Tag:Jeremy Maclin
Posted on: October 18, 2010 3:57 am
Edited on: October 18, 2010 11:06 am
 

10 stories that deserve your attention Week 6

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Getting our money’s worth

After two weeks of mediocre schedules, we were rewarded with a shimmering slate of games heading into WP. Manning (US Presswire)eek 6. Remarkably, the games turned out to be even better than anticipated. In the early window, the Ravens-Patriots went to overtime. So did the Dolphins-Packers. An electrifying Devin Hester punt return made the Bears-Seahawks contest close. The Rams upset of the Chargers was also close in the end. And in perhaps the best finish of all, the Texans scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes to come back from 10 down against the Chiefs (more on this one in a moment).

In the late window, the Cowboys-Vikings was a thrill despite the fact that it was played in the Metrodome (there is something profoundly depressing about watching a day game being played in that dreary indoor venue). The Jets-Broncos went down to the wire. And, not that anyone cared, but the Raiders-49ers contest was close (thanks to the fact that neither quarterback could complete a pass). If the day action wasn’t enough (though we all know it was), the Colts-Redskins turned in one of the most entertaining Sunday nighters on the season.

Not to open up a tangential debate, but Sunday’s action symbolized yet another reason why the NFL is 10,000 times better than college football. At this high of level, close games are the norm and cupcakes don’t exist.

2.) Houston, we have a cliché

Sorry, can’t stand the “Houston, we have a problem” line anymore. I refused to utter it. But things are not all swell in H-Town. Yes, the Texans can rejoice after a remarkable come-from-behind victory against the Chiefs. Matt Schaub was poised under pressure. Andre Johnson (eight catches, 138 yards and the game-winning touchdown) proved why he’s the best wide receiver in the NFL. And Arian Foster, with a hearty 71 yards and two scores, reiterated that this is indeed one of the league’s best rushing attacks.

But notice these are all offensive stories? It’s become apparent that, in order to win, the Texans are going to have to keep doing what they did Sunday: outscore opponents. That’s fine in a literal sense (hell, you obviously have to outscore an opponent in order to win). But figuratively, outscoring opponents (i.e. winning shootouts) is the same formula that has earned the Texans a boatload of seven, eight or nine-win seasons. If this team is going to take that next step, the defense must get better.

On Sunday, the Texans gave up 31 points to a Chiefs offense that, in the first four games of the season, could barely score more than a Jonas Brother. The secondary allowed three Matt Cassel touchdowns (two to Dwayne Bowe, one of which he celebrated with the always-amusing ball-stuck-to-hands routine). On the season, Houston has allowed a league-worst 14 touchdown passes. Inconsistent technique from the corners and safety Bernard Pollard’s propensity to take missteps in coverage has resulted in a pass defense that ranks dead last. The Chiefs would have exploited this pass defense even more if they weren’t so busy running down the front seven’s throat. That front seven looked alarmingly feeble once DeMeco Ryans blew out his Achilles. Thomas Jones racked up 100 yards on 19 carries; Jamaal Charles gained 93 yards on 16 carries.

Let’s not forget, Houston did win this game. But that doesn’t mean you should climb aboard when the driver of the bandwagon pulls over and tells you that Gary Kubiak’s 4-2 club is the breakout team of 2010. The same old weaknesses are still present…

3.) Mea Culpa

Gotta come clean: I was wrong about the Ravens-Patriots game. Anyone who read my Key Matchup breakdown last Thursday or Friday knows that I didn’t think the Patriots defense could stop Ray Rice or Joe Flacco. Obviously, it did.
D. Branch (US Presswire)
I don't regret my analysis -- the Patriots simply played better than I thought they would. So how was I proven wrong? For starters, the Patriots secondary stepped up. (Rookie corner Devin McCourty’s pass breakup against Todd Heap late in the game is a particularly nice play that I find myself still thinking about.) Two rookie linebackers – Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham – showed good physicality against the run. (Spikes had 16 tackles, which was actually two less than Jerod Mayo.)

More impressive than the defense, however, was the New England offense. Turns out, the key to Deion Branch is having him play in the Eastern Time Zone. Though it was a bit confusing seeing him wear number 84, Branch looked like the same old reliable star. The ninth-year pro led the Patriots with nine catches for 98 yards and a score. About half of those catches came in crucial moments down the stretch.

And how about Danny Woodhead? The former Jet had five catches for 52 yards and 11 carries for 63 yards, filling the invaluable scatback shoes of injured veteran Kevin Faulk. With Woodhead, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman all contributing, the Patriots are the scrappiest (cough…cough…whitest) offense in the NFL. Scrappy works when you have one of the best game-managing quarterbacks and the best game-managing head coach in the league. The Patriots offense is like football’s version of the good ‘ol boy who got caught up living the fast life in the big city but has now returned to the farm. There’s something reassuring about seeing this team win games with a dink-and-dunk offense again.

