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Tag:Joe Flacco
Posted on: November 15, 2011 10:56 pm
 

Harbaugh on Seahawks game: 'We had to throw it'

Posted by Will Brinson



In Week 10, Baltimore inexplicably lost to Seattle 22-17. Even more inexplicable than the actual loss, though, was that Ravens running back Ray Rice only got five carries against the Seahawks.

As we noted in Sorting the Sunday Pile, there's a common thread to the Ravens three losses: Rice doesn't get carries. In the Ravens six wins, Rice averaged 18.67 carries (including just nine carries against the Rams in a blowout). In the three losses to the Titans, Jaguars and Seahawks? Rice totaled 26 carries. John Harbaugh does not see this as a common thread, however.

Recapping Week 10

"The comparisons that people want to draw between the three games, that's all hypothetical, theoretical stuff," Harbaugh said, per the Baltimore Sun. "When you know football, you understand the schemes that you see and the situations that you face are different in every single game.

"I'm not a psychologist. I think what you do is you look at football. We're moving forward. We took responsibility for the loss and we're moving forward."

This would be a perfectly fine explanation, except there is a common thread. When the Ravens lose, Ray Rice averages 10 carries less than when the Ravens win. This isn't cherry-picking statistics. It's just clear that Baltimore abandoned the run way too early.

"I don't know how you would do it any differently," Harbaugh said. "We were in a situation where we lost two possessions [on turnovers]. When you don't have very many plays, it's hard to build up your running game. The way the game went, we had to throw it.

"In that game, I didn't see a lot more opportunities to run the ball."

The turnover point is valid, because losing two possessions is crippling for an offensive attack. But it's not like the Ravens were getting blown out at any point in the game. Their biggest deficit was 15 points, after a Steven Hauschka field goal made it 22-7 with 12:26 left in the third quarter.

And Joe Flacco still attempted a whopping 53 passes on Sunday, which was probably 10 too many. He wasn't helped by the fact that his receivers didn't show up, but he's still averaging the third-most pass attempts per game in the NFL (40.1) behind only Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford.

The problem is Flacco's only converting 54.8 percent of them. Although he might be hitting a higher percentage of them if defenses even bothered to concern themselves with stopping the run.

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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 10:19 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2011 10:20 am
 

Flacco: Critics talk about him in 'two extremes'

Posted by Will Brinson

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco really can't win. Not football games -- he wins lots of those (he's 38-18 in three and a half years). But in terms of the way fans and the media perceive Flacco, well, he's perpetually fluctuating between "about to make the jump" and "like crap."

Wait, that second one was him. But whatever, the point remains. The criticism of Flacco is like a rollercoaster. And Flacco doesn't really understand why.

"The thing that cracks me up is that one minute they’re talking about you as possibly being elite, and the next second they want to beat you up for not even being good," Flacco said earlier this week, via Ryan Mink of the team's official website. "It’s two extremes. It’s never that he’s a damn good quarterback."

Much like Tony Romo, Flacco seems to understand his critics. Of course, he doesn't seem to understand that his production this season warrants an up-and-down analysis; Flacco is gunning for three-straight 300-yard games, but he's been anything but consistent this season.

Flacco's got four 300-yard games this season, but he's also three games under 200 yards passing (the Ravens are 1-2 in those games). He's been tremendous at times (notably against the Steelers twice) and he's been absolutely terrible at times (against the Jets and Jaguars). Flacco's got the lowest completion percentage -- 54.7 -- and his yards per attempt -- 6.64 -- of his career.

To put that in perspective, Flacco ranks lower than Rex Grossman in both of those categories.

That's the primary reason why I picked the Seahawks to win on Sunday -- if Ray Rice can't get going against a stingy Seahawks defense, then it'll be all on Flacco to win, on the west coast, coming off an emotional victory and with the division-rival Bengals staring them down the week after.


In other words, it's a classic trap game. Which also means it's a game the Ravens should win, handily. But Baltimore's been in these spots before -- namely against Jacksonville on Monday night just a few weeks ago.

And even if they're the favorite to win the AFC midway through the season (they are), the Ravens need to look like an elite team when they play mediocre competition.

