Tag:Joe Flacco
Posted on: October 6, 2011 11:17 am
Edited on: October 6, 2011 11:18 pm
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Podcast: Ray Rice and Week 5 NFL preview

Posted by Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Week 5 of NFL action is coming up and we've got a pretty, pretty spicy matchup between the Steelers and Titans being featured on the mothership. If only we had a superstar NFL running back who's played against both teams to help us break it down.

Oh right, we do! Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, who's working with Sheets Energy Strips, swings by to chat about the Steelers vs. Titans matchup (he's faced both teams through the first four weeks of the season; Baltimore beat Pittsburgh in Week 1 and lost to Tennessee in Week 2), where he stands in terms of the running backs in the NFL, who the best defensive player on Baltimore is, what he thinks of Hines Ward's DUI, whether he's due for a new contract, why Joe Flacco continues to struggle in games and much, much more.

"I think the Ravens are going to do the right thing … with the contract situation, I'll leave it in their hands," Rice said.
We also break down the rest of the week, wondering whether Rex Grossman or Hue Jackson has the more insane guarantee, if Wes Welker is the best wide receiver in the NFL and how he'll fare against Darrelle Revis, whether Cam Newton will go over or under on 370 yards passing this week, and whether we'd want Ryan Fitzpatrick or Matt Ryan as our quarterback if we had one game to play

All that and much, much more -- 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 add it, add our RSS Feed.
Posted on: October 3, 2011 12:43 am
Edited on: October 3, 2011 1:36 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 4


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



1. The bandwagon rolls on
On Sunday, the mojo disappeared for the Lions and they fell 24 points behind the Cowboys in Dallas, until Tony Romo decided to drag Detroit back from a lockjob of a defeat with a pair of pick-sixes that sparked a rally in which Matthew Stafford hit Calvin Johnson for two touchdowns and the Lions stunned Dallas 34-30 at Jerry Jones' palatial estate.

There are two ways to look at this. One, Romo is a choker again (more on that in a second) and Dallas stinks. Or, two, the Lions are very much for real. I'm inclined to believe the second narrative. So is Cowboys fan LeBron James.


I'm including this mainly because I find it absolutely hysterical that Ohio native James is a Cowboys fan. I'm sure it has nothing to do with bandwagons. But I'm also including it because James is right -- the Lions do "got swag right now."

This was mentioned after Week 2, when the Lions slammed a beatdown on the Chiefs, and it makes sense to mention now.

That's primarily because the Lions are 4-0 for the first time since 1980 and became the fourth team to start a season 4-0 a year after starting the season 0-4 since 1990. (The impressive nature of that turnaround aside, what a statement on the NFL's parity, huh?)

Take it back even further, and count preseason games and the Lions are on a 12-game winning streak, and once, again, appear to develop some of this attitude from their head coach.

"I'm glad the third best wide receiver on the Cowboys is on our team," Jim Schwartz said after the game.

Naturally you'll recall that Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan had some comments about the skills of Dez Bryant and Miles Austin versus Calvin Johnson before the game.

Schwartz' comments are a straight burn, of course, but it warrants mentioning that Dez did look otherworldly earlier in the game. But Megatron did some dirty things on his two touchdowns to the Dallas defensive backs. On the first catch, he went up in triple coverage and grabbed a ball that probably never should have been a score.

And on the second -- and most important -- score, Johnson scored when he was isolated in single coverage against Terrence Newman. Based on Ryan's theory, Newman's practice against Bryant and Austin should have prepared him for a one-on-one matchup at the goalline.

Unfortunately, Megatron's the biggest freak of nature in the NFL, arguably the best wideout in the league and slicing up some well-deserved humble pie for Ryan after the Lebowski look-a-like tried to put him in man coverage.

2. Hands on Necks
Obviously the Cowboys loss is going to be classified as a chokejob. And it should -- there's no way to classify it as anything other than that, especially when Romo packaged a pair of touchdowns and mailed it the Lions way.

"The games turn, obviously, on turnovers," Romo said. "It's the most important stat in the game. That's why you protect the ball. That's my No. 1 job and I didn't do a well enough job of that today."

