Tag:Drew Brees
Posted on: November 30, 2011 4:08 pm
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Keep an Eye on: Week 13's finer points

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Saints vs. Lions
A good over/under on total passing yards for this game is 700. Both teams have gun-slinging quarterbacks and depth at receiver. What’s interesting is the way that receiving talent is used.

Calvin Johnson is the most physically gifted wideout (if not player) in the NFL. He’s the fulcrum of the Lions’ attack. That’s actually part of the reason why Detroit’s offense is at the 300 level while New Orleans’ is at the 500. Johnson is not fundamentally refined. He runs only mediocre routes and does not always read complex coverages well. Hence, he hasn’t always been great against committed double-teams.

Fortunately for Johnson, his weaknesses are drastically mitigated by the magnitude of his strengths. In short, his lack of refinement hasn’t mattered a whole lot because he can outrun and out-jump everyone anyway. This may in fact be part of the reason he’s unrefined – it hasn’t been necessary for coaches to waste time and energy teaching him fundamentals.


It might be a different story if Johnson were a Saint, though. Sean Payton’s offense is very layered and malleable. Receivers must be able to precisely run a litany of routes from a litany of different spots on the field. If they can’t, they won’t play, no matter how high they’re drafted (just ask Robert Meachem or Devery Henderson, two high-round picks who often rode the pine early in their careers). Johnson would certainly have been a No. 1 receiver for the Saints from day one, but he would have been asked to learn more, too.

Certainly, there are other factors that go into the making of the Lions’ and Saints’ offense. Drew Brees is a wiser quarterback than Matthew Stafford at this point, plus the Saints have a better interior offensive line and more complete run game. But in terms of week-to-week sustainability, the fundamental soundness of the Saints receivers trumps the insane athleticism of Calvin Johnson. A defense can drastically alter the Lions passing game by taking away just one player. Against the Saints, a defense must take away three or four players.

Cardinals vs. Cowboys
It’s been a good year for inside linebackers in the NFC. A lot of attention has been paid to the duo in San Francisco (Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman), and rightfully so. Brian Urlacher has been tremendous (as usual) in Chicago.

He’s not talked about often, but Minnesota’s E.J. Henderson has been nearly as good as Urlacher (at least against the run). And from this matchup, Dallas’ Sean Lee has received plaudits for his work in coverage (Lee’s attack speed against the run is also superb).

There’s another NFC linebacker in this elite class that few know about: Arizona’s Daryl Washington. The 230-pounder from TCU was in and out of the lineup as a second-round rookie last season. This season, he’s been in and out of opposing backfields. Washington leads the Cardinals with 59 solo tackles (Paris Lenon leads the team with 68 total tackles). He also has eight tackles for loss and three sacks.

Each week Washington jumps out resoundingly on film, showing sideline-to-sideline speed and a downhill burst that can make the other 21 players look sluggish in comparison. Speed is only relevant if it’s taking you in the right direction, though. What has set Washington apart is his improved recognition.

He identifies run concepts and angles to the ball with preternatural instincts (they have to be preternatural because such sharp instincts can’t be cultivated in just one-and-a-half seasons). Those instincts apply in coverage, as well, evidenced by Washington’s two interceptions and six passes defensed this season.

Redskins vs. Jets
Does it seem harsh to start comparing Mark Sanchez to Rex Grossman? The third-year quarterback has not quite fallen to that level in terms of turnovers and bonehead mistakes, but the clock management and decision-making gaffes, not to mention the 11 interceptions and five turnovers returned for touchdowns, are hard to overlook.

Rich Gannon – who is quickly becoming one of the premiere color commentators in the business and, it’s worth noting, briefly tutored Sanchez a few years ago – recently made a few very astute observations about the ex-Trojan. One was that when Sanchez misses, he tends to miss behind his receiver. Gannon suspects this is because Sanchez is routinely late with his eyes; he’s not a quick field-scanner or anticipator.

More concerning is Sanchez’s jitteriness in the pocket. He perceives pass-rush pressure before it arrives (a crippling weakness that usually lands a player out of the league or in a career backup role). He’s overly concerned about getting hit, which causes him to tuck the ball, flee the pocket or make ill-advised throws.

These were things scouts worried about with Sanchez coming out of USC, where he had the uncommon luxury of always throwing from a clean pocket. Sanchez showed these weaknesses as a rookie, which was fine. But it’s not fine that he’s still showing them after nearly 50 professional starts.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 29, 2011 3:18 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 12

Posted by Will Brinson



Every week, our NFL experts will hand out the Eye on Football hardware to the best of the best from the NFL week that was.

Week 12 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  Brees  Ravens Peterson  Payton
Judge  Brees  Ravens Peterson Harbaugh
Prisco  Brees  Barwin Peterson   Fox
Brinson  Brees  Suggs  Lechler Harbaugh
Katzowitz  Wells  Barwin  Raiders Harbaugh
Wilson  Wells  Suggs Peterson Kubiak
Week 12's over and the NFL's playoff picture is getting a little more clear. Maybe. Whatever, it's time to hand out awards.

Offensively speaking, there's a great case for either of our nominees this week. Beanie Wells had a dominant performance against the Rams, but, hey, what have you done for me lately? Well, Drew Brees played on Monday and he carved up the Giants.

Defensively, everyone was on board with either Connor Barwin or some form of the Ravens defense -- given that Terrell Suggs was t-sizzling all day long against the 49ers, he gets the nod. (But it was definitely a team effort.)

Patrick Peterson got in the record books this weekend and, I believe, he's now the all-time winningest Eye on Special Teams player in Eye on Special Teams history, with as many awards as he has punt returns over 80 yards this season.

As far as the Eye on Coaching award goes, well, John Harbaugh kicked the mess out of his little brother in front of the entire family on Thanksgiving. That has to count for something right?

