We're midway through the season and it's not too early to suggest that Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco -- the Pats' two "big" acquisitions -- have been among the NFL's biggest busts in 2011.)

Tom Brady took some heat Monday for not displaying his usual super-human awesomeness. He looked rattled at times but he also led New England on a go-ahead touchdown drive with 1:27 on the clock. That was more than enough time for Manning, who hooked up with tight end Jake Ballard twice on the final drive: once for a 28-yard gain on 3rd and 10, and again for a one-yard touchdown pass with 19 seconds left. Ballard, by the way, wears No. 85, which belonged to David Tyree, Giants folk hero and unassuming Patriots nemesis.

John Beck, QB, Washington

Washington's inability to regularly score points isn't because of Beck. Don't misunderstand: he's not good, but no matter what Norman Einstein says, neither is Rex Grossman. The problem starts with Mike Shanahan, who traded for Donovan McNabb last season and dumped him in favor of Beck and Grossman this season. No one's surprised that the Skins are 3-5 and as our collegue Will Brinson pointed out Monday, there's the very real possibility that Washington could lose out.

It sounds like an overreaction, but this is the same crew that was shut out last week in Buffalo, and needed a 59-yard field goal against the 49ers Sunday to get on the board after nearly seven quarters of goose eggs.

“Right now you take a look at the offense and it’s tough to take. It’s tough to take for me,” Shanahan said. “But I understand how this thing works. We’ve got a lot of young guys with talent, and we’re not all collective on the same page right now. . . . Everybody wants wins. . . . Everybody wants the answer. I wish I had the answer, but that’s as close as I can get.”

Interesting. You know who's coordinating the offense that Shanahan has so much trouble taking? His son, Kyle.

Beck, meanwhile, struggled to do the things even average NFL quarterback can manage: throwing accurately, connecting on the occasional deep ball and he was at his best on short throws and screen passes (Hmm, we've read that scouting report before somewhere…).

More demoralizing details via the Washington Post's Mike Jones:

"For the game, Beck went 30 for 47 for 254 yards, a touchdown and an interception. None of his passes traveled longer than 16 yards. And a 17-yard gain came when Helu caught a batted ball and scampered up the field before he was run out of bounds.

"The offense generated only 303 yards and did not get closer to the end zone than the San Francisco 37 until Beck completed his nine-yard touchdown pass to Gaffney with 1:10 left. Beck then hit Leonard Hankerson on the two-point conversion to give his team its 11 points."

When Tebowing goes very, very wrong. (US PRESSWIRE)

Perhaps the saddest part of all this is that even if the Redskins lose out, they still won't be in position to get Andrew Luck because there's now way the Colts are winning three games.

Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego

Rivers might not admit it publicly, but something's wrong with the guy. Whether it's a sore arm, a bum shoulder, a goiter -- something has to be bothering him. Because you don't go from one of the NFL's most prolific, accurate passers, to Kurt Warner when he was with the Giants unless there are underlying issues.

“I appreciate everyone trying to come up with a theory and a reason that I'm hurt," Rivers said Sunday. “I’m not hurt. I’ve thrown a handful of picks that I normally don’t throw and I’ll probably throw some more throughout my career. There won’t always be a reason why.”

So Rivers is fine according to … well, Rivers and that's about it. Even team owner Dean Spanos admitted after the Chargers' latest loss that his franchise quarterback is having an "off year." “Sometimes you just have [one]” Spanos told NBC's Alex Flanagan. “That is what Philip Rivers is having so far.”

By the way, "a handful of picks" is one thing. Rivers has 14 interceptions through eight games. The most he's ever thrown in a 16-game season is 15.

He added three more against the Packers, all of the groan-inducing variety. Sometimes balls are tipped, or receivers run the wrong route. Neither was the case Sunday. Rivers' first interception went off a Packers' defender before Charlie Peprah hauled it in and ran through approximately 27 arm-tackles (everybody but Rivers attempted to bring him down at least twice) on his way to the end zone. The second pick was worse: Tramon Williams jumped a route near the sidelines and could've done the electric slide into the end zone there was so much distance between him and the nearest defender. The final interception was on San Diego's last drive, one that could've tied the score after a furious second-half comeback. Instead, Rivers underthrew his receiver by a good 10 yards and Peprah was there again to make the play.

Sure, Phil, everything's fine. If you say so.

Colt McCoy, QB, Cleveland

Like Beck above, McCoy doesn't deserve all the blame. But after a surprising rookie season in 2010, when he outplayed everyone's expectations, he's regressed in 2011. A lof of that has to do with the Browns' West Coast scheme, and that there aren't any playmakers to speak of.

Josh Cribbs is a dynamic returner but he's not a No. 1 wide receiver. Perhaps Greg Little can grow into that role, but he's not there yet. And there's Peyton Hillis, of course, the basket case who has gone from fan favorite to public pariah all because he wants a new contract.