4.) On the other side…

Let’s flip the script and look at what’s wrong with the Chargers and Cowboys. If you’d have told me last week that the Chargers would be 2-4 after leaving St. Louis, I would have said, “That just means they won’t win the AFC West until at least after Thanksgiving”. But if you’d have told me the Chargers would be 2-4 and that Antonio Gates would suffer what appears to be another serious ankle injury? Well, I’d have at least paused for a few seconds.

Fortunately for San Diego, the usual disclaimer about the shabbiness of the AFC West Division still applies. The Raiders are 2-4. And, though on the surface they look like a wild-card contender, the Broncos are 2-4, as well. The Chiefs are 3-2 and in the process of taking that “next step” as a franchise. Part of that process is losing tough games (like the one at Houston).
P. Rivers (US Presswire)
The Chargers are still the favorites in their division. But they’re certainly no longer favorites in the entire AFC. Perhaps that makes perfect sense. Instead of looking around and asking what’s wrong with San Diego, maybe we should be looking within and asking why we keep thinking this team should be as good as it was a few years ago. Back then it had a Hall of Fame running back (L.T.), a blossoming big-play wide receiver (V-Jax), a first-class pass-rusher (Lights Out), a playmaking star corner (Cro) and, now that I think about it, a bunch of players with cool nicknames. The Chargers have lost a lot of talent the past few years (don’t forget about the departure of two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams and retirement of fullback Lorenzo Neal).

Of course, the Chargers have always been good at replenishing their own talent. And Philip Rivers is a constantly-improving top 10 quarterback. So maybe special teams gaffes, untimely turnovers and a long-held propensity for losing early in the season – especially on the road – are to blame for San Diego’s slow start. But with Gates now out of the lineup, don’t be surprised if people start questioning the sheer talent of this 2-4 club.

It’s possible that the reactionary radio call-in listeners and message board mavens – who, as we all know, understand football better than everyone – won’t sing their usual Fire Norv Turner song this week. Reason being, they might be too preoccupied with Wade Phillips.

Unlike Turner’s Chargers, there is absolutely no questioning the talent of Phillips’ Cowboys. So why 1-4? For starters, penalties have been a major problem. The Cowboys were flagged 11 times for 91 yards at Minnesota. Last week, they were flagged 12 times for 133 yards. Included in the latest collection of penalties was a 15-yard excessive celebration that came just one week after the highly-publicized and costly excessive celebration flag late in the fourth quarter against the Titans. These days, saying the Cowboys lack discipline is not unlike saying the sky is blue, water is wet and Justin Bieber thinks he’s black.

But penalties aren’t Dallas’ only problem. (In fact, defensively, they’re not a problem at all. The Cowboys have the least-penalized defense in the NFL. Cornerback Mike Jenkins, who has four P.I.’s in two weeks, is pretty much the only defender who draws flags.) Offensively, the engine seems to sputter at inopportune times. Even though left tackle Doug Free has overachieved in replacing Flozell Adams, the front five as a whole has taken a step back. Kyle Kosier’s health problems (he got hurt again Sunday) and Leonard Davis’ baffling inconsistency have weakened the interior blocking.

Jason Garrett also deserves skepticism. The Cowboys execute one of the league’s simplest offenses, and they still don’t have an identity in the run game or a clearly-defined role for Dez Bryant. Factor in Tony Romo’s occasional mistakes (the failure to read E.J. Henderson’s fake A-gap blitz on his second interception is the latest example) and you have the makings of an inconsistent group.

5.) Time to make pass interference reviewable

The Vikings’ victory over the Cowboys was essentially sealed on a pass interference flag against Mike Jenkins. The Texans’ final drive was aided by a deplorable pass interference call against Chiefs budding star corner Brandon Flowers. (Flowers is STILL in that official’s ear and fighting back tears of frustration.) The Jets’ go-ahead score over the Broncos late in the fourth quarter was set up by a Renaldo Hill pass interference against Santonio Holmes. If that flag wasn’t thrown, the Broncos would have won the game.
R. Hill (US Presswire)
To be clear, that flag on Hill needed to have been thrown. It is illegal to grab an opponent’s facemask. It’s especially illegal to grab an opponent’s facemask while he’s trying to catch a ball in the air.

But nevertheless, that call was crucial in deciding the outcome of the game. Why wouldn’t the NFL want to give its players, coaches and fans full assurance that it was indeed the right call? Making pass interference reviewable would do that.  Oh, and not to mention, reviewing P.I. would give officials a chance to rectify the occasional awful call (like, say, Flowers’).

I know, I know – pass interference can’t be reviewed because it is a judgment call. But at the end of the day, every call is a judgment call. When a ref is reviewing whether a quarterback’s arm is moving forward, he’s making a judgment. When he’s seeing if feet were in bounds, he’s making a judgment. That’s what referees do – they judge.