The weird thing about the loss is that Dallas is now 2-0 in games where they were "gritty and tough and found a way to win" and 0-2 in games where "Romo peed his pants and threw terrible picks." Or something like that.

The point is that, yes, the Cowboys choked, but it wasn't even the worst choke on Sunday. And perhaps only the third worst -- Dallas was at least playing a very dangerous team in the Lions and even if the game was at home, we've seen Detroit do this before.

There's no real excuse for Buffalo, who was leading 21-3 against the Bengals on Sunday, to lose on a last-second field goal by Mike Nugent. Sure, it was in Cincy and, sure, it was the Bills and we should have seen something coming after buying in so heavily. But losing like that to a Bengals team with a rookie quarterback is just bad news Bears.

And yet it wasn't even the most embarrassing choke of the day. The Eagles deserve some, um, credit for their inability to hold off the 49ers in a home game where they led 23-3 as late as midway through the third quarter.

The Bills and Cowboys can at least hang their respective hats on records that aren't below .500. The Eagles have no such excuse and it's becoming increasingly clear why "offseason winners" isn't always such a nice thing to say about teams in the NFL.



3. Super Bowl champs remain under the radar

Thus far, the Packers have beaten the Saints, the Panthers, the Bears and the Broncos. It's not exactly a murderer's row of great NFL teams, but it's not the four-worst teams in the league either.

And they've looked outstanding on offense, compiling a league-high 148 points en route to a 4-0 record, and giving plenty of folks justification for selecting the Packers to repeat as Super Bowl champions in 2011.

Yet ... no one wants to talk about the success they've had this year.

This is partially because of the other storylines that are permeating the NFL this season, and partially because after last season's late run, we've come to expect this out of Aaron Rodgers and his outstanding teammates.

"Trust me, we don't have it all figured out as a football team," Mike McCarthy said Sunday. "We're 4-0, but we're very in tune with what we need to improve as a team."

The biggest issue is defense, clearly. While the Packers have arguably improved their running game from last year (James Starks looks like a legit back for their system, especially when it comes to melting the clock with a lead), the defense isn't the championship-winning caliber that showed up in the playoffs last year.

Both Kyle Orton and Cam Newton posted big numbers against Green Bay, and though there were some fantastic moments from the defenses in those games, it's difficult to justify any claim that the Packers defense is better this year than it was last year.

Having said all that, this team did a pretty good job of gelling at the right time last year, and they're off to a much better start in 2011. We should all take notice.

4. Hope you sick people are happy now
2011 has been a tough go for anyone who supports Arian Foster, whether it be Texans fans, fantasy owners or just, you now, nice people who care about other humans.

Fortunately, those people got some good karmic returns for their Foster love on Sunday, as he and the Texans took some punches from the Steelers and punched right back, eventually beating Pittsburgh 17-10 on Sunday afternoon. As my man Mike Freeman points out, everything about the win at Reliant Stadium on Sunday goes against the typical stereotype of Texans football.

More on that in a second, but first, Foster. When Gary Kubiak said he was going to bring Foster back against the Steelers, I thought he was insane. After all, the Steelers are (well, were) a top-10 rushing defense.

But Foster looked fantastic. He broke long runs, he showed tremendous burst through holes, when he got around the corner he was able to cut back upfield and pick up big yards and in general he looked like the 2010 version of himself.

"I go into every contest thinking that I'm the go-to guy," Foster said. "When the flow of the game starts going, we need certain things, and you've got to be there for your team."

Hamstrings are tricky, of course, and there's no guarantee that Foster's going to roll to another rushing title or anything. Plus, the Texans offense sputtered a bit (OK, a lot) after Andre Johnson left with a hamstring injury that really looked like a knee injury in the second quarter and that could be problematic going forward.

But at least for now, there's reason to think that the Texans offense can hop back up on Foster's back and ride him to a division title.



5. Sunday night monstrosity
The Ravens opened up on fire to begin the Sunday night game against the Jets, jumping out to a 27-7 lead before eventually winning handily. But, um, well, you see ... that was ugly.

Real ugly -- Joe Flacco limped his way to a 10 for 31 performance that generated 163 passing yards and an interception.