We mentioned last week that the Browns are so married to their offensive philosophy that even the blind know what's coming (we're only half-kidding). Via the NFL Network's Mike Lombardi:

"Writing about the Browns offense leads me to a game I play every week at NFL Films. I sit in my office in Mt Laurel, N.J., put the Browns offense on my screen and call a friend who was a coach in the league, but is now in between successes. I tell my friend the personnel group, the formation, where the ball is located on the field and what hash mark and describe the motion -- if there is any -- and ask him to tell me the exact play that will be run," Lombardi writes.

A former coach can predict the Browns' offensive play call 95 percent of the time. (Getty Images)

"He is correct about 95 percent of the time. No lie. The Browns are so integrated into the West Coast system that their predictability is becoming legendary around the league."

This, along with the shortage of big-play threats, explains why McCoy ends up on the turf after most plays. If a former coach hearing the pre-snap formations knows what's coming, what do you think opposing defensive coordinators will have planned?

McCoy was blitzed often Sunday in Houston, sacked four times and hit eight more times after he threw the ball. The Cleveland Plain-Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot points out that McCoy's been hit 52 times after the throw -- fifth most in the NFL. Which led left tackle Joe Thomas to marvel at his quarterback's resilience.

"He's a super-tough kid," Thomas said. "Not many guys in the league would be able to take a hit like he did on that long pass [a fourth-quarter sideline throw to Greg Little] and be able to come back, but he's a guy that wants to be out there competing. He plays big and that's all you can ask for."

That and some playmakers. (In related news: Hillis has already been ruled out for next week. We were shocked, too.) Which reminds us...

After watching Julio Jones go off on the Colts, anybody else think that the Browns should've just drafted him instead of taking all those picks from the Falcons? We're guessing McCoy does.

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Posted on: November 4, 2011 4:28 pm
 

No Hillis, West Coast scheme means predictable O

A former coach can predict the Browns' offensive play call 95 percent of the time. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

The Browns got off to a promising start, winning two of their first three games. They've since dropped two of three and head to Houston this weekend to face the AFC South-leading Texans. And it looks like they'll do it without running back Peyton Hillis, who reinjured him hamstring at Friday's practice.

Hillis, one of the league's best backs a season ago, hasn't been a factor in 2011. Partly because he's been injured, but also because he's looking for a new contract. Things have apparently become so acrimonious that some Browns' players held an intervention of sorts for Hillis.

Details via Yahoo.com's Michael Silver.

"By Wednesday, a group of about eight Browns veterans had summoned Hillis into a meeting room for an intervention-style, air-clearing session designed to restore his focus. After a breakout season in 2010 that vaulted him to national prominence, including a spot on the Madden NFL ’12 cover, the 25-year-old back’s consuming desire for a new contract has become a locker room distraction that numerous teammates regard as an impediment to cohesion and collective success."

Hillis has played in just four games this season, rushing for 211 yards on 60 carries. According to Football Outsiders, the Browns' running ranks 30th in 2011 after finishing 15th in 2010.


Matt Schaub and the Houston Texans will host Colt McCoy and the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at Reliant Stadium. Join Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan as they take a look at this matchup. Watch the game at 1 PM ET on CBS.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” one Browns veteran told Silver. “Last year, Peyton was such a positive, inspirational force on our team – but now he’s like a different guy. It’s like he’s in a funk that he can’t get out of, and it’s killing us, because we really need him. And we’ve told him that. But we’re at the point where we just don’t know what to do.”

Also not helping the Browns: predictable play-calling. Second-year quarterback Colt McCoy has struggled after showing potential in 2010. He has a lower completion percentage than his rookie season (57.0 vs. 60.8), lower yards per attempt (5.7 vs. 7.1), and his scrambling totals are down (3.3 YPC vs. 4.9 YPC).

But that might not be all on McCoy. NFL Network's Mike Lombardi explains that the Browns are so married to their offensive philosophy that people half-paying attention can tell you what's coming. We're not joking.

"Writing about the Browns offense leads me to a game I play every week at NFL Films. I sit in my office in Mt Laurel, N.J., put the Browns offense on my screen and call a friend who was a coach in the league, but is now in between successes. I tell my friend the personnel group, the formation, where the ball is located on the field and what hash mark and describe the motion -- if there is any -- and ask him to tell me the exact play that will be run," Lombardi writes.

"He is correct about 95 percent of the time. No lie. The Browns are so integrated into the West Coast system that their predictability is becoming legendary around the league."

So Cleveland either has to score a ton of points on the five percent of plays the opponent can't readily identify what's coming, or they need to change up their offensive strategy. Given that the Browns have been outscored 140-107 seven games into the season, we're guessing the former isn't working.

Lombardi adds that Cleveland "needs more playmakers and a better quarterback," and it's hard to dispute that. You know what else might help? Peyton Hillis.

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Posted on: October 17, 2011 3:07 am
Edited on: October 17, 2011 1:34 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 6

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

1. What's Your Deal?
By now, you've undoubtedly seen the little melee that erupted between Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz following San Francisco's 25-19 victory in Detroit.

NFL VP of Communications Greg Aiello confirmed to CBS Sports following the game that the NFL will look into the near-fight that went down, and I'd be pretty shocked if both coaches didn't get hit with some kind of fine. Though Harbaugh didn't do much that was noticeable on the video, he did admit following the game that he probably incited Schwartz' anger.