Granted, P.I. is a purer judgment call than most calls. But isn’t that all the more reason to make it reviewable? The league doesn’t like judgment calls. So, to lessen the impact of judgment calls, the league mandates that they can only be a split-second decision made during live action? That doesn’t make sense. If that’s how the NFL wants to run its sport, it might as well call itself Major League Baseball. P.I. is too big of a momentum swing to put strictly in the hands of one official.

6.) A despicable but brilliant idea

On a similar note, something very interesting happened late in the Packers-Dolphins game. The Dolphins had first-and-10 on its own 43 with 10 seconds left in regulation. They ran a play from shotgun. Chad Henne’s pass to Brian Hartline fell incomplete. But on that play, Charles Woodson was whistled for illegal contact. (By the way, did you know Woodson is the most-penalized player in the league this season?) The Lambeau crowd booed, but announcer Dan Fouts pointed out that Woodson’s penalty prevented a completion on the play, and that play still ran seven seconds off the clock. Thus, the Dolphins were forced to sacrifice seven seconds for a measly five yards.

This presents the despicable but brilliant idea: in tight last second situations, teams should instruct their defensive backs to mug the receivers. It’s a shrewd clock-draining maneuver. Even if an offense gets the ball on its own 40 with 15 seconds to go, you could commit two very thorough illegal contact penalties and leave the opponent at the 50-yard line with time for just one play.

When the penalty doesn’t fit the crime, then commit the crime. Is that good sportsmanship? Who cares? This isn’t high school.

7.) Another tough decision in Philly?

Deep down, Andy Reid probably wouldn’t mind seeing his team win in spite of its backup quarterback, rather than because of its backup quarterback. A month after Michael Vick played so well in a fill-in role that Reid had to unhitch his wagon from Kevin Kolb, Kolb has maybe forced the head coach to do the same thing only inversed. K. Kolb (US Presswire)

Kolb was borderline spectacular against the Falcons on Sunday. He completed 23 of 29 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. Dispelling the notion from smarmy writers who suggested he and Trent Edwards are really the same person, Kolb preyed on a Falcons secondary that, dating back to last season, has struggled to stop big plays through the air. In completing touchdown strikes of 34 and 83 yards to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, Kolb showed he can patiently read the field and pull the trigger on anticipatory throws.

After the game, Andy Reid called having two quality quarterbacks “a beautiful thing”. Asked who’s going to get the ball next week against the Titans, Reid said, “Take Michael Kolb and we go play, baby." Hey, at least Reid’s not feigning honesty or decisiveness on this topic anymore.

P.S. Give credit to the Eagles for getting a great win. They defeated the best team in the NFC (record-wise) despite being without their starting quarterback, starting left tackle Jason Peters, and, for the second half, star wideout DeSean Jackson (concussion). The Eagles secondary was phenomenal, particularly against Tony Gonzalez (he had two touchdowns, but just three catches for 19 yards on the day). That’s important considering the way this D has struggled to defend tight ends at times.

8.) The other Pennsylvania team

Power polls aren’t quite as important in pro football as they are in college (chalk up another point for the pro game) but they’re still fun. When they come out this week, expect to see Pittsburgh at the top of everyone’s list. Ben Roethlisberger was misty eyed upon receiving a rousing ovation in his return to action. He proceeded to do exactly what he’s always done: make plays by extending plays.

Roethlisberger had a few of his usual gunslinger mistakes but he also had more than a few gunslinger plays. (By the way, given Big Ben’s record and all the recent Brett Favre drama, is it possible that a risky gun-slinging quarterbacking style somehow translates off the field to a risky – we’ll keep it P.G. and say, flirting style – off the field?)

Despite having a quarterback they could lean on, the Steelers did not get away from the ground game. Rashard Mendenhall carried the ball 27 times for 84 yards. Backup Isaac Redman added six runs for 31 yards.

Browns third-round pick Colt McCoy wound up posting decent numbers against the Steelers defense (23/33, 281 yards, a touchdown and, in honor of mentor Jake Delhomme, two interceptions), but in reality, he looked very much like a rookie facing a Super Bowl unit. James Harrison was nastier than usual, sending receivers Joshua Cribbs and Mohammad Massaquoi to the locker room with concussions. (The hit on Cribbs was a clean shot to the ear-hole; the hit on Massaquoi was not dirty, though it should have been a personal foul).
At 4-1, the Steelers sit atop the AFC North, fully loaded on both sides of the ball.

9.) Bucs are for real*J. Freeman (US Presswire)

* “Real” meaning “developing and making strides”. Bucs fans should be extremely encouraged by quarterback Josh Freeman. Yes, Freeman failed to get his offense into the end zone Sunday. And yes, considering how sharp Drew Brees was (21/32, 263 yards, three touchdowns and just one pick) and how effective Chris Ivory was (15 carries, 158 yards), we probably should be talking about how the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints are on track after all.