It would have been the ugliest performance on the field, but Mark Sanchez took full advantage of Nick Mangold's absence, and fumbled four times, three of which were lost, two of which were taken to the house by Ravens defenders and also threw a pick-six.

Things got so bad that, at one point, Rex Ryan called a timeout just to scream at the officials. It actually seemed to work, or it at least confused the Ravens and Cam Cameron, who took a 20-point lead with just a few minutes remaining in the second quarter and desperately tried to let the Jets back in the game.

That didn't matter, but it didn't make the performance of Sanchez, Flacco and their respective teams any worse or weirder. There were five defensive and special teams touchdowns in total during the game, most in NFL history and Sanchez' final pass (he finished 11 of 35, ugh) went off the heel of a defender.

What perplexes me isn't the Jets struggling, because, frankly, they were kind of due to regress a bit. I'm sure they'll start getting better, and they might start stopping the run (although I'm sure Cameron won't figure that out!) and running the ball better. They almost always do, just in time to claw their way into the playoffs.

The bigger concern is how the Ravens came out in Week 4, continuing the metronome-like performance for Flacco through a few weeks. At times (against the Steelers and the Rams) he's looked like an elite-level quarterback. And at others (Sunday and against the Titans), he's looked absolutely lost.

If he wants to truly "make the jump," he's going to need to find some consistency.

6. Goin' out east
There was no shortage of different predictions for the team that would win the NFC West. Well, except for the Seahawks. No one predicted that. The typical favorites were the Rams and Cardinals, mainly because of their quarterback play.

The 49ers should have gotten more love, but Alex Smith held them back, and Jim Harbaugh, in his first stop as an NFL head coach, is showing exactly why. His team managed to storm back against the Eagles on Sunday and move into first place in their division, with a firm command of the typically crappy NFC West.

San Francisco's 3-1, the Rams are 0-4 and the Seahawks and Cardinals are 1-3.

None of the teams out there have, unsurprisingly, looked very good. And the 49ers are the only squad with a positive point differential, which should tell you just how bad this division is. Again. But maybe Harbaugh is the difference -- look no further than his decision to house his team in Ohio for half a week in between their Week 3 game against the Bengals and Sunday's win in Philadelphia.

"Thanks Youngstown, you've been good to us," Harbaugh said in deference to Ohio. "That's as good a win as I can ever remember being a part of. I'm really proud of our players. They never flinched in a tough environment here, and there was no moment or circumstance that made them nervous in this ballgame. We kept fighting, made adjustments -- a great team victory for us."

Frank Gore gashed the Eagles for 127 yards, and Alex Smith played pretty inspired football, going 13 of 17 for 201 yards and two touchdowns in just the second half.

It's a surprising turnaround for a surprising team that stunk the joint out last year. Given the dearth of talent for Seattle, Arizona's inability to close out, and St. Louis' rough schedule ahead, Harbaugh might have this team -- surprisingly -- poised to take over their division.

7. Remember the Titans

Unless Tennessee has something to say about that anyway -- Mike Munchak picked up his third-career win on Sunday afternoon as the Titans vaulted themselves into a first-place tie with Houston in the AFC South

On The NFL Today, Charley Casserly mentioned that Matt Hasselbeck was drawn to Tennessee because of two things: Munchak's commitment to protecting the quarterback with strong line play, and Munchak's commitment to protecting the quarterback's ability to throw deep by leaving in more blockers.

This has paid tremendous dividends for Hasselbeck, who's eighth in the NFL in passing yards, sixth in passing touchdowns, third in yards per pass and first in pass plays of 40-plus yards.

"We thought he had a lot left in the tank from watching him in the playoffs last year," Munchak said. "We didn't bring him here to retire quietly. We brought him here to do exactly what he's been doing."

And he's casually doing all of this while playing for a team that doesn't have a viable No. 1 wide receiver because of Kenny Britt's season-ending injury last week.

Chris Johnson finally managed to get going a little bit in the Week 4 win over Cleveland, and provided the Hasselbeck can stay healthy (which is somewhat of a stretch, but possible), the Titans might be the surprise playoff team that no one's talking about.