Schwartz, of course, chased Harbaugh down the field and had to be repeatedly pushed back from the crowd. No matter what Harbaugh did, it's hard to fathom that Schwartz behavior is remotely acceptable in the eyes of the league. And though Schwartz might have looked like the aggressor, the blame has to lie with Harbaugh on this one.

Looking ahead, this might not be a rivalry that dies quickly. Niners offensive lineman Anthony Davis, on his newly verified Twitter account, had a little trash talk of his own after the game.

"They talked s*** to us all week," Davis tweeted following the game. "We said nothin ... Came and kicked that a** ... its f***** football f*** classy.. Save classy for Mortons lol"

Steakhouse humor aside, it's worth mentioning Cliff Avril of the Lions saw Davis' tweet and pointed out that it was "real professional" -- Davis responded by pointing out that he "pancacked [Avril] on a passing play ... sooo uh just be quiet go home play with your kids."

So this shouldn't evolve into anything unpleasant in the near future at all!

What's fascinating about this whole thing is how people are defending both sides. Some folks think that Schwartz is an unhinged lunatic. Some think Harbaugh is an arrogant jerk. (Our own Mike Freeman noted on Twitter that Harbaugh's not making himself any friends around the league with his attitude.)

For me, it's hard to blame Schwartz for his reaction, given the way that Harbaugh behaved following San Francisco's victory:



Whatever, here's hoping they meet again in the playoffs. In the meantime, my top-five list for coaches I would pick for a steel-cage death match:

1. Jack Del Rio
2. Ron Rivera
3. Mike Tomlin
4. Jim Schwartz
5. Raheem Morris

Leave your picks in the comments.

2. Speaking of Coaches ...
You'll notice Sean Payton didn't make my top five. And he might not have even if he was healthy, but he certainly wouldn't be up there after the incident that took place on Sunday, when tight end Jimmy Graham came crashing into the sideline and blew up Payton's knee.

The Saints coach suffered a broken tibia and tore his the MCL in his left knee, which means he'll be knocked out of shape for quite a while.

"It's just one of those things, the play kind of got up on me quicker," Payton said Sunday. "I think the second part of the tackle seemed maybe all of a sudden. I mean, every once in a while you feel like you get pinned with the play and that's what happened."

Of course, Payton wasn't the only coach who was injured on Sunday in this game (think about that; seriously) -- Jimmy Lake, the Bucs defensive backs coach, tore his patellar tendon celebrating an interception celebrating, as Ryan says in the podcast above, Martin Gramatica style.

What I'm wondering is if Payton's injury might derail the Saints offense a little bit. Maybe that's a stretch, and he'll certainly have his hands all over the team's playcalling and management, but it doesn't sound like he'll be down on the field for a few weeks.

"I might have to be up in the press box for a few games," Payton said. "Because it’s a fracture, its different. If it’s the MCL you can have the brace, but the fracture on the outside means the weight-bearing part of it really changes."

Maybe it won't have any bearing -- with the Saints playing the Colts and Rams in the next two weeks, Drew Brees can probably manage the offense all by himself.

2. A Boy Named John
With Washington getting two weeks to prepare for the Eagles, and Philly looking very much like a punch-drunk boxer practically begging for a knockout shot, it stood to reason that the Redskins could take advantage of the Eagles porous defense and pick up a critical division win.

They didn't, and that's mainly because Rex Grossman turned into, well, Rex Grossman.

The 'Skins quarterback threw four interceptions -- three to Kurt Coleman -- and registered a couple of terrible interceptions that should have been picks. This led to him getting benched for backup John Beck.

“Well number one—we needed a spark," Mike Shanahan said afterwards. "John has been practicing very well the past couple of weeks and with four turnovers there we thought it was time to make a change and give John an opportunity to show us what he could do."

(Ed. Note: Week 6 review will be up early Monday.)

Beck, who's so fancy/awesome he dressed like a gas-station attendant for his post-game presser, isn't locked into the starting role yet, though, as Shanny refused to name next week's starter immediately following the game.

"I would never announce that right after a game," Shanahan said of his decision on who he'll start. "I would announce that later on in the week. We'll make a decision after looking at the film."

That's all fine and well, but who didn't see this coming? Because if the Redskins leading the NFC East after five weeks was the least likely thing in the entire world, then Grossman eventually imploding was on the opposite scale of predictability. And now this is quickly shaping up to be the second rendition of the Donovan McNabb-Grossman fiasco from last year.

On the bright side, it's less expensive?

"I want to play," Beck said, via Dan Steinberg of the Washington Post. "I want to be the quarterback. But I’m not the one that makes that decision, it’s coach, and they’ll make the best decision for the team ... What’s gonna happen next, I don’t know. But I’ll just do everything I can to be prepared if my number is called."

If it's me, I roll the dice with Beck, who seemed to at least provide a little spark to the team when he came on the field. It's not like he's been good this year, the Redskins defense has just kept Washington in games. And Grossman's now thrown three or more interceptions in seven of his 45 career starts. Which means 15 percent of the time that you put Grossman under center, there's a 15-percent chance he's going to hand the ball to the opposing defense multiple times.