But we have all season to talk about the Saints. And, since I happened to make this my feature game in the early window, I feel compelled to put my observations to good use. Freeman shows decent poise in the pocket. When he’s decisive – which, unlike last season, is more often than not – he has a rifle for an arm. Freeman has good rapport with rookie wide receiver Mike Williams (who is similar in style to Mike Sims-Walker) and he’s willing to take healthy risks with the football. Does he have room to improve? Of course -- if he didn't, the Bucs would be scoring far more than six points in big divisional games. The point is, Freeman has the foundation.

Overall, the Bucs, though 3-2, are probably a 6-10 caliber team. The offense can’t run (working behind an inconsistent front line, Cadillac Williams looks OK, but nothing more). Defensively, the front four is a treat to run-block against, the linebackers have zero physicality and the secondary can be exploited deep. But these are normal symptoms of a massive rebuilding project. Bucs fans should know, judging by their team’s key components (i.e. Freeman), the front office is telling the truth when it talks about a bright future.

10.) Quick Hits

Cameron Wake should be a lock for AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Against the Packers, Wake recorded three sacks, three tackles for a loss and six hits on the quarterback.

I almost wrote this last week, but figuring no one would know who I was talking about, I refrained. After Sunday night’s game, people should know. Here’s what I was going to write: Why is punt returner Kenneth Moore even in the NFL, let alone actually touching the ball for the Colts? Not to be mean, but Moore is undersized, slow and really, really slow when starting his run from a standstill. He’s also turnover prone.

What in the world was Brandon Meriweather doing hitting Todd Heap with the crown of his helmet like that? Meriweather tried to illegally hit Heap early in the game and missed. He tried again later and connected, earning a 15-yard penalty and sending Heap to the sideline. Never have I seen a player go so far out of his way to deliver an illegal hit on someone. Meriweather is normally an honest, humble and forthright individual. That’s why it was disappointing that he a.) Acted like this and b.) Refused to talk about it afterwards. The whole thing just didn’t make sense.

Defensive tackle Remi Ayodele is playing extremely well for the Saints. He’s a clogger who can also move east and west. Ayodele took advantage of the Bucs playing backup guard Jeremy Zuttah at center in place of the injured Jeff Faine.

Kudos to the Panthers and Bills for coming out of their bye weeks without a loss.

A CBS halftime graphic during the Chiefs-Texans games noted that wideout Dwayne Bowe had three catches, 50 yards, one touchdown and zero drops. Bowe was very stellar against Houston, but you know it hasn’t been a great season when you go two quarters without a drop and have it highlighted in a television graphic.

Anthony Fasano had a clever touchdown celebration against the Packers: the fake Lambeau Leap. Think about how much fun it is to pysch someone on a high five. So how much fun must it be to watch 15-20 opposing fans bracing in vain to catch you?

In one week Rams receiver Danario Alexander went from practice squad member to having four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Alex Smith was booed for most of the afternoon in San Francisco. Fans of decent 21st century football had every right to boo throughout that game. (Though I still don’t understand how booing your own quarterback helps matters.) Two things really stood out in this game: 1.) Smith is drastically more comfortable in a hurry up offense; 2.) The Raider safeties lack discipline and are major liabilities.

Antonio Cromartie won his personal battle against Brandon Lloyd. Also, the Broncos weren’t scared of Darrelle Revis and found out that he’s human.

I still can’t decide if Pierre Garcon’s one-handed catch is the best catch I’ve ever seen. We all need to let it sink in for a few days before making a proclamation. 


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Posted on: October 12, 2010 4:35 pm
Edited on: October 12, 2010 5:37 pm
 

Top Ten With a Twist: Overpaid players

J. Delhomme is making more than $19 million this year. He's probably not worth it (Getty). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

I saw a stunning stat on Twitter as the Browns mucked their way to a loss against the Falcons this past Sunday. It had to do with how much money QB Jake Delhomme is pulling in this year. Naturally, the number is ridiculous, as I’ll detail further in the below paragraphs.

But it gave me the idea for the newest edition of Top Ten With a Twist. Who are the most overpaid players in the game today? By overpaid, I mean the players who are either busts or has-beens or guys who simply found an owner who decided that spending tens of millions of dollars on a problem child was the way to go.

I’m not talking about rookies like Sam Bradford. Of course, the first-round NFL draft picks are overpaid, but at this point, I’m not including them on this list (it’d be an entirely new list altogether). Instead, I’m including guys like Delhomme – either guys who have been around the league for a while who are getting a good payday because they were good at one time, or guys who were supposed to be good but haven’t shown it.

Be forewarned: the salaries we’ll discuss might make you a little nauseous. So, pop a Dramamine or two and let’s go.