In order for that to happen, Flacco will continue proving his critics wrong.

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 7, 2011 11:57 am
Edited on: November 9, 2011 10:06 pm
 

Pick-6 Podcast: NFL Week 9 review

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Week 9's action is just about wrapped up and after an exciting Sunday's worth of action we fired up the podcast machine to break down everything that happened.

Is Joe Flacco making the leap? Is Eli Manning elite? Are the Patriots finished? Is Philip Rivers a choker? Why are teams allowed to sidestep concussions in game? Which SEC rookie had the bigger week -- Patrick Peterson or Julio Jones? Did the Browns lose their draft-day trade with the Falcons?

What the hell is Mike Shanahan thinking, in general? Are the Chiefs worthy of being tied for their division lead? Is Tim Tebow improving?

All those questions -- plus much, much more -- in this week's podcast review.

Just hit the play button below to listen (and did we mention that you should 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, subscribe to our NFL newsletter, and while you're at it, add 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 7, 2011 12:19 am
Edited on: November 7, 2011 12:20 am
 

Are the Ravens the best the AFC can offer?

T. Smith catches the game-winning pass from J. Flacco to beat Pittsburgh (AP).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

For most of Sunday night’s game, it looked like Joe Flacco was going to be just good enough to lead the Ravens to an important AFC North defeat. A Baltimore loss that would have put Pittsburgh in a great position for a run in the second half of the season that would make the Steelers the AFC conference title favorite.

Joe Flacco fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter, and then, after the Steelers scored to take the lead, the Ravens went three and out. They were done. And it wasn’t the least bit surprising.

Then, the Ravens -- and Flacco -- redeemed their season.

Despite the fact receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin dropped passes late in the fourth quarter on Baltimore’s final drive, Flacco, who seems to have regressed as a quarterback this year, never lost his poise. He threw a gorgeous 26-yard touchdown pass to Smith with eight seconds to play to provide the game-winning score and beat the Steelers 23-20.

And now that Baltimore has won, sweeping the season series with Pittsburgh, are we silly to consider the Ravens the class of the AFC? It’s hard to say. Baltimore has played some horrendously bad games, losing to the Titans and the Jaguars. But they’ve also beaten the Steelers twice and knocked off the Jets and Texans. At this point, who else could be the AFC’s elite?

Not the Steelers. They’ve taken two bad losses to the Ravens, and that’s going to be a big problem if these two squads end up tied in the standings at the end of the year. The Patriots? It’s hard to take them seriously when their pass defense is so bad. The Bills? No, they looked shaky today in losing to the Jets. The Jets? Just not seeing it this year. The Texans? Maybe, but they still have to win their division and they’ve never done it before.

But what about -- and I would have laughed at this a few weeks ago -- the Bengals? Cincinnati and Baltimore play Nov. 20 and Jan. 1, and with their win at Tennessee today, the Bengals are 6-2, tied with the Ravens for first place in the AFC North.

The Ravens have a great defense, but so do the Bengals. As far as offensive skill players are concerned, the teams are evenly matched, but Cincinnati has been more consistent in playing solid football this season.  Still, I’m not convinced about Cincinnati quite yet.

The question: are the Ravens good enough to challenge the Packers for the title of NFL best? You could say yes after watching tonight’s game, but I’m not seeing yet, mainly because I don’t trust Flacco as an elite quarterback. Even with his 92-yard game-winning drive in the final 2:13, even with his 14 third-down conversions (the most against the Steelers since the 1970 merger), and even with his poise on the final drive, I’m not sure the Ravens are the AFC’s elite simply because I don’t believe in Flacco.

But you know what? “I don’t care,” Flacco said on NBC after the game. “We’re excited we won the football game.”

He should be. It was a hell of a win. But showing us that Baltimore is the AFC’s best? I’m just not ready to buy in yet.

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Posted on: November 4, 2011 1:46 pm
 

Flacco admits offense played 'like crap' recently

Joe Flacco on the type of offense we'll see Sunday against the Steelers: 'A good one.' (US PRESSWIRE)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Eight weeks ago, the Ravens beat the Steelers like they stole something. Earlier this month, Rice told CBSSports.com that that game won't mean much when the two teams get together this Sunday night because Pittsburgh has a history of getting better as the season progresses.