3. Maybe Romo's Not the Only Choker?
For what feels like the fourth or fifth week this season, it's time to question Jason Garrett's playcalling for Dallas. With the game tied at 13 all and the Cowboys in the red zone, Garrett called a third-down shovel pass despite Dez Bryant sitting in single coverage.

The result was predictably predictable: the shovel pass didn't work and the Cowboys kicked a field goal to go up 16-13. Then, after forcing the Patriots to punt, Dallas ran three straight times (for negative-five yards) and the result was even more predictable: Dallas punted back to Tom Brady, giving him the ball down three points with 2:31 left on the clock.

If you've followed football at all for the last few years, you've probably already figured out what happened. Tom Brady did what Tom Brady does, which is carve up a defense en route to just another routine comeback/last-minute win.

By the time he hit Aaron Hernandez in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown, Dallas had just 22 seconds remaining on the clock to move the ball far enough down the field to get a shot at a Hail Mary, which Tony Romo threw out of bounds.

On that last drive, by the way, Romo completed two passes for 31 yards. Throw those passes on the previous series and we're talking about a signature win for the Cowboys, against the best team in the other conference at their place.

Instead, we're left to wonder why Garrett continually plays, as my colleague Pete Prisco wrote, not to lose, instead of utilizing the weapons he has on offense in the proper way. And by "we" I mean "me and Jerry Jones."

"You'll always second-guess whether or not we should have tried to run a little offense down there instead of running it three times," Jones said after the game, per our Pats Rapid Reporter Greg Bedard. "We went conservative rather than try to get some points and it bit us."

Jones said that doing so in a regular-season game was acceptable, but it's not the type of thing that he'd like to see in the playoffs. Of course, it's hard to imagine the Cowboys making the playoffs if they can't figure out how to turn trips to the red zone into more than three points a pop.

4. Bollers and Pryors OH MY
Many a pundit's willing to point out that the Oakland Raiders, while a half-game back of the Chargers, are the best AFC West team through the first six weeks of the season.

This isn't that far off. The Raiders are pretty good. But despite winning 24-17 over Cleveland on Sunday, Oakland suffered a seriously detrimental injury on Sunday, as quarterback Jason Campbell broke his collarbone and will likely miss the remainder of the season.

“I’m not going to let this football team blink," coach Hue Jackson said Sunday. "We’ll miss Jason for a little while. I have no idea how long it will take [for him to recover]. We’ll see as we go. I know obviously he won’t be here next week. We’ll continue to press forward and get better."

That's the optimistic point of view. The pessimistic? Kyle Boller, Terrelle Pryor and Shane Lechler are now the top-three quarterbacks on Oakland's depth chart. Yikes.

So Oakland has a couple of options going forward. One, roll with Boller. (Again, yikes.) Two, let Darren McFadden carry the ball 50 times a game. (Not terrible, but it could cause some long-term issues in terms of his health.) Three, go out and get another quarterback.

A couple of names spring to mind immediately: Kyle Orton, Donovan McNabb, David Garrard and Carson Palmer. Garrard makes sense because he's openly said he wants to play for a contender and the Raiders, at 4-2, certainly fit the bill.

Orton, McNabb and Palmer seem like longer shots as trade possibilities, but the Raiders have about 36 hours to make a deal, and it's reasonable that the Broncos, Vikings and Bengals would be interested in getting something back for guys that are either going to ride pine the rest of the year or won't bother showing up.

5. Don't Forget the Defense



In this, the year of ridiculously silly offensive outputs in the NFL, it's easy to just gawk at high-powered offensive teams and assume they will end up winning the most games and doing the most damage in the postseason.

But we need to recognize the Ravens for the dirty work they're doing on the defensive side of the ball, suppressed their league-leading points-allowed total to 71 Sunday after casually shut down Houston in a 29-14 victory. Baltimore held 2010 rushing champ Arian Foster to just 49 yards on 15 carries, and limited Matt Schaub to 220 yards and a touchdown in a dominant defensive performance that should make some people take notice.

Ryan and I debated this audio-style, but I think there's a legitimate argument that the Ravens are the best team in the AFC and can contend for the best team in the NFL. Clearly -- quite clearly -- the Packers are the cream of the crop at the moment.

But anyone in the NFL can score these days. Few teams can stop the opposition from scoring. With Haloti Ngata serving as the lynchpin for the defensive line and wrecking havoc on opponents' offensive lines, and with a secondary that's surprising this year, and with Ray Lewis playing rejuvenated ball, the Ravens can do that.

They're lacking in offensive consistency more so than a lot of other teams around the league -- Joe Flacco alternating between awesome and terrible this season is pretty terrifying if you're a Baltimore fan -- but Ray Rice is so good right now that he can carry the Ravens when Flacco's struggling.

And if Rice isn't up for the task, the defense isn't afraid to take over either. Which separates the Ravens from most everyone else in the league.

6. Madden Up to His Old Curses Again
What the hell is going on in Cleveland? Because, one, the Browns aren't winning, so that's a problem. And two, Peyton Hillis has some serious drama surrounding him these days.