10. Eli Manning, QB, Giants: Before last season, you’ll recall, Manning signed a seven-year deal worth $106.9 million that pays him an average of about $15 million from 2009 through 2015, and that doesn’t include his endorsement deals. There’s little doubt that Manning is the most important player on the team, but is he really worth the money? I’m not saying Manning isn’t good, because he is a good quarterback. But he’s not an elite top-five kind of guy, and he’s making elite top-five kind of money. For what it’s worth, he currently makes more than his brother, Peyton (and his oldest brother, Cooper, for that matter).

9. Marvin Austin, DT, Tar Heels: OK, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves if we’re talking NFL. But look at the damage Austin – well, the recruitment of Austin – has done already and look how much money it’s cost the people around him. Austin apparently accepted gifts and other improper benefits from agents (the NCAA determined it was worth between $10,000-$13,000). As a result, Austin was kicked off the team Monday and UNC teammates Robert Quinn and Greg Little have been made permanently ineligible, the NCAA has brought up academic violations, coach Butch Davis might get fired, the Tar Heels football program has been set back in a major way, and the school in general has taken a hit to its reputation. That’s quite a bit of money Austin indirectly is costing everybody, and as one of my colleague says, “And he hasn’t even played yet!”

8. Joey Porter, LB, Cardinals: Blame the team in this case instead of the player. The team which gave a 33-year-old LB a three-year deal for $17.5 million which could max out at $24.5 million. Porter was coming off a pretty good season in Miami in 2009, where he recorded nine sacks in 14 games. This year, though, has been a rough one. He’s recorded 16 solo tackles, good for 10th on the team, and he’s only recorded one sack through the team’s first five games. No doubt that Porter has had a standout career, but there’s also little doubt that he’s not the player he once was. He’s still making good bank for it, though.

7. Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants: Perhaps if Jacobs had been signed as a discus hurler, his four-year, $25 million extension that he signed before last season would have made sense. Instead, Jacobs is solely a RB who’s gained 172 yards in the team’s first five games and who’s lost his starting position (for the record, in 2009, his attempts rose from the 2008 season, but his yards gained fell and his touchdowns dropped from 15 to five). Plus, you had the throwing-his-helmet-into-the-crowd incident at the Indianapolis game. The $15 million he was guaranteed doesn’t look so good now.

6. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Raiders: We’re not discussing rookies in this list, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about second-year players (or players that are still in college, I suppose). For some reason, the Raiders took him with the seventh pick in the 2009 Draft, and then they blew up the slotting system by awarding him a five-year contract worth $38.25 million ($23.5 million guaranteed). He promptly went out and caught nine passes in 11 games. This year, he’s got 11 catches through five games, so that’s an improvement. Good thing the Raiders took Heyward-Bey instead of, say, Jeremy Maclin.

5. Tyson Jackson, DE, Chiefs: He was the third overall pick of the 2009 Draft, and while he wasn’t great last year – hell, he wasn’t even decent – he wasn’t the worst bust in the history of the Draft. It could be argued that he wasn’t nearly as bad as Glenn Dorsey, the Chiefs 2008 first-round pick who had tallied exactly two sacks in his first two years. But Dorsey is playing better this year, while Jackson – 38 tackles last year but zero sacks – has been out with a sprained MCL. At this point, he’s a big disappointment.

A. Smith still hasn't won a starting job with Cincinnati (Getty). 4. Andre Smith, OL, Bengals: The one thing I’ll always remember about Smith – aside from the whole running-the-40-shirtless-at-his-pro
-day-only-to-be-mocked-unmercifully
thing – is that after he signed his contract for $21 million on HBO’s Hard Knocks, his agent turned to him and said, “Congratulations. You’re a millionaire now.” Yep, that’s pretty much how he’s acted the past two years in Cincinnati. He’s been overweight, and his work ethic has been questioned. He only played in six games last season, starting one, and he still can’t be used as an every-play offensive lineman. Dennis Roland, who’s much less talented than Smith, has been starting ahead of him.

3. Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs: One good year can get you a big contract, and for proof, look no further than Cassel. In 2008, he led the Patriots to a 11-5 record while completing 63.4 percent of his passes for 3,693 yards, 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. After New England QB Tom Brady returned, Cassel signed with the Chiefs for a six-year, $63 million deal with $28 million guaranteed. Not bad for a career backup in the NFL and in college at USC. This year, he’s completed 54.7 percent of his passes for 650 yards (about 162.5 yards per game), four TDs and three INTs. That’s not much production for a guy being paid a lot of money.

2. Albert Haynesworth, NT, Redskins: You thought I was going to put Haynesworth No. 1, didn’t you? While we’ve spent so much time on Haynesworth and the $100 million contract and the tens of millions of dollars of guaranteed money, he’s begun to play better lately (he sat out this past week, though, after the death of his brother). Surely, he’s not worth the money, but considering some thought he could have been released from the Washington squad at this point, the fact he’s still playing is sort of a win. Sort of. Still, it’s hard to overlook the fact he’s made six tackles and recorded exactly zero sacks this season.