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Drew Brees Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Wait. This is a question? Did you people see Drew Brees? The only quarterback right now in the same stratosphere with Aaron Rodgers is Brees and dare I say it...they are playing on the same level. Brees, Brees, Brees, Brees. One more time. BREES!
Drew BreesDrew Brees, QB, Saints
He didn't just dissect the Giants' defense; he shredded it, throwing so accurately and maneuvering so expertly he looked as if he was running a 7-on-7 drill. I feel for Brees. In any other year he'd be the NFL MVP. In any other year, the Saints might be a slam dunk for the Super Bowl. In any other year, he wouldn't have to go to Green Bay to get to the top.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Drew Brees Drew Brees, QB, Saints
I was there to see Brees' performance on Monday night in New Orleans against the Giants, and was it impressive. He threw four touchdown passes and ran in for another. Brees is on pace to break Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yards.
Drew BreesDrew Brees, QB, Saints
There's really nothing better than a quarterback performing a clinical dissection of a defense, and that's precisely what Brees did on Monday night, becoming the first quarterback to throw for 350 yards, four passing touchdowns and rush for another score in a beatdown of the Giants.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Beanie WellsBeanie Wells, RB, Cardinals
There were some, including myself, who were pretty confident we’d never see a stat line like this (27 carries, 228 yards, one TD) from Wells. But, after the Cardinals used a second-round pick on running back Ryan Williams, Wells seems extra motivated this season. And after hurting his knee in the fourth quarter Sunday, he returned and busted out a 53-yard run.
Beanie Wells Beanie Wells, RB, Cardinals
The Cardinals thought so much of Wells, their 2009 first-round pick, that they selected running back Ryan Williams in the second round of the 2011 draft. Williams went down with a season-ending injury in training camp and Wells has finally emerged as a top-flight back. He rushed for 228 yards against the Rams, more than 50 coming after what looked like a serious knee injury.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Terrell SuggsTerrell Suggs, LB, Ravens
Another easy choice given the way Baltimore's defense performed on Thanksgiving night. They sacked San Francisco's Alex Smith nine times and shut down the 49ers' running game. Now, I think the 49ers are extremely overrated, but that was still an impressive performance.
Terrell Suggs Baltimore Ravens, DST
The Ravens sacked San Francisco's Alex Smith nine times, clinching an important victory in their drive to win their division. I might nominate Terrell Suggs for this award because of his three sacks ... except teammate Cory Redding had 2.5 and Haloti Ngata had two. Nope, this one goes to Chuck Pagano and his entire defensive unit.
Prisco Brinson
Connor BarwinConnor Barwin, DE, Texans
Barwin was all over the field for the Texans on Sunday, getting four sacks against the Jaguars last week. With Mario Williams gone, Barwin has emerged as a top pass rusher for the NFL's top-rated defense.
Terrell SuggsTerrell Suggs, LB, Ravens
Alex Smith likely spent Thanksgiving night in full-body heat pack, giving thanks that he actually managed to survive against the Ravens defense, which sacked him nine times on Thursday night. Suggs picked up three of those en route to terrorizing Smith all night in a dominant defensive effort.
Katzowitz Wilson
Connor Barwin Connor Barwin, DE, Texans
This was the kind of production the Texans have salivated about when they drafted the former tight end/University of Cincinnati basketball player in the second round in 2009. Against the Jaguars, Barwin dominated with a franchise-record four sacks and 10 tackles. Barwin now has 6.5 sacks in the past three games.
Terrell Suggs Terrell Suggs, LB, Ravens
I'm not sure if the 49ers' offensive line was tired from the short week or the constant barrage of pressure, but by the second half of their Thanksgiving night game against the Ravens, they had no answer for Baltimore's four-man pass rush and Terrell Suggs in particular. Suggs had three sacks and the Ravens sacked Alex Smith nine times.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Patrick PetersonJohnny Knox, WR, Bears
Peterson is quickly becoming one of the most feared weapons in football. I think he's surpassed DeSean Jackson as a return specialist and is Devin Hester-light. He's immensely talented and I get the feeling we'll be talking about this guy for years.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
OK, it's  time to start asking the same question here that we pose with Devin Hester: Why in the world punt to this guy? I mean, he already beat St. Louis in one game with a return. So the Rams let him do it again. He has four returns for touchdowns, and that's enough for me. Someone, anyone, start kicking the ball away from him.
Prisco Brinson
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
He returned his fourth punt for a touchdown this season last Sunday against the Rams, tying an NFL record. All four have been 80 yards or more. Amazing.

 

Shane LechlerShane Lechler, P, Raiders
Anyone who can keep the ball out of Devin Hester's hands deserves some recognition, and Lechler did just that, limiting the specialist to seven yards on two returns. He also gets credit for kicking the punt of a lifetime, as he boomed a net 60- and gross 80-yard bomb.
Katzowitz Wilson
Sebastian Janikowski Shane Lechler/Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders
These two were the co-MVPs in the Raiders win against the Bears, with Janikowski kicking a franchise-record six field goals and Lechler winning the battle against Devin Hester, including an 80-yard (!) punt. Lechler and Janikowski are the only two players from the last Raiders playoff squad, and these two, if they keep playing like this, will lead Oakland back again.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Peterson is the new Devin Hester: teams are going to have to give serious consideration to just not kicking him the ball. Or, at the very least, the Rams need to have that conversation. Peterson has twiced returned punts for touchdowns against St. Louis, and twice it was the difference in the game. Peterson has taken four punts to the house this season and there's still five games to go.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Sean PaytonSean Payton, HC, Saints
Can't stand Payton. He's a phony, abusive of the local media, and overall a very nasty man but damn he can coach. He picked apart not a great Giants defense but a solid one. Made it look like child's play. It was amazing to watch. You rarely see a team so totally dissected.
John Harbaugh John Harbaugh, HC, Ravens
He beat an opponent that won its four previous games in EST, was a field goal in overtime from being unbeaten, but he beats his younger brother, too. Trust me, this was a huge hurdle for Baltimore, which has one winning opponent (Cincinnati) on its schedule ... and that's the season finale. Winning the division is crucial to the Ravens, and they just took a big step in that direction. Who's got it better than Harbaugh and the Ravens? Noooooobody!
Prisco Brinson
John FoxJohn Fox, HC, Broncos
Say what you want about the read-option, but Fox has created a winning environment with Tim Tebow and that crazy offense. They have turned into a playoff contender, thanks to that big win at San Diego in overtime.
John HarbaughJohn Harbaugh, HC, Ravens
Even though the game was in Baltimore, the matchup didn't look good for the Ravens. But John took Jim out in the backyard and sicked his defense on lil' bro's QB at Thanksgiving. The result? A dominant defensive effort that put the Ravens in the AFC driver's seat.
Katzowitz Wilson
John Harbaugh John Harbaugh, HC, Ravens
He knocked off his brother’s squad on Thanksgiving, and at the same time, he exposed some major flaws in the 49ers roster. John Harbaugh’s teams have been wishy-washy as hell this year, but if the Ravens can beat one of the NFC’s best with relative ease, you have to figure that Baltimore will be a force in AFC playoffs.
Gary Kubiak Gary Kubiak, HC, Texans
The 7-3 Texans were supposed to beat the 3-7 Jaguars, but Houston began the game with backup Matt Leinart, and by the final whistle, third-stringer T.J. Yates was the starter. The Texans are currently the No. 1 team in the AFC but barring some Tim Tebow-inspired magic, this could be the high point of their season.