We've detailed the drama before (numerous times, actually), but Sunday took things to a whole new level. For starters, Hillis rushed just six times for 14 yards and then left with a hamstring injury, pulling up lame after taking a second-quarter screen pass from Colt McCoy only to have it negated by an illegal shift penalty.

After halftime, Hillis returned and appeared to be out for the game. This is fine, if it's because of injury. Except Hillis returned to the game ... and didn't get any carries. He blocked for McCoy and was on the field, but didn't rush the ball at all.

The Browns weren't exactly ground heavy during the game -- Montario Hardesty only had 11 carries for a meager 35 yards -- and McCoy ended up throwing 45 times (his lowest passing-attempt total on the year is now 32, which is also a bit disconcerting), but to see Hillis hurt but maybe not hurt enough to sit out the rest of the game especially after a controversial injury earlier in the year, well, let's just say that something ain't stirring the Kool-Aid in Cleveland.

7. Ponder This
Sunday night, Christian Ponder got his first real action for the Vikings in their 39-10 blowout loss Sunday night. I mentioned this when writing about the substitution, but you can't pin everything that's going wrong on Donovan McNabb.

He's not the guy refusing to block defenders, and he's not the guy allowing other teams to score 20-plus points in the second halves of games. But it's understandable that some of the players on the team might be a little interested in seeing what Ponder, who at least looked more, um, energetic than McNabb, can do.

"I'm not a coach, but this team definitely could use a spark wherever that may come from," wide receiver Percy Harvin said.

Again, McNabb hasn't been that bad. But the Vikes are 1-5, going nowhere in (arguably) the toughest division in football and need to find out if Ponder's their guy for the long term.

Because at this rate, they'll have another pretty critical decision about some talented young quarterbacks at the top of the 2012 draft as well.

For the Bears part, lets give credit to Mike Martz and Lovie Smith for learning that if you actually give Jay Cutler help to block pass rushers, you can produce offensively.

Except they learned this last year, too. Remember how the Bears stunk and Cutler looked like a candidate for serious brain damage through the first few weeks in 2010? And then the Bears started running the ball more and protecting Cutler? Yeah, maybe next year they'll remember before they're a quarter of the season in.



8. Down South in ... Tampa Bay?
The Saints were supposed to blow out the LeGarrette Blount-less Buccaneers this weekend and the Panthers were supposed to upset the Falcons in the Georgia Dome. And then I was going to spend a large chunk of this column talking about the Panthers secretly being the second-best team in the NFC South.

Well, apparently no one else in the entire world got the same memo I did (thanks a lot for not forwarding the revised copy, you big jerks), because the Panthers got handily dismantled 31-17 in Atlanta and the Bucs straight up took care of business in route to grabbing the division lead with a 26-20 win over New Orleans.

If you missed it, lemme fill you on why the Panthers lost: their defense is terrible. It's not bad coaching and it's not to mean to the guys in the lineup, but the best way for Tiki Barber to revive his career would be to just try and get a tryout with whoever's playing the Panthers in the coming week, because there's a decent chance he could scamper for a buck fifty against that fishnet of a rushing defense.

They'll get better in the future and there's no reason to question Ron Rivera's capability as a defensive coach, but if you can run the ball, you can kill the Panthers. After Cam Newton threw a terrible pick to defensive lineman Corey Peters, the Falcons got the ball up a touchdown with six minutes left to play. Eight plays later -- seven of them running -- they were up 14 points.

Everyone knew they were going to run and there still wasn't any way for Carolina to stop it. New Orleans is a different deal, though, because Blount's absence meant the Bucs would struggle (in their wins thus far, he'd done well, and in their losses he hadn't; it's science!). Instead, Earnest Graham piled up 109 rushing yards on 17 carries, Josh Freeman got loose with Arrelious Benn and the Saints found themselves in a 20-10 halftime hole that they couldn't ever climb out of.

In short, a motivated Tampa Bay team showed up, created turnovers and completely flipped our perspective on the NFC South.

9. Bungle in the Jungle
The Ravens, as noted above, are the class of the AFC North. And the Steelers are coming off a second-straight win in which their defense prevailed and Rashard Mendenhall and the running game looked good.

But it would be silly to discount what the Bengals have done this year, moving to 4-2 after a 27-17 win over Indy, especially considering most of the offensive production is coming from a pair of rookies in Andy Dalton and A.J. Green.

Dalton's not lighting up the statistical sheet, per se, as he's averaging just 218.5 passing yards per game, and he's only found the end zone seven times. But four of those have been to fellow rook Green, and -- I'm as surprised to be writing this as you are reading it -- Marvin Lewis was write about his offense getting an upgrade during the offseason.

And the Bengals are benefiting from a soft schedule; they could realistically be undefeated, considering that their two losses were by a combined seven points. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they have the second-best defense in the league, allowing just 278.5 yards per game. That defense has

The schedule gets harder down the road -- multiple matchups with both Baltimore and Pittsburgh loom -- but there are four more games left where the Bengals will either be favored or basically a pick 'em. The idea that this team could win eight games as recently as September was, well, not there. The four they have now is probably what they'd have topped out in most preseason projections.

And now they're a reasonable contender for a Wild-Card berth if a few things go their way in the rest of their division matchups.