1. Jake Delhomme, QB, Browns: Ah, the impetus for this column in the first place. Delhomme, between what the Browns and his former team, the Panthers, are paying him, is making $19.7 million this season. Doesn’t that number just absolutely blow you away? He started the first game of the season but was lost for three games with an ankle injury. Then, he backed up Seneca Wallace against the Falcons on Sunday, replaced him when he went out with an ankle injury and then reinjured his own ankle. He’s likely to be out for a while now. On the year, he’s 33 of 60 for 324 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. Not real good. Not a real good return on Cleveland’s money either.

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Posted on: October 11, 2010 12:04 am
 

Kolb reminds us why Reid got rid of McNabb

K. Kolb had an excellent tonight as Philadelphia beat San Francisco (AP). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

For as poor as Kevin Kolb has looked this year – let’s see, there was the awful first half in the season-opener before he sustained a concussion and there was last week when he was decent enough in a losing effort vs. the Redskins – he emerged Sunday night as a changed quarterback.

I don’t know, maybe it’s because the pressure is off – Michael Vick, trying to return to the health, isn’t breathing down his neck yet (though that could change for next week’s game vs. the Falcons). Maybe it’s because he knows the starting job likely won’t be his when Vick does suit up again, so he doesn’t have to play so cautiously. Maybe it’s because the 49ers fans focused their negative action on the quarterback that plays for their team.

Whatever it was, Kolb looked impeccable in the Eagles 27-24 win against the 49ers. On the night, Kolb went 21 for 31 for 253 yards and a touchdown. He made one major mistake on a sack-fumble, but other than that, he was very good.

In fact, he looked similar to the QB we saw last season when he threw for 300-plus yards and two touchdowns in back-to-back games and gave Philadelphia coach Andy Reid all the evidence he needed to get rid of Donovan McNabb

And when Alex Smith led the 49ers to within a touchdown of the lead midway through the fourth quarter, Kolb kept his composure. He threw a 22-yard rocket to Jeremy Maclin across the middle of the field on the drive’s first play, and that was nearly enough to get the Eagles into field goal range for David Akers that gave Philadelphia a 10-point lead with 4:35 to go.

Yeah, the Eagles took only 19 seconds off the clock on their final series with less than 2 minutes to play and holding a three-point lead, but that was more of a reflection of LeSean McCoy’s inexplicable decision to fall to the turf two yards short of the first down marker. Kolb was still close to being perfect. 

While the QB job is Vick’s when he returns, we can legitimately say that Kolb is good enough to be the starter.

“My biggest thing – and I’ve been saying it since the beginning of the week – is that I want to help us win,” Kolb said on NBC after the game. “I don’t worry about (not being the starter). I don’t care about it. I’m just going out and playing my game.”

Tonight, his game was pretty damn good.

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Posted on: September 17, 2010 8:27 am
 

Week 2 Key Matchup: defending Michael Vick

Posted by Andy Benoit

It usually takes a national holiday to inspire Americans to watch a Lions game. This week, however, a lot of eyes will be on Motown with football fans tuning in for Michael Vick’s expected starting debut as the Eagles quarterback. Vick looked like the Vick of old in Philadelphia’s second half loss to Green Bay. His electrifying athleticism is back. So how will Detroit defend him?M. Vick (US Presswire)

The short answer: with zone coverage. Zone defense, whether it’s traditional Cover 2 with cornerbacks guarding the flats and safeties covering the deep middle, or Quarters with each of the four defensive backs taking ¼ of the field, is the obvious tactic against a mobile quarterback because it allows defenders to see all of the action in front of them. In man coverage, defenders must follow the receiver and turn their back to the ball. When teams see man coverage, they often design their routes simply to clear out defenders against the run (FYI, Sean Payton happens to be a genius with this tactic). You obviously can’t leave that kind of open field for Vick.

Thus, look for Detroit to strictly play zone defense Sunday. (For what’s it worth, you can tell what type of coverage defenders, especially linebackers, are playing by how they take their first step. A first step towards the line of scrimmage usually indicates man coverage; a first step backing away from the line of scrimmage indicates zone.)

Chances are, even without Vick, the Lions would have played a lot of zone against the Eagles anyway. Reason being, the Lions cornerbacks simply don’t have the speed or agility to handle the quickness of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Because the way to beat Jackson is with physicality at the line of scrimmage, and because Lions corner Chris Houston is ineffective when he’s not physical, don’t be surprised if Houston and company try to get a jam on the Eagle receivers before dropping into their zone. This will not only disrupt the timing of the routes, but it will also disguise some of the defensive looks for Vick. You have to figure Vick will be a tad rusty in his reads, given that he hasn’t had a team game-plan specifically against him in roughly three years.

Last week, once Vick entered the game, the Packers secondary employed some of the purest zone coverages known to football.