Posted on: November 29, 2011 12:15 am
Edited on: November 29, 2011 12:47 am
 

Giants in the middle of another late-season swoon

Posted by Will Brinson

The reason people believe Tom Coughlin's job security is specious at best is that the Giants, coming off a 49-24 beatdown in New Orleans on Monday night, are in the middle of yet another late-season swoon.

And things might not get any better any time soon.

New York was absolutely eviscerated by Drew Brees and the Saints on Monday, registering no sacks on Brees, who became the first quarterback in Monday Night Football history to throw for 350 yards, pass for four touchdowns and rush for another score.

As my colleague Pete Prisco noted, the Saints looked "super" against Eli Manning and Co, even if their defense gave up big numbers in the second half to Manning and a large game to Victor Cruz.

The Giants looked anything like a playoff contender on Monday, though, and it's going to be a tough uphill battle for New York to stave off a spiral as the weather gets colder.

At 6-5, Coughlin's squad is now a full game behind every other playoff contender (Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta and Detroit are all 7-4), and the schedule the rest of the way is damning. With just five games to play, the Giants get the undefeated Packers at home in Week 13, head to Dallas in Week 14, welcome the Redskins in Week 15, "travel" to the Jets in Week 16 and close out at home against Dallas in Week 17.



Whatever you think about the Redskins, that's a tough, tough stretch, especially for a team on a three-game losing streak where they suffered tough losses to San Francisco and Philadelphia before getting manhandled by the Saints Monday night.

Maybe we overvalued the Giants -- four of their six wins came against the Bills, Dolphins, Cardinals and Rams, by a total of 22 points.

Their offensive numbers from Monday actually look OK. Manning (33/47 for 406 yards) and Cruz (nine catches, 157 yards, two touchdowns) had monster stats, but the majority of those came when the game already looked out of hand. (Or, as you might know it, the second half.)

And the Giants won't have to play a quarterback as good as Drew Brees every single week. But with Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo in three of the next five weeks, things aren't getting that much easier for New York.

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: November 23, 2011 6:18 pm
 

Film Room: Giants vs. Saints preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



With a December Monday Night schedule that could make viewers implode from boredom, we at least get to say goodbye to November with a compelling, playoff-implicating NFC matchup. This warrants a classic five-part breakdown.


Saints offense vs. Giants defense
1. Giants pass-rush vs. Saints pass protection
This is a glaring mismatch. New Orleans has the worst pass-blocking offensive tackle tandem in football in Jermon Bushrod (left side) and Zach Strief (right side). Bushrod is slow and has awful technique. Strief is just slow. The sack numbers do not reflect this because Drew Brees is a magician when it comes to getting rid of the ball quickly and moving in and out of the pocket.

Brees, like most star quarterbacks, gets rid of the ball thanks to shrewd presnap reads. But where he’s really elite is in going through his reads. Brees can scan three or four different receivers on a simple five-step drop. He recognizes and anticipates receiver-defender relationships as fast as any passer in the game.

Because so much of what Brees does is based on quick timing and rhythm, it’s not necessarily wise to blitz him. Instead, the objective is to force him to exhaust his progressions. It’s 50-50 that the pass protection can hold up long enough for him to do this (if Brees were a typical quarterback, it’d be more like 25-75). The Rams did this in their Week 8 upset of the Saints.

The Giants’ defensive ends are several grades better than the Rams’. They’ll pressure Brees with four rushers.

2. Saints WR’s vs. Giants secondary
In Week 8, the Rams thrived with physical press coverage aided by safety help. The Giants secondary delivered terrific press coverage in their win at New England a few weeks ago. It wouldn’t be surprising to see more of that Monday night. The Saints have four quality wide receivers: Marques Colston, Robert Meachem, Devery Henderson and Lance Moore.

With a matchup nightmare like tight end like Jimmy Graham, most of the Saints’ formations involve only three of those wideouts. But whatever the pieces, they can -- and do -- align in all different spots on the field.

This is one reason it’s enticing to play press-man against them. Instead of trying to figure out the litany of formations and route possibilities, a defensive coordinator can put a safety or two over the top and tell his cornerbacks to just jam the hell out of whoever they line up against.

But when defenses can mix in zone coverages, they obviously give themselves more options. With rookie Prince Amukamara now healthy, the Giants might be one of the few secondaries in the league versatile enough to do this against the Saints.

With Corey Webster shadowing DeSean Jackson most of last Sunday night (Webster has shadowed the opposing No. 1 receiver regularly this season), Amukamara and Aaron Ross played inside and outside across from him. Both men played man and zone principles.