10. Things to Do In Denver on Your Bye
It's fascinating to me that a team like the Broncos could, somehow, manage to create a ton of noise about their team. On their bye week. Without really talking about Tim Tebow.

I mean, there was some Tebow talk this week, of course, but it wasn't out of control. Charley Casserly reported that the Broncos won't change their offense much for Tebow, and that's probably a good thing and/or not that surprising, since this is a John Fox offense.

Most of the noise centered around Denver's decision to start trying to ship every single talented veteran on the roster out of town. Brandon Lloyd wants gone, and it seems like he could be moved before Monday's practice (the team apparently doesn't think he can be on the same field as the coaching staff). Eddie Royal's on the block too and he's generating some interest; this makes sense since both player are rentals for the rest of the year.

Kyle Orton's situation is a little more interesting. He'll also be a free agent after this year, and one would think that he'd LOVE to get out of town since a) the coaches yanked him in Week 5 for Tebow despite acting like Tebow's worse than Brady Quinn, b) he'll be a free agent in the offseason and c) he's more reviled by the fans around Mile High than Carmelo Anthony during his "trade me to New York or else" run last year.

But the Broncos issued a statement on Sunday night denying rumors that Orton wanted a trade, so apparently he's content hanging around and playing -- ahem -- nursemaid to Tebow. Or he thinks the experiment will fail miserably and he'll be starting in a couple weeks anyway.

Regardless, Denver, you're 1-4. Spend the bye week getting better, not drawing attention to yourselves when you're not playing please.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Shane Lechler's first career pass attempt also produced his first career touchdown pass, when the Raiders faked a field goal in the third quarter against the Browns. Oddly enough, Lechler was the emergency quarterback, set to replace Kyle Boller who replaced the injured Jason Campbell.
... No one will talk about it because they won and because of Handshake Gate, but Jim Harbaugh threw a challenge flag on a scoring play. Huge gaffe, since those are all automatically reviewed. It cost him an unsportsmanlike conduct delay of game penalty.
... Drew Brees became the first quarterback in NFL history to post four-straight games of 350 or more yards passing.
... Packers are now just the seventh defending Super Bowl champ to start the next season 6-0.

Worth 1,000 Words


 
Jim Irsay Pop-Culture Referencing Tweet That's Sure to Drive Colts Fans Insane of the Week
"Little red light on the highway...big green light on the speedway...hey,hey,hey"

This one might seem meaningless ... unless you happen to be a Grateful Dead fan and recognize the lyrics to "West L.A. Fadeaway." In which case you, like me, are clearly one of the first people to realize that Irsay's moving the Colts to Los Angeles. Who didn't see that coming?

GIF O' THE WEEK

Big ups to @Jose3030 for pulling this clip of LeSean McCoy pulling an aggressive version of the Pillsbury doughboy poke on Eagles coach Andy Reid. There's so much that's perfect about it, from Reid's stomach jiggling to Reid's head snapping back to Reid being totally unprepared for the punch, to McCoy later tweeting an apology for doing it.



Hot Seat Tracker
  • Jack Del Rio -- He wasn't supposed to beat the Steelers, in Pittsburgh. And he didn't. But the Jaguars showed some life. Still hard to imagine he survives this season though.
  • Jim Caldwell -- In the words of the Talking Heads, stiiiiiiiiiiiiillllll waiiiiiiting ...
  • Tony Sparano -- He only lasts through 2012 if Steve Ross is waiting out Jon Gruden.
  • Steve Spagnuolo -- Another guy who wasn't supposed to win Sunday, and he's been ravaged by injuries. But man, how did we all think they'd win the division?
  • Jason Garrett -- Perhaps a bit early, but Jerry Jones is questioning his playcalling. That's never good.
  • Leslie Frazier -- He needs to go to Ponder now to keep his seat cool.
  • Ken Wisenhunt -- He's got the Cards practicing on their off day during their bye week. Might be feeling some pressure.
Chasing Andrew Luck
You'll notice a shifting of the odds this week -- we're no longer accepting wagers that return any money to you. Mainly because there are just too many crappy teams in the NFL right now.

Colts (-500): The Jaguars and Panthers sandwich their Week 11 bye, and besides a Week 17 date at Jacksonville, well, those are the only games that even remotely look winnable right now.
Dolphins (-350): Their schedule is also quite bleak. At least their fans are happy?
Rams (-250): Al Harris is one of their starting cornerbacks. This is not 2001.
Broncos (-225): They're doing everything in their power to deal away anyone with any talent. And this is different than the Josh McDaniels era how?
Vikings (-125): Minny still has Adrian Peterson? Guh that Bears game was depressing.

MVP Watch
Pretty clearly, there's only one choice: Aaron Rodgers. Guy's doing everything he did down the stretch in 2010 but now it's being spread out over the course of a regular season. If he keeps this up, the Packers will have as many losses as there are people who don't pencil his name in for the top MVP vote.
Posted on: September 15, 2011 10:04 am
Edited on: September 15, 2011 3:32 pm
 

Film Room: Colts vs. Browns preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Sometime around Thanksgiving, the Indianapolis Colts will be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. By that point, their demise will have been dissected more times than the Roman Empire's. The general consensus will be that the absence of Peyton Manning (neck surgery) did them in.