However, the Packers remained aggressive with their front seven blitz tactics. This flustered Philly’s passing game at times, but whenever Vick was able to flee the pocket and get outside the widest defender, he found plenty of open space to eat up (hence his 103 yards rushing). The Lions can’t afford to yield those kind of running lanes.

Don’t be surprised if Detroit shadows Vick with a linebacker. Using a shadow linebacker can be expensive in coverage, but it’s not like Vick scans the field with the quickness of a Manning or a Brees. A shadowing linebacker doesn’t just provide a fulltime potential tackler against the quarterback, it also forces him to scramble outside, where the sideline can act as a 12th defender. When Vick was a Falcon, no team defended his running better than Bucs. The Bucs were a zone-based team (Tampa 2) that used their fast linebackers to shadow and force Vick outside.

The Lions used Landon Johnson and Julian Peterson as their nickel linebackers in Week 1; of the two, the versatile and athletic Peterson would make the best shadow option. In base packages, middle linebacker DeAndre Levy, who did not play in Week 1, is Detroit’s best athlete, though coaches may want Levy focused on attacking downhill.

Keeping Vick’s scrambling in check is a tall order. The Lions, with their iffy back seven personnel, will need a dominant performance from Ndamukong Suh and company just to have shot. At least the blueprint is clear.


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Posted on: August 20, 2010 9:17 pm
Edited on: August 21, 2010 8:23 am
 

Jeremy Maclin leaves with injury

Posted by Andy Benoit

Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin left early with an injury against the Bengals. Maclin took a shot while running after the catch on a third down pass underneath. He stumbled around, fumbled the ball out of bounds and, even before hitting the ground, motioned across the field to the Eagles sideline.

On first glimpse, it appears Maclin’s pain is located in the left shoulder region. There’s no word yet of the severity of the injury.

One criticism of Maclin as a rookie was that he lacked toughness and was hesitant to take on contact. In this particular game against Cincy, Maclin seems to be making a concerted effort to be physical. In doing so, he got dinged; it will be interesting to see whether this impacts his assertiveness in future games.

UPDATE: Maclin's shoulder appears to be fine. X-Rays were negative.

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Posted on: August 7, 2010 1:30 pm
 

DeSean Jackson has nothing to say

D. Jackson has not talked to reporters this year (AP). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Eagles WR DeSean Jackson hasn’t been talking to the media during training camp – unless, that is, you want to talk about his Porsche.
 
CSNPhilly.com caught up to him today after practice and asked why.

"I just don't want to talk," Jackson told the Web site. "I have nothing to talk about."

CSNPhilly politely disagrees, pointing out that Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid has discussed his disappointment in the offense so far this season. Jackson has missed some time with a back injury, but even when he’s been on the field, QB Kevin Kolb and the rest of the offense haven’t looked so good.

It probably shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, Kolb – who only started two games last season – hasn’t had much time to develop a rapport with Jackson, WR Jeremy Maclin (who's also been battling an injury during training camp) and TE Brent Celek.

If we're having this same discussion in three weeks, then, perhaps, Philadelphia might be in some trouble.

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Posted on: August 3, 2010 5:03 pm
Edited on: August 3, 2010 10:11 pm
 

Jeremy Maclin injures knee; severity unknown

Eagles budding second-year wideout Jeremy Maclin was carted off the field with a hyperextended left knee today. Jeff McClane of the Philadelphia Inquirer provided play-by-play Tweets. According to receiver Hank Baskett, Maclin’s injury “killed the mood”, prompting coaches to end practice early. Maclin needed help walking from the cart into the locker room. No word yet on the severity of the injury. If Maclin, for whatever reason, is unavailable, the Eagles would likely turn to possession receiver Jason Avant.

UPDATE: Maclin was able to walk out of the locker room under his own power. He had a sleeve over his knee and said his foot got caught in the ground.  

UPDATE II: Derrick Gunn of CSNPhilly.com reports that Maclin's MRI revealed only a bone bruise. There was no ligament or structural damage. No timetable yet for his return.

--Andy Benoit 

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Posted on: July 16, 2010 1:16 pm
Edited on: July 16, 2010 2:07 pm
 

Position rankings: wide receivers

A. Johnson makes a TD catch over Chicago's C. Tillman (Getty). Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit resume their debate, with today’s focus on wide receivers.

Andy Benoit’s top five

5. Brandon Marshall, Dolphins

4. Calvin Johnson, Lions

3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals

2. Reggie Wayne, Colts

1. Andre Johnson, Texans


I wish we could do top 10 receivers – this position is flooded with talent. A lot of times, a receivers’ success depends on the system he’s in. For example, Miles Austin, with his fluidity and speed, produces like a top five receiver in Dallas’s catch-and-run offense. But could he succeed in a downfield “power-throwing” offense like Vincent Jackson does in San Diego? Probably not.