The Giants also have a multipronged tool in safety Antrel Rolle. He’s rangy in space and, as a former cornerback, adept at playing all coverages as the nickel slot defender.

3. Saints’ savvy run-pass tactic
Don’t be surprised if the Saints frequently throw out of running formations Monday night. Jimmy Graham is extremely effective running routes from a traditional tight end stance, and fullback Jed Collins is capable of catching passes in the flats. We think of the Saints as a spread offense, but Brees is averaging about 10 pass attempts per game out of two-back formations, and 10 of his 23 touchdown passes have come from such sets.

The run formation approach gains potency because the Giants starting linebackers struggle in coverage. Those struggles manifest drastically if Michael Boley (hamstring) is still out. Boley’s replacement, Mark Herzlich, was fantastic against the run last Sunday, but he was badly exposed when dropping back in coverage.

The linebacking issues are significant enough that the Giants may even be compelled to play their 4-2-5 nickel defense against the Saints base offense (they’d be treating Graham as a wide receiver). In that case, Sean Payton would have his array of running backs pound the rock behind monstrous All-World guards Carl Nicks and Jahri Evans.

The run formations could also aid New Orleans’ proficient play-action game (Brees was 17/19 for 212 yards and two touchdowns off play-action fakes against the Falcons in Week 10). It’s a myth that you need to establish the run in order to set up play-action.

In reality, defenders are trained to react to movement; play-action will work if the fake and the offensive linemen’s initial movements are executed well, regardless of how a team has been running the ball. That said, those fakes and movements are obviously more believable when the offense is lined up in a run formation.

Giants offense vs. Saints defense
4. Giants run game woes
The Giants will not advance deep in the playoffs if their run game does not get going. A typical Brandon Jacobs run these days involves the 265-pounder stumbling a yard behind the line of scrimmage, bumping into his own blocker, fighting for a yard-and-a-half and then pissing off every player around him by bumping into body after body as he tries to prove his manhood by ferociously picking himself up off the ground before other players can unpile, all the while barking emphatically about ... what, exactly?

How lucky are the defenders that this isn’t four years ago, when Jacobs was actually productive?

The Giants need a healthy Ahmad Bradshaw in the worst of ways. Of course, the rock-firm scatback’s presence would only present a greater opportunity for a rejuvenated run game -- not the assurance of one. Bradshaw was averaging just 4.0 yards per carry before his foot injury -- 0.7 yards below his career average.

New York’s problems start up front. And they may not be solved this week. Center David Baas has struggled with lateral run-blocking in tight spaces. Saints defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin is not an ideal opponent to face when trying to correct this. Thirty-one-year-old left guard David Diehl is showing signs of decline. This week could be tough, as the Saints defensive ends are excellent in run defense, particularly when crashing inside.

If the Giants offensive line can somehow break even in this matchup, New York’s fullbacks and tight ends will likely have opportunities to work against a Saints linebacking corps that’s without leader Jonathan Vilma (out since the start of the month with a knee). The Saints would almost need to commit eight to the box at that point. Roman Harper might be the best pure in-box safety in the NFL, but if the Giants can compel him to focus heavily on the run, they’ll impeded his blitzes, which are one of the Saints’ best weapons in pass defense (see item 5).

5. Saints blitzes
A big reason Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams blitzes so much is he knows his down four linemen cannot consistently collapse the pocket on their own. Don’t expect that to change much Sunday night (even though the Giants offensive tackles struggled mightily against the Eagles).

The difference between Williams’ D and other blitzing defenses is that Williams’ D blitzes hard. His blitzes often involve six pass-rushers instead of just five. And because one of those six rushers is usually a defensive back (Harper is phenomenal in this facet, as his 6.5 sacks on the season attest), and because nickel linebacker Jonathan Casillas has crazy speed and acceleration downhill, New Orleans’ blitzes are exceptionally fast.

Expect Victor Cruz and Jake Ballard to be big factors Monday night; as slot targets they’ll be Eli Manning’s hot reads against these blitzes.

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

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: November 14, 2011 3:55 am
Edited on: November 14, 2011 10:18 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 10

Posted by Will Brinson


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


1. Houston We Don't Have a Problem

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2. The Only Stat That Matters ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Texas Is Big Enough for Two Teams

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Bold But Bad

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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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

5. Deja Vu All Over Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


6. Run This Man!

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

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

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

No, no we should not.

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

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

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

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

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

7. Red Rocket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Andy Reid's Hot Pants

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. What the Helu?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Bear With Me Here

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

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

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

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

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

Muffed Punts

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

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF O' THE WEEK

This is unfortunate for Ray Lewis:

Hot Seat Tracker

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

Chasing Andrew Luck

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

MVP Watch

Aaron Rodgers will most likely extend his season-long virtuoso performance on Monday night and further give us reason to pick him as MVP. But just in case he falters, I've got my eye on a few guys who could get hot and supplant him in the second half, via what we talked about above: Brady, Foster and Romo. Brady, well, duh, he's good. And he sure wasn't a unanimous MVP winner after Week 9 (or Week 10) in 2010. So it could happen. Foster's playing as well as any running back in the NFL right now; if the Texans win out and clinch the top spot in the AFC, people will talk about it. And if Romo can blow up over the next two months and get the Cowboys a division title, well, weirder things have happened.
Posted on: November 12, 2011 7:25 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2011 11:04 pm
 

For the gambler in you, Week 10

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

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

Will Aaron Rodgers break the single season passing record of 5084 yards? (Note: He’s on pace for 5,238 yards) 

Yes 3/1    

Rodgers can’t continue to be this superhuman, can he? He has to slip up at least once or twice this year, right? I’d go with no, but I also wouldn’t feel very confident about that pick.