Is it that simple? Actually, yes. We weren’t kidding all those years when we said this is a 12-win team with Manning and a six-win team without him.

However, many believe that the Manning-less Colts stink because they don’t have a guy audibling them into the perfect play call or throwing darts all over the field. This logic is sensible but also incomplete.
 
Instead of spending the next two months hashing out how bad the Colts are without Manning, and instead of putting up with all the armchair GM’s who crow that the rest of the Colts organization deserves some of the blame because “There are 52 other players on the roster!”, let’s be proactive and understand why, exactly, the loss of Manning dooms one of the most successful franchises in all of professional sports.

Then, we can move on and worry about the NFL’s 31 other teams.

1. Offensive Line Masking
The Colts have long had a below average offensive line. That comes as no surprise, really; with only a few exceptions (mainly at left tackle) Bill Polian has always turned to former sixth-and seventh-rounders or undrafted players to play up front.

That’s largely why Indy has been able to eat the heavy cost of having virtually all long-tenured first-rounders at the skill positions over the years (Edgerrin James, Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez and Dallas Clark).

Polian knew he could get away with a sub-par front five because his quarterback is brilliant in getting rid of the ball quickly and moving in the pocket. No quarterback over the years has made better use of the three-step drop than Manning, and no quarterback (aside from maybe Tom Brady) has better footwork in adjusting to pass-rushers.

Consequently, Manning has been sacked an average of only once per game in his 13-year career, which is about half the amount of a normal quarterback. When Manning does take a sack, it’s usually a result of execution, not misdiagnosing a defense. Thus, the hits never surprise him, which is why he almost never fumbles.

Last Sunday, Kerry Collins took three sacks and lost two fumbles.


2. The Run Game
Manning’s pre-snap adjustments did two things for the run game: They ensure that the Colts would always run to the favorable side (Manning decides at the line whether the run will be to the left or to the right) and it means the Colts run the ball out of the same personnel packages and formations from which they throw.

This prevents defenses from tracking Indy’s tendencies. It also creates a constant threat of throwing, which instills an inkling of hesitation in linebackers or safeties dropping into the box (hesitation always makes players jittery, which is partly why Manning’s play-action is so effective).

All of this prevents defenses from loading up and taking advantage of Indy’s undersized and ungifted offensive line. This often saves the Colts; when they’ve gotten away from the run-pass threat (such as in short-yardage situations), their futile ground game always has been exposed.

But now, this threat is gone, and there’s no reliable ground game to fall back on. Joseph Addai is at his best running out of passing sets (think draw plays) and Donald Brown is at his best running against college competition.

3. Helping the wideouts
The best kept secret in all of Indiana last year was that Reggie Wayne was slowing down. The numbers didn’t show it, but the film did. Wayne was not the same downfield threat he once was. He didn’t have the same burst in his redirection or tempo changes. Teams with good cornerbacks stopped rotating safety help to his side of the field. This changed the outlook for Indy’s other route combinations and forced the Colts to throw more underneath and inside.

Manning was able to recognize Wayne’s decline and adjust by either spreading the ball around or hitting Wayne earlier in his routes (when awareness and presnap alignment are more prevalent than physical execution). This is why Wayne’s yards per catch dipped to a career-low 12.2. Hitting a receiver earlier in the route isn’t normally an option, but Manning has uncanny chemistry with his wideouts (Wayne in particular).

This kind of chemistry can’t be replicated – no matter how savvy the hoary Kerry Collins might be. It’s chemistry that derives from a quarterback working with his receivers for several years and offseasons, and, more importantly, from working out of the same system all that time. Over the years the Colts have tailored their system more and more to Manning.

Even if Collins were intimately familiar with Indy’s system (which he’s not), it still wouldn’t click perfectly because it’s a system that’s custom designed for someone else. And, as we’ve already discussed, that someone else has pocket movement skills that 99.9 percent of the world’s other quarterbacks don’t have.

Without Manning’s timing and vision, Colts receivers now have to learn a new definition of "getting open."

4. The defense
The Colts have always had an undersized defense built on speed. It centers around the edge-rushing abilities of the defensive ends. Generally, as long as Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney are potent, Indy’s other nine defenders just need to soundly execute basic zone concepts.

A zone-based scheme behind a traditional four-man pass-rush is the type of defense you construct when you plan on playing with a lead. More than that, it’s the type you construct when you plan on playing minimal snaps. The Colts have gotten by with having small linebackers because they’ve had an offense that can consistently sustain drives and allow those small linebackers to always be fresh.

It’s easy to say now that the Colts should have been building a stronger defense in recent years. But the salary cap doesn’t allow for that. Polian probably would have re-signed more linebackers and cornerbacks or brought in more defensive free agents…except he had to pay Manning.

5. Relevance to this week
Indianapolis’ laundry list of limitations may not be as problematic in Week 2 as it will be the rest of the season.