8. Pay the man!
Just like 2010, Mike Martz refused to run the ball until the Bears met up with the Panthers early in the season. And just like 2010, Martz got enough criticism for his playcalling that he ran the ball a ton against Carolina. And just like 2010, Matt Forte went HAM.

Last year it was 166 rushing yards on 22 carries with two touchdowns. This year it was a career-high 205 rushing yards on 25 carries and a touchdown in the Bears 34-29 win.

This is interesting for a couple of reasons. One, the Bears are 9-0 when Forte rushes for 100 yards or more. Yet ... they don't like to run. Two, the Panthers defense is absolutely terrible. I could put up a hundo on them, and it shouldn't be too huge of a shock to see him go key largo against Carolina's beat-up defense.

That being said ... three, Forte wants a new contract, has wanted a new contract but can't get the Bears to even talk to him about getting more money.

The result, predictably, is a running back who appears to be playing with a great deal of intensity and a desire to be highly productive. Of course, for all of Forte's success against the Panthers, there wasn't that much to love about the way Chicago played. Just don't tell Lovie Smith that.

"We’re not apologizing at all about this win," Smith said. "We feel really good about it."

They shouldn't, even if this year suddenly looks like last year in terms of figuring out to run the ball and not get Jay Cutler killed. Cam Newton did a lot of damage to the Bears defense, though he made some rookie mistakes, and the Panthers were able to run pretty easily on Chicago.

Anyone can score on the Panthers, and do it at will, given the lack of depth they have on the defensive side of the ball right now. That being said, it sure does seem like the Bears might have saved themselves some money if they'd gotten Forte some cash before the season rather than waiting.

As my college football colleague Tom Fornelli likes to say, "Pay the man, Chicago."

9. Review Controversy
Could the NFL's current replay system be any less controversial? As you likely know, all scoring plays are reviewed by a booth official. That sounds simple, but it's not at all -- we've already had plenty of problems with plays that seemed like obvious needs for reviews that weren't scrutinized further by the officials.

Sunday, we saw two more examples. First, there an issue in the Chiefs and Vikings game.

With 5:01 remaining, Michael Jenkins caught a one-yard touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb. It appeared, pretty clearly, that he only got one foot inbounds. Fox didn't show any replays of the catch, and the officials at the game never reviewed it. Ultimately, it didn't matter, because the Vikings lost.

But it could have mattered and there wasn't anything Todd Haley or the Chiefs could do to get the play looked at. If Haley had thrown a challenge flag, he'd have been flagged for a delay of game penalty.

Another less controversial instance occurred during the Packers-Broncos game when Aaron Rodgers rushed for his second touchdown of the day on a third down. Rodgers was ruled down at the one-yard line, though replays showed he broke the plane of the goal line.

Mike McCarthy challenged and the Packers were given a touchdown that locked in their win against Denver. Here's the problem: "a scoring play" is only defined as a play in which the officials subjectively rule that a touchdown has happened. If that subjective ruling occurs, then the play is automatically reviewed.

If it doesn't happen, coaches are required to use a challenge.

I realize that the league can't challenge every single play that gets close to the end zone, but it seems to me that these two plays aren't that different. Something was botched by the refs and the booth wasn't available to make sure the right call was locked in. Ironically, in the non touchdown scenario, the coach has more freedom to help out his team with a red flag.

Even if the booth doesn't believe that a call should be looked at by the ref -- and in a close game like that, who's hurt by double-checking? -- there should be an option for a coach to take a stab at having a call overturned as well, if he's really adamant about what happened.

And, of course, there's the whole mess that went down in Arizona with Victor Cruz giving himself up and/or pulling the old stumble-->fumble disaster combo.

That actually seems like it was interpreted correctly, as it relates to the rule book.

"Official shall declare ball dead when a runner declares himself down by falling to ground or kneeling and making no effort to advance," reads Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1(e) of the NFL Rule Book.

In other words, it's a subjective call by the guys who look like zebras. If they believe Cruz gave himself up, then he gave himself up and that's the end of it.

10. Maybe they ARE the NFL's Heat

Whenever something good or bad happens in sports, reporters inevitably ask athletes how they feel. No, I don't know why it happens all the time either, but it rarely produces a good result.

It got a decent reaction out of Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on Sunday, though, as he expressed a high level of frustration at the fact that the Eagles just choked away a huge lead against the 49ers -- at home, no less -- that eventually led to a 24-23 loss to San Francisco.

"Do I really have to explain how I feel right now sitting here at 1-3?" Vick asked. "It's frustrating. It's tough. I can't put that in words. I take sole responsibility. Maybe it's a lot of things I can do better. And I gotta figure it out.

"It's frustrating. I'm not going to continue to use that word, but, yeah, it's tough."


That's the thing with the Eagles, though. It's not all Vick's fault.

Is some of it? Sure, of course. But he was 30 of 46 for 416 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. A bigger problem is that he led the team in rushing, with 75 yards on eight carries. When you have a weapon like LeSean McCoy, it seems silly not to utilize him more.

Then again, the lack of a good push from the offensive line causes that too.

And when you can't stop other teams from running the ball, none of it really matters. Frank Gore gashed the Eagles for 127 yards on just 15 carries and Kendall Hunter picked up 38 on nine.

The Eagles might have some really, really talented players at a couple positions, but they're also really, really weak at other positions, and their depth just isn't that impressive at all.

So, come to think of it, maybe they're more like the Miami Heat than any of us could have ever known.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... What the hell was Ronnie Brown thinking? He's not even a quarterback, so trying to throw the ball while being tackled at the goal line doesn't even work as a random logical excuse.
... Johnathan Joseph had two -- TWO! -- touchdowns nullified by stupid penalties by the Texans. First there was the ridiculous block in the back by Danieal Manning when Joseph took a blocked punt to the house to end the half. And then there was the pick six he grabbed to close out the game that was negated by a J.J. Watt penalty. Welcome to Houston!
... Speaking of picks, Vince Wilfork now has two on the season after his second career INT against the Raiders.
... Just for trolling purposes: Nnamdi Asomugha only has one interception on the year.
... In one of the more insane things ever, Rex Ryan used a first-half timeout on Sunday night just to yell at the officials.

Worth 1,000 Words



Jim Irsay Pop-Culture Referencing Tweet That's Sure to Drive Colts Fans Insane of the Week
"I woke up in a So Ho doorway ... a policeman knew my name."

"Who Are You" is actually a pretty good thing to ask the Colts quarterback, no?

GIF O' THE WEEK



Hot Seat Tracker
  • Tony Sparano: It would almost be an upset if he made it past the bye at this point.
  • Jack Del Rio: Very impressive that JDR figured out a way to make Maurice Jones-Drew completely ineffective during the first half of a game that was pretty closer during the first half.
  • Leslie Frazier: It might only be his first year, but looking terrible against a terrible Chiefs team ain't helping his cause. 
  • Todd Haley: Can Minnesota visit every weekend?
  • Juan Castillo: New guy for the Eagles, their defense is a leaky ship and someone needs to take the fall.
Chasing Andrew Luck (All odds mine)
We have a new entrant in the usual suspects who are searching for the answer to their franchise woes -- the St. Louis Rams! Heretofore unlisted in this space, the Rams are 0-4 and now squarely in the hunt for Luck, even though they could get to 0-7 and somehow still win their division, based on how easy their schedule is.

What I find fascinating about this is that the Rams and Vikings, my two current faves for Luck, both drafted a "franchise quarterback" in the past two years. Would the Rams consider acquiring Luck if they got the No. 1 overall pick again? Or is Sam Bradford just that much better? Would both they and the Vikings just absolutely trade the pick to whoever was desperate enough for Luck? Because I'm not so sure.

Vikings (2:1) -- Can't imagine they actually feel like Christian Ponder's better than Luck. Right?
Dolphins (2:1) -- As AJB points out below, Miami definitely deserves inclusion here. My bust. Was too worried about Sparano's job.
Rams (3:1) -- So spicy if they get it.
Colts (3:1) -- They'd be the favorites if/when they lose to Tampa on Monday.
Broncos (4:1) -- Stanford, everyone!
Panthers (5:1) -- Fairly confident that the Panthers would acquire some assets for that pick.
Eagles (10:1) -- Andy Reid does love quarterbacks ...

MVP Watch
Stafford, my leader up to this point, did some nice things Sunday. But after Rodgers did the dirty things -- six touchdowns! -- that he did to Denver and helped propel the Packers to 4-0, it's hard not to sit up and take notice and admit that right now he's the best quarterback in the NFL.
Posted on: September 29, 2011 5:41 pm
Edited on: September 29, 2011 10:47 pm
 

Vick may not have beef but do Flacco and Big Ben?

Vick may not have a gripe with the refs, but Flacco and Roethlisberger do. (US PRESSWIRE/Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Mike Pereira, the former NFL VP of Officiating and current FOXSports.com analyst, didn't take kindly to Michael Vick's comments earlier this week suggesting that officials were quick to protect some quarterbacks more than others.

Of course, Vick, the Eagles QB, made these observations shortly after getting roughed up by the Giants. A day later, he admitted that "I was kind of out of character and being too candid in that aspect. Ultimately, I have respect for the referees and their decision to make calls. You won't hear me complaining about it no more."

During a radio appearance Monday, Pereira called Vick's initial remarks "ridiculous," adding that "[I]t took me back to my job in New York when I worked for the league, and it was a constant complaint by the Eagles, whether it was McNabb at quarterback or whether it was Vick. They clearly complained more than any other team.”

Well, three days later and Pereira's still smarting -- he devoted an entire column to disproving that officials play favorites.

Regarding the myth that "The NFL protects its big-name quarterbacks," Pereira writes: 

"Well, I guess you are right — if you feel that the top three QBs in the league are Jason Campbell, Jay Cutler and Colt McCoy. Statistics from the 2010 season, combined with the first three weeks of the 2011 season, show that the Raiders’ Campbell ranked No. 1 in drawing roughing the passer penalties, getting 1.46 for every 100 passes. The Bears’ Cutler drew 1.28 and Cleveland's McCoy 1.20. Oh, and by the way, next in line was the PanthersJimmy Clausen at 1.0."


Patriots vs. Raiders, Panthers vs. Bears, Steelers vs. Texans, plus three more of the must-see games for Week Four. Get predictions from the expert hosts of Inside the NFL.

We don't recall Vick specifically stating that big-name quarterbacks got special treatment, but regarding the list above, the reason Campbell, Cutler and McCoy led the league in drawing rougher-the-passer penalties last season is because they got hit more than most other quarterbacks. Campbell and Cutler are known to hold the ball a long time and McCoy was a rookie trying to decipher NFL defenses on the fly. Oh, and the Raiders, Bears and Browns were among the league's worst pass-blocking teams. According to FootballOutsiders.com, Oakland ranked 26th in adjusted sack rate (defined as "sacks per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance, and opponent"), Chicago was 32nd and Cleveland was 23rd. That's an important distinction Pereira somehow overlooked.

Pereira continues: "What about Tom Brady and Peyton Manning? Let me look down the list, although it might take me a while since they both are way down there. Brady does get more protection than Manning, that’s for sure. Brady has drawn 0.16 roughing the passer calls per 100 attempts compared to 0.15 for Manning. That, for Brady, is one call in every 625 pass attempts, while for Manning it is one call for every 679 attempts."

Pereira's right: Brady and Manning rarely benefit from roughing the passer penalties. There's a simple explanation, too: they're the beneficiaries of good offensive lines and they, along with Drew Brees, get rid of the ball quicker than anybody else in the league. Adjusted sack rate bears this out: In 2010, the Colts were first, the Patriots were sixth. Again, this is probably worth mentioning.

But what about the quarterbacks who play behind atrocious o-lines but also rarely get roughing-the-passer calls? Those are the guys who might have legitimate beefs with the officials, right? 

Joe Flacco
2010 Ravens adjusted sack rate: 25th
Roughing-the-passer-calls per 100 pass attempts: 0.00

David Garrard
2010 Jaguars adjusted sack rate: 24th
Roughing-the-passer-calls