Will Patrick Peterson break the single season punt return touchdown Record of four? (Note: He currently has three through eight games)

Yes 4/1

We’re halfway through the season, and Peterson can’t figure out why teams continue to punt to him. But you know what? Teams occasionally still punt to Devin Hester -- and he, along with Gale Sayers -- are the two best kick returners of all time. Peterson might not get as many chances, but he’ll get some. And he’s so damn good, I think he could notch two more. I’d go yes, even if it’s a bit of a longshot.

Odds to win the 2011 MVP?      

Aaron Rodgers (GB) QB 1/4

Matt Forte (CHI) RB 7/1

Drew Brees (NO) QB 12/1

Eli Manning (NYG) QB 12/1

Frank Gore (SF) RB 12/1

Tom Brady (NE) QB 12/1

Calvin Johnson (DET) WR 15/1

Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) QB 22/1

LeSean McCoy (PHI) RB 30/1

Adrian Peterson (MIN) RB 30/1

Obviously, Rodgers is the easy call, but at 1/4, you’re going to have to lay a ton of money in order to make any money back. If you want a long shot, I’d go Frank Gore. He’s been one of the most underrated players this season, and after a slow start, he’s rushed for 100-plus yards in each of the past five games. Since the 49ers could well end up with more than 12 wins, doesn’t Gore deserves some consideration?

When will the San Francisco 49ers clinch the NFC West division?
      
Week 11 5/1

Week 12 3/1

Week 13 3/2

Week 14 11/2

Week 15 9/1

Week 16 12/1

Week 17 20/1

In this weak division, I’ll go early. Week 12 sounds good to me.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: November 7, 2011 2:20 am
Edited on: November 7, 2011 12:26 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 9

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

1. Deja Blue

Stop me if you've heard this before, but on Sunday Eli Manning managed to mount a comeback and lead the Giants to a four-point victory over New England.

Manning's stats are spooky similar to his Super Bowl victory -- in Glendale he was 19/34 for 255 yards, two touchdowns and a pick, and on Sunday Manning was 20/39 for 250 yards, two TDs and a pick -- and the result was exactly the same, as the Giants came away with a signature win that contrasted the expectation for Tom Coughlin's team as the second half of the season begins.

Of course, there was also the whole issue of where Eli ranks in terms of quarterbacks, a debate that was fueled by Manning's comments before the season that he ranks in the same class as Brady. Following Sunday's game, Manning did his best to deflect any of that talk.


But here's the thing: despite Manning's frequency of being incredibly inconsistent, he might be on the list of top five quarterbacks in the NFL right now. We've been searching for a few weeks to find the name that would fill the void Philip Rivers left with his performance this year, and Manning might be that name.

He's now sixth in the NFL in passing yards, sixth in passing yards per game, third in quarterback rating, seventh in touchdowns thrown, ninth in completion percentage and has only thrown six interceptions through eight games.

Manning is producing despite a slew of injuries to his defense, his wide receivers, and behind an offensive line that isn't elite by any stretch of the imagination.

Sunday was the 18th fourth-quarter comeback of Eli's career, and the fifth of this season. He could have another one too, if Victor Cruz hadn't bobbled a ball for a game-clinching interception against the Seahawks.

As my colleague Mike Freeman wrote Sunday, Manning simply outplayed Brady -- Eli was masterful against the Patriots on back-to-back touchdown drives in the fourth quarter during a game that went from a low-scoring affair to a thriller in short time, hitting Mario Manningham for a touchdown and then finding Jake Ballard in the end zone with just 19 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

It was all made that much more impressive after Eli's third quarter, no-look pick that gave the Pats all the momentum. For him to bounce back like he did on the road and sandwich a pair of touchdown drives around a would-be Brady comeback proves exactly what Manning said this summer.

He's in the same class as the best in the league, even if he won't tell you that.

2. Reality Bites

Every freaking year, the Jets, like leaves and and Pete Prisco's weekly picks, manage to turn in the right direction, get hot, and make a run. And despite some serious struggles in 2011, after a 27-11 blowout of Buffalo at Ralph Wilson Stadium, Rex Ryan's crew find themselves in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC East with a critical division game against the Patriots in New York next week on the horizon.

The Jets haven't done much right this year, statistically speaking, and as they struggled through a three-game losing streak it looked like their identity of pounding the rock and stopping the run was starting to dissipate.

They've snuck out two wins this year (against the Cowboys and Chargers), they've beaten a pair of bad teams (the Dolphins and the Jaguars) and they've looked overmatched against better squads (the Patriots and the Ravens).

But on Sunday, the Jets handled the upstart Bills offense, limiting Ryan Fitzpatrick to 191 yards passing, Fred Jackson to 82 yards rushing and forcing three turnovers.

What we saw in Buffalo was the formula that's taken Rex Ryan to two-straight AFC Championship games. If it keeps rolling through next week against New England, there's going to be chatter about a third one.


3. We Want Rex?

I'm starting to feel bad for Redskins fans. Sunday's 19-11 home loss to San Francisco wasn't as embarrassing as Week 8's shutout in Toronto against the Bills, but the 49ers effectively manhandled Washington, and John Beck's 63.8 percent completion percentage is incredibly misleading, considering that he hit running back Roy Helu for 14 of those passes on Sunday.

That's how you end up with the tragedy of Helu breaking Art Monk's single-game reception record, as well as a dinky as all get out 5.2 yards per attempt. Shanahan defended the decision to turn Beck into Captain Checkdown by pointing out that the 49ers zone defense forced Washington to "methodically to move the football down the field and get first downs" which would be a viable excuse except the Redskins crossed midfield only four times the entire game.

No matter, as Beck will continue to get snaps for Washington going forward.

"Yeah, we’re going to stick with John," Shanahan said Sunday.

Of course, the other option is Rex Grossman, so it's not like Shanahan is being outrageously stubborn with his week-to-week decision making. The Redskins are terrible either way, and it's nearly impossible to imagine them finishing somewhere other than dead last in the NFC East.

But the difference might be that Grossman actually gives Washington a chance to win, even if the chance at going out in a flaming ball of train-wreck is amplified exponentially.