As you can see, I like receivers with freakish athleticism and size. These five guys can dominate in any system. Shuffle Fitzgerald, Wayne and Andre Johnson in any order you want – just don’t drop Wayne from the Top 3 and tell me it’s because he plays with Peyton Manning. Wayne might be themost fundamentally-sound player in the entire NFL.

Calvin Johnson hasn’t done anything yet, but that’s only because he’s stuck in Detroit. He’s at least 125 percent as gifted as anyone on this list.

I’m willing to have just about any discussion that pertains to the best receiver in the game – just as long as you don’t try to sell me Randy Moss. As a deep threat, Moss is the best ever. As an all-around receiver (route running, blocking, reading coverages, etc.), he’s average.

Josh Katzowitz’s top five

5. Calvin Johnson, Lions

4. Wes Welker, Patriots

3. Reggie Wayne, Colts

2. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals

1. Andre Johnson, Texans


I agree with everything you said about Johnson. He’s the best WR out there today. He seemingly has it all. He runs great routes, he can make the tough catches in traffic, and he has great athleticism.

Fitzgerald has recorded 25 touchdown catches the past two years, more than any other receiver. Plus, his dad is a sportswriter – which bodes pretty well for my children. I like him just a little bit better than Wayne, who’s more experienced but not quite as athletic and who, like you said, has the benefit of catching balls from one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. But I agree with the top-three – which, truth be told, is hard to argue against.

I’ve got to go with Welker at No. 4. He has sneaky speed, he can read any defense, and his yards-after-contact numbers are extraordinary. Will he be the same receiver after his knee problems? Well, we won’t know that until the regular season begins, but for now, Welker is a top-five guy. I’m interested to hear your take on Welker, Andy. I dropped Johnson to No. 5, because he flubs too many catches.

I thought hard about putting San Diego’s (for now) Vincent Jackson on the list. He has a very high yards-per-catch average, and he’s a very good blocker. But with the three-game suspension and the fact he might hold out for much of the season, I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I also thought about Sidney Rice, but one season doesn’t make a career. Where do you stand with those guys?

Andy’s rebuttal

I have no problem with Welker being top five. The numbers are there – 346 catches for 3,368 yards over the last three seasons – and there isn’t a little thing he doesn’t do right. Welker is the sustaining element of New England’s offense. I left him off my list because he’s essentially confined to the slot.

Jackson might be the best deep threat in the NFL right now. And while I’m on numbers, I’ll mention that 58 of Jackson’s 68 receptions last season resulted in a first down. Of everyone you mentioned, Josh, Rice is the only player I never considered. He had a great ’09 campaign, but given his (albeit short) track record, I need to see him do it at least once more.

Josh, you surprised everyone by not taking a principled stand and including a “solid, scrappy (read: white)” backup receiver like Mike Furrey or Austin Collie on your list. Since this made our lists virtually identical, how about we do the top three wide receiver duos in the NFL? But let’s put a wrinkle in it: top three duos, but no member of the duos can be on our top five list (i.e. no Moss-Welker, Wayne-Garcon or Johnson-Walter). Here’s what I have:

1. Donald DriverGreg Jennings, Packers. Perfect fits for Green Bay’s quick-slanting system.

2. Vincent Jackson – Malcolm Floyd, Chargers. Their size and speed creates nightmares for defensive coordinators and allows Antonio Gates to work against safeties and linebackers.

3. DeSean JacksonJeremy Maclin, Eagles. Jackson is fast becoming the best big-play weapon in the game. Maclin, in only his second season, could soon emerge as another version of Jackson.

Josh’s final word

Jeez, Andy, you make it sound like I put backups on my top five lists. Hey, I wasn’t the one who put Chad Greenway on my 4-3 outside linebackers list. That was you.

I’ll play your game, though.

1. Driver – Jennings, Packers. You’re absolutely right about these guys, Andy. Driver has been really good for many years, and though neither of these guys are top 10 by themselves, they help make Aaron Rodgers look really good.

2. Sidney Rice – Percy Harvin, Vikings. These guys are young – 23 and 22, respectively – and with Brett Favre throwing passes their way probably for the next … oh, say … five or 10 years (psst, he’s never going to retire), the Minnesota offense will continue to be very dangerous.

3. Jackson - Floyd, Chargers. We've talked about Jackson, but Floyd was solid last year after the Chargers waived Chris Chambers. He obviously needs to score more touchdowns - he only had one last season - but his 6-foot-5 stature will continue to grab the attention of QB Philip Rivers.

Other positions: Safety | Cornerback | 3-4 Scheme Outside Linebacker | Punter  | Kicker | 4-3 Scheme Outside Linebacker | Inside Linebacker  | Defensive Tackle  | Defensive End | Offensive Tackle   | Center | Offensive Guard | Tight End )

--Josh Katzowitz and Andy Benoit

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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