Many pundits peeked at the Browns’ soft early-season schedule and determined that Pat Shurmur’s club would get off to a fast start. But one of the 10,000 or so reasons that pro football is better than college football is that with pro football, you can’t simply look at a schedule and accurately predict what a team’s record will be six weeks down the road. There’s too much talent on every team, and too many dimensions to each matchup.

The Browns are amidst a massive rebuilding project – their fifth one since returning to the NFL, by the way – and might not match up well to Indy’s style. Defensively, Cleveland’s new 4-3 scheme lacks the pass-rushing talent to exploit the Colts’ subpar offensive line. The Browns linebackers also had some trouble identifying underneath route combinations against the Bengals last week – something the Colts, with Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme, can surely take advantage of.

Offensively, Pat Shurmur is carefully managing Colt McCoy’s mental workload. Virtually every downfield pass Cleveland attempted in Week 1 came off some sort of play-action or rollout. In play-action and rollouts, the quarterback’s reads are naturally defined, as he only has to scan half the field. It’s a smart tactic, but it will be dicey to execute against the speed of the Colts defensive ends. Look for the Browns to ram the ball with Peyton Hillis. They’ll have to survive with one-dimensionality.

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 1, 2011 11:59 am
 

Should the Browns give Hillis a long-term deal?



Posted by Ryan Wilson

Last week, the Browns signed left tackle Joe Thomas to a seven-year, $84 million extension. And in Colt McCoy, they appear to have finally settled on their quarterback of the future. It's all part of the rebuilding process overseen by team president Mike Holmgren and implemented by new coach Pat Shurmur. Cleveland also took Greg Little in the second round of the April draft to bolster the wide receiver position. And in one season, Peyton Hillis, the guy the Browns got in the trade for Brady Quinn, went from an afterthought in Denver to one of the Browns' best players.

Hillis was so good, in fact, that he ended up on the cover of Madden 12. After spending the first two years with the Broncos where he managed 397 yards on 81 carries, Hillis ran for 1,117 yards on 270 carries (4.4 YPC, 11 TDs) and added 477 receiving yards (and 2 TDs) in 2011.

In addition to the Madden love, the Browns are now talking about extending his contract.

Given Hillis' importance to the Browns' offense, and that McCoy could use all the weapons he can get, the extension makes a lot of sense. Yes, page/TEN">Titans shouldn't pay Johnson">we're not big fans of overpaying for running backs because you can't swing a dead cat without hitting one capable of rushing for 1,000 yards, but we can't imagine that Hillis will be asking for Chris Johnson money. (Granted, it's still not clear what constitutes "Chris Johnson money," but it's more than what the NFL's highest-paid back currently makes.)

Still, the Browns blog, Dawgpound Daily, asks an important question: Would signing Hillis to a long-term deal be a good idea?
With just one solid season under his belt … there is no guarantee that he will come close to those numbers again or, worse, stay healthy. Hillis’ running style is not kind to his body, and it was evident in 2010, as he battled injuries for much of the second half of the season.

Most likely, the Browns will give Hillis a fair amount of guaranteed money and let him earn the rest of the contract. Luckily, the team is flush with cash to spend (they have more than $18 million in salary cap room) and can afford to take a chance on Hillis.
If the idea is to surround McCoy with playmakers then keeping Hillis is a no-brainer. But questions about his durability are certainly relevant; it's not like Hillis tiptoes out of bounds whenever he gets the chance and shies away from contact. He's a fullback by nature and seems to enjoy steamrolling defenders. That takes a toll.


The real reason we wanted to write about Hillis is to show this video. Because, really, there's nothing quite so awesome as Peyton Hillis vs. Chuck Norris.

For now, though, he's just happy to be playing football. "When you are playing a game, that’s when you know you are truly blessed," Hillis told Forbes.com recently. "I’m looking forward to another big season with the Browns to show fans how much we appreciate them."

And speaking of the fans, he has nothing but good things to say about those who voted him onto the Madden 12 cover. "This has been a humbling experience and I want to thank all the fans in Cleveland and throughout the country that got behind me and voted each and every week."

Enjoy it, Peyton. Because it's only a matter of time before fans start making fantasy demands and you just snap.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: August 24, 2011 3:10 pm
 

Podcast: Kerry Collins, Von Miller and Fins new O

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

We figured Brett Favre would pull a Favre before Kerry Collins did, but the Colts signed Collins out of retirement Tuesday because there are legitimate concerns that Manning won't be ready for the start of the regular season.

And anybody who watched Indianapolis in preseason is intimately familiar with the fact that, as interim replacements for Manning, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky provide the team with one thing: pole position in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Collins may be old, but he's the best option to bridge the gap and minimize the damage between now and whenever Manning can return.

Because this is the NFL, we again talk Tim Tebow, who now appears to be the Broncos' fourth-best quarterback. Will Brinson catches up with the only person on Earth yet to be asked about Tebow: Denver first-round pick, rookie linebacker Von Miller.

We also touch on Terrelle Pryor, Garrard over Gabbert, the Dolphins' new high-powered offense, the number of games Kenny Britt and Aqib Talib can expect to be suspended, and the moxy of Browns quarterback Colt McCoy.

Yapping starts … now (and while we have you, remember to subscribe to the podcast via iTunes). If you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.




For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com