4. Raiders < Tebow

This past week, a funny little meme erupted over at another little sports website -- the "X > Tebow" craze was centered around all the attention Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow receives from the media. But perhaps "Raiders < Tebow" or "Carson Palmer < Tebow" might have been more appropriate, given that Tebow helped the Broncos roll their division rivals 38-24.

Or maybe the notion Wilson talked about earlier on Sunday, that Tebow's numbers aren't that different than Eli's to start his career, isn't that far off. Whatever, not many people saw this coming -- although at least one handsome expert did -- and few people would have guessed that Tebow would out-rush the Raiders all by his lonesome.

And he wasn't even the Broncos top rusher, as Willis McGahee's resurgent day, with 163 yards on 20 rushes and two touchdowns (scope his 60-yard scamper here), outpaced Tebow's 117 yards on 12 carries.

Tebow wasn't fantastic as a passer, going just 10 for 21 and and 124 yards, but he did have some bright spots, including a 27-yard laser to Eric Decker in the first quarter. And whether or not you care to believe Tebow will be a good quarterback is irrelevant after Sunday.

He hung in the pocket when he needed to, was more than just effective on the ground, didn't turn the ball over, took some monster shots from the Raiders, got bloodied and still managed to lead the Broncos to a win.

Not to get ahead of ourselves and make with the crazy talk, but Denver's just one game out in the AFC West now, thanks to everyone else in the division losing Sunday. If the Chiefs, Raiders and Chargers continue to be consistently inconsistent and the Broncos get an all-around team effort like they did Sunday, well, weirder things have happened, right?

5. It's a Trap

Big props again go out to Tony Sparano, whose Dolphins team simply refuses to give up on a season that's already over -- on Sunday, Miami smacked down Kansas City 31-3 at Arrowhead to pick up their first win of the season.

But how the hell did the Chiefs get trapped by the most obvious trap game we've seen in a while? They were coming off a monster win at home against San Diego on Monday night, the Chargers had to deal with the Packers, the Raiders were playing in the division and KC has Denver next on the schedule; all Kansas City had to do was fend off a winless Dolphins team.

Seems simple, right?

"This was not the kind of performance we expected or wanted," Todd Haley said Sunday. "This was a very dangerous team that was playing a lot better than their record. It's hard to win in the NFL and they just did a better job than us."

That sort of vague talk is typical of an NFL coach coming off a loss. But here's where that sort of loss gets inexplicable: the Chiefs, left for dead by everyone three weeks into the season, stormed back into a tie for first in the AFC West with the win over San Diego. Games against the Dolphins and Broncos set Kansas City up nicely for a legit shot at repeating as division champs.

Instead, they're still in a three-way tie with the Raiders and Bolts, with the Broncos just one game back and looking feisty. After playing Denver, the Chiefs travel to New England and then welcome in the Steelers, while the Chargers get Oakland/Chicago/Denver and the Raiders get San Diego/Minnesota/Chicago.

Things are supremely easier over the next three weeks for whatever team wins between the Bolts and the Raiders next week, and it's hard to wonder how the Chiefs, in a tie for first despite a negative-seventy point differential, managed to blow such an easy shot at having first place all to themselves.

6. That's So Not Raven

For the first time under John Harbaugh, the Ravens swept the Steelers in the regular season and by virtue of their 23-20 win in Pittsburgh, have (again) secured the always-tenuous position of favorite to win the AFC.

There's still plenty of games left for Baltimore, but to sit at 6-2 with a pair of wins against their arch-rival, it's impossible not to peg them for the top spot in a wide-open conference.

As I noted in this space last week, there's reason to be concerned with the Ravens, because Joe Flacco doesn't always bring his A game and that's led to a rollercoaster ride for the Ravens this season, as well as plenty of criticism directed Flacco's way.

"Oh I don't know, I don't care," Flacco said when asked what he expected people to say about him on Monday. "We're excited we won the football game."

He shouldn't care, because Flacco was outstanding on the final drive for Baltimore, a 92-yard march that featured a number of drops from receivers, including a whiff of a touchdown catch from rookie Torrey Smith.

Five plays after the drop, though, Flacco fired right back at Smith, and the Ravens took the lead with eight seconds left. What was confusing about that play -- and the previous two plays before that -- is that the Steelers seemed fine leaving the end zone open for shots from Flacco, even though a field goal wouldn't have helped the Ravens as the clock ticked down.

Dick LeBeau doesn't make many mistakes, and the Steelers were short on defense because of injuries, but he might have made a few at the end of the Ravens game. And thanks to some excellent work by Flacco, it cost the Steelers the status of conference favorite.


7. Nit-Packing

When a team's 8-0, there's not a whole lot to complain about. Especially if that team, as is the case with the Packers, features a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers playing some of the best football we've ever seen.

But I agree wholly with what my colleague Clark Judge wrote on Sunday from San Diego, in pointing out that the Packers secondary has some serious problems. They allowed the Chargers to pile up 38 points in their win Sunday, and they did their part in the 45 points scored by the Packers when they took two of their three interceptions of Philip Rivers to the house.

"We're not going to turn a blind eye to the negatives that went on today," said coach Mike McCarthy. "But we're 8-0. That's the facts. And 5-0 on the road. That's huge. We're excited about that."

McCarthy's got plenty of reason to be excited, and there's still a good shot of the Packers going undefeated this year. (Friend of the blog RJ Bell of PreGame.com estimates a 17 percent shot of the Packers running the table based on the way Vegas looks at their schedule.)

But if Rodgers isn't firing on all cylinders, the Packers are more vulnerable than they were during their Super Bowl run last year. And all it takes in the playoffs is a single loss to erase anything that matters about an unbeaten regular season.

8. Cruise Control

Two teams that won handily on Sunday -- the 49ers and the Texans -- look like the biggest locks to win their division nine weeks into the season.

The Niners are still 7-1. That means they've got more wins in 2011 than the rest of the division combined. There's really no reason to think that anyone can remotely contend in either of these divisions.