Turns out, Rice was right; the Steelers have played well the past month, highlighted by last week's win over the Patriots. The Ravens, meanwhile, have struggled, losing to the Jaguars on national television two weeks ago, and beating the Cardinals last Sunday but only after trailing by 21 points.

Ravens-Steelers, Part Deux
Both teams have issues -- the Ravens' passing game is a mess and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and quarterback Joe Flacco have taken plenty of heat for it. The Steelers' have injuries to key defensive players and that could be a factor Sunday.

Flacco, who completed 58 percent of his passes the last two games with two picks and a touchdown, thinks the Ravens' offense, despite recent history, can play well against the Steelers.

“A good one,” Flacco said Wednesday when asked why type of offense we'll see Sunday. “We are going to go in there with a game plan, one that we can be successful with – things that we do well – and we are going to go execute it to the best of our ability. That’s going to be the key. We have to go in there, and we have to play the way we know how to play. We can’t go out there and make mistakes, not execute things, [and] look like crap like we have for a little bit the last couple of weeks. We have to go in there and just play the football we know how to – which was most of this season and the second half of last gam

No one would dispute the charge that the Ravens' offense has been dung-tastic at various points this season. Either way, Flacco is using the Week 1 matchup as inspiration for this one. “We have to look back at it and see what we did well, and see what we can carry over to this game plan,” he said, according to the Baltimore Sun.

In that game, Flacco had career highs in touchdowns (three) and passer rating (117.6 passer rating), wide receiver Anquan Boldin scored his third touchdown in four meetings with Pittsburgh, and running back Ray Rice ran for 107 yards, only the third 100-yard rushing performance against the Steelers in their previous 58 games.

But it was Baltimore's defense that was the difference in Week 1. They created seven (!) turnovers, gave their offense great field position, and sacked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger four times, three courtesy of Terrell Suggs who announced earlier this week that he owns Big Ben.

“God can have his soul, but his [butt] belongs to me,” said Suggs, who has 15.5 career sacks against Big Ben. “You all know the numbers. There’s nobody that does it better than me."


Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens will travel to Heinz Field to take on Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. Who will come out on top? Jason Horowitz and NFL.com's Pat Kirwan preview this upcoming game.

Roethlisberger, when apprised of Suggs' remarks, offered this (via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette):

I've heard that quote," Big Ben said. "I've got no problem with it. It is what it is ... I know Terrell a little bit. He's actually a good guy. We joke around on the field, so I don't think he meant anything bad by it. I just think he let out a little emotion after finally beating me."

Receiver Antonio Brown, who has quietly emerged as one of the young Steelers playmakers, added this: “We really owe [the Ravens] one this time around,” he said, referring to the Week 1 loss. “You always remember that, seeing those guys celebrate like they won the Super Bowl, seeing those guys get really hyped.”

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Posted on: November 1, 2011 9:47 pm
 

Tomlin says Woodley is questionable

WoodleyPosted by Josh Katzowitz

First, we thought Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley and the hamstring he injured last Sunday was out for this week’s game vs. the Ravens.

But Woodley has said all along that we shouldn’t count him out, and now Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin is echoing those same sentiments.

“It’s a hamstring strain as opposed to a tear so we’re thankful for that,” Tomlin said on SiriusXM NFL Radio (via PFT). “We’re going to let his availability during the week guide us.  I guess you could characterize him as ‘questionable.’  At some point this week he’s going to participate in some form or fashion and we’ll let that be our guide in terms of his availability.”

The Steelers have to hope he’ll be back soon. James Harrison has been missing with an eye injury, and James Farrior might be out until December with a calf injury. Woodley’s backup, Jason Worilds, also has missed time, and though the Ravens offense has been criticized for looking unimpressive lately, even Joe Flacco can dominate a team that has very little in the way of defensive starters.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, meanwhile, has reported that Woodley's hamstring is "not good."

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com