San Francisco might not be the most explosive team on offense, and I think we'll see Alex Smith play more like, well, Alex Smith when they match up against the Giants and Ravens during two out of the next three weeks. But they almost look like they're locked in for 12 wins minimum at this point.

Houston's lead isn't as comfortable as San Francisco, but the AFC South is pretty weak too. Indy won't do anything of note this season outside possibly losing every game, the Jaguars can't do anything offensively and Tennessee's freefalling after a hot start.

Given that the Texans have an impressive defense, a passing game that will get Andre Johnson back and two guys who can rumble for 100-plus yards in Ben Tate and Arian Foster. If they can limit the wear and tear on Foster en route to taking that division, they'll be especially dangerous come the playoffs.

9. Down By the Schoolyard

During the 2011 NFL Draft, the Falcons swung a monster deal with the Browns to move all the way up to the No. 6 overall spot and select Julio Jones out of Alabama. We've seen Jones' freaky physical nature several times this year, but he's yet to really make his mark for Atlanta. Until Week 9 anyway, when Jones exploded for 131 yards and two touchdowns on three catches.

Jones is now only the second player in the NFL to catch two touchdown passes of 50 or more yards this season (one was 50 on the dot, the other an 80-yard score), with the other being Pierre Garcon ... of the Colts. Garcon had no such luck on Sunday as the Falcons eviscerated the league's worst team 31-7 in Indy.

So does this justify the draft-day trade for Atlanta? Well no. Of course not, even. But Jones ability to stretch the field -- his first catch, the 50-yarder was just flat-out mind-blowing, as Jones beat triple coverage and made a ridiculous adjustment to come back and snag the ball.

The second play was completely different but exactly what the Falcons love about Jones, as he caught a quick 10-yard slant and ended up in the end zone 80 yards and a couple of joystick moves later.

Granted it was just the Colts, but if Jones stays healthy and the Falcons figure out how to appropriately integrate him into the offense, they're going to become dangerous in the second half of the season.

10. Pretty Good Weekend for LSU

First there was the win against Alabama on Saturday (you may have seen this slugfest on CBS) and then there was alum Patrick Peterson blowing up an opponent for a touchdown return for the second-straight week. The Ravens were able to overcome Peterson's jock-dropping run to the house; the Rams weren't as lucky as Peterson walked them off in overtime to help provide the exclamation point for one of the better endings to a group of games I've seen in a long time.

Peterson's score (the second-longest punt return in NFL history at 99 yards) came, oddly, after he committed the unforgivable sin of catching the ball on his own one-yard line while returning a punt.

"I don't know what made me catch the ball on the one-yard line," Peterson told Peter Brown of Yahoo Sports after the game. "I saw the two players doing a great job on their gunners and saw the interior guys on the 20, so that's the main reason why I took a chance and the rest speaks for itself."

Though he's struggled playing in the secondary some, his production as a kick returner's more than making up for any immediate issues at cornerback. And Peterson's got a shot at entering some rarefied air -- with his return on Sunday, he tied Devin Hester for the most number of punt returns by a rookie since the merger with three.

At his current pace, he'll get another 20 or so looks at returning a punt for a teeter; one more to the house puts him in the record books. Although teams might just want to wise up and give him the Hester treatment by not kicking to him.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... The Colts were held to 10 first downs by the Falcons on Sunday, the fewest total by an NFL team since 2005.
... Roy Helu broke Art Monk's record for most receptions in a game by a Redskins with 14. That's just depressing.
... The Rams became the only team in NFL history to score exactly four points in one quarter.
... Chris Johnson crossed 100 total yards for the second time this season. It's embarrassing that this is impressive.
... The Cowboys are 2-0 when DeMarco Murray runs for 130 or more yards. Go figure right?
... Drew Brees is the first player in NFL history with 3,000 or more passing yards through nine weeks of the season, and the Saints are the first team in NFL history to have a tight end (Jimmy Graham) and running back (Darren Sproles) with 50 or more catches through nine weeks.
... Packers are now just the third Super Bowl champion to start 8-0 the following year, along with the 1990 49ers and 1998 Broncos.
... Seven NFL teams have won the same number of games (or more) than they won in 2010. The Panthers, Bills, Bengals, Broncos, Lions, 49ers and Texans are in that group.

Worth 1,000 Words



GIF O' THE WEEK

Over/under on number of times I watch Drayton Florence scare Mark Sanchez this week is set at 4,532,453. Via Bruce Arthur/CJ Zero.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Tony Sparano: If the Dolphins keep giving it their all, he could survive the season. But he's still done in South Beach.
  • Jack Del Rio: Made it to the bye, and he's got the Colts taking the heat off him. Maybe.
  • Mike Shanahan: Could the Redskins really lose out? Because I think they could.
  • Steve Spagnuolo: Peterson's return drove a dagger in what would have been a much-needed two-game winning streak.
  • Ken Wisenhunt: And his spot's cooler now because of it.
  • Jim Caldwell: I don't care what Irsay says.

Chasing Andrew Luck

Colts (-750): Absolutely the prohibitive favorite to lose out this season. RJ Bell says it's close to 16 percent they go 0-16.
Dolphins (-325): Showing too much spunk to get Stephen Ross the quarterback he wants.
Rams (-225): Easy schedule should keep them out of the top spot and racing for Justin Blackmon.
Jaguars (-225): Week 10! Jaguars! Colts! This is not our CBS game of the week.
Redskins (-125): Bet they regret those early season wins now.
Panthers (-100): The defense is bad enough to lose games, but it's hard to imagine them not sneaking out a few.

MVP Watch

It's all Aaron Rodgers all the way, folks. At 8-0, Rodgers has the Packers looking like the best team in the NFL in large part to the fact that he's playing quarterback at the highest level we've seen in a while. There's honestly no one even close, though a monster game from Matt Forte on Monday could change things a bit.
Posted on: November 2, 2011 12:59 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2011 9:35 am
 

Film Room: Saints vs. Buccaneers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Back in Week 6, the Bucs beat the Saints 26-20 to move into first place in the NFC South. They enter the Week 9 rematch coming off a bye and once again playing New Orleans for the division lead. The Saints are coming off a surprising loss at St. Louis in which they didn’t fail to show up, but rather, simply got outplayed.

An analyst loves nothing more than to break down a matchup involving two teams that recently played each other. The previous film notes are fresh and applicable. Let’s look forward by glimpsing back.


1. Blitzing Freeman
Gregg Williams is the most aggressive blitzing coordinator in the league. It’s not just that he blitzes frequently, it’s that he blitzes with six pass-rushers (as opposed to five). And they’re fast defenders. The Saints’ nickel defense offers a lot of speed. Strong safety Roman Harper essentially serves as a swift linebacker.

Actual linebacker Jonathan Casillas is a lightning bolt when going downhill. He wouldn’t thrive as a traditional read-and-react run-defending linebacker, but as a read-and-attack blitzer, he’s fervid. Something that stood out in the Week 6 game was that when free safety Malcolm Jenkins dropped into the box, he almost always blitzed. He too does so with speed.

The Bucs offensive line did a phenomenal job at picking up New Orleans’ blitzes in the last meeting. However, the nature of those plays left Josh Freeman with minimal room to step into throws. This revealed that a lot of Freeman’s throwing power comes from his lower body (this could be why he’s a more dynamic passer outside the pocket on the run). Big as Freeman is, his ball floats a bit when he has to rely solely on his arm.

2. Saints coverages
Knowing what they know about Freeman’s arm, it will be interesting to see what coverages the Saints design to allow their corners to jump routes behind the blitzes. A floating ball is an interception opportunity. Tracy Porter is particularly good at route-jumping from his off-coverage techniques in the slot.

The Saints should feel confident in Jabari Greer’s and Patrick Robinson’s abilities to stay with Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn in man coverage outside (neither wideout is particularly quick or fast). If the outside is handled with no help coverage, Porter will have more freedom to take chances from the inside.

Of course, if WE know this, then so do the Bucs. Look for them to design a few routes that could take advantage of Porter’s aggression. The fourth-year corner has been somewhat vulnerable against downfield patterns this season.

3. Running Backs
Earnest Graham started for the injured LeGarrette Blount in Week 6 and wound up rushing for 109 yards on 17 carries. It was plain to see that Graham, with his decent quickness and tempo-changing ability, gave the Bucs’ rushing attack more dimension than it has with the lumbering, bulldozing Blount. And because Graham was a good pass-blocker and receiver, the Bucs could camouflage their run/pass play-calls with him on the field. With Blount, it’s a safe bet that the play is either a between-the-tackles handoff or a basic three/five-step pass.

Blount is healthy now. It would have been interesting to see if some of his spotlight shifted over to Graham this week. We’ll never know; Graham tore his Achilles in London two weeks ago. Tampa’s No. 2 running back is now Kregg Lumpkin. And Tampa’s running game is now one dimensional.

The Saints are also dinged up at running back. Rookie Mark Ingram missed last week’s contest with a bruised heel. Veteran replacement Pierre Thomas played in his stead. Thomas’ screen pass receiving prowess gave the offense a little more dimension, but his lack of phone booth power became a problem when the Rams swarming front seven congested the lanes against New Orleans’ pull blocks.

Style-wise, the Bucs’ front seven is similar to St. Louis’ and, while not great against the run, it’s capable of invoking similar disruption.



4. Facing the Saints offense
Any team that plays the Saints this season should closely study what the Rams did last week. It was simple, really. The Rams started the game with high blitz frequency but backed off after it quickly became apparent that New Orleans’ offensive tackles could not block the defensive ends.

With pressure coming out of a four-man rush, Rams corners played tight press coverage against the Saints receivers, which took away the quick routes that Drew Brees and this offense love. On the inside, the linebackers defended the underneath lanes and the safeties jumped lanes from over the top (that’s traditional two-deep coverage). This mix of man and zone principles requires physical strength at cornerback and speed at linebacker and safety.

The Bucs have the personnel to mimic this gameplan. Rookie defensive end Adrian Clayborn, who has a terrific combination of speed and power for trench play, destroyed left tackle Jermon Bushrod in Week 6. To be blunt, Bushrod gets destroyed often. He’s probably the worst pass-blocking left tackle in the league.

Right tackle Charles Brown had been equally as shaky. He improved his mechanics over the past few weeks but still got abused by a surprisingly explosive and always-fundamentally sound Chris Long last week. It’s a moot point now as he just landed on injured reserve (hip). The unspectacular but experienced Zach Strief is back from injury and once again starting. He’ll be facing Bucs end Michael Bennett, who is not beast but is having a career-year. It’s a matchup that favors the Bucs.

As far as the coverage goes, Tampa has drifted from its Cover 2 tradition and gone to more of a man-based scheme. Their corners are hit-or-miss jammers at the line of scrimmage but all better athletes than those the Rams put on the field. The Bucs linebackers have enough speed to perform in underneath coverage, but the same is not true of the safeties.

A lot of people think Tanard Jackson is an “oh wow!” success story because he picked off a pass in each of his first two games back from suspension. But those picks came off fortuitously tipped balls. On a down-to-down basis, Jackson has shown limited range in coverage.

5. Defending Jimmy Graham
This is always the $64,000 question for defensive coordinators. In their last meeting, the Bucs treated Graham as a wide receiver and defended him with Ronde Barber. This posed a major size differential that the Saints took advantage of (Graham finished with seven catches for 124 yards).

But don’t be surprised if Tampa uses the same tactic again. It fits well into the rest of their defensive scheme. And you can play nickel against the Saints’ base personnel because the Saints don’t have a dominant ground game right now. Tampa’s nickelback, Barber, is an excellent run-defender anyway. Besides, the more overall speed the Bucs have on the field, the better.

After all, they also have to deal with Darren Sproles.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 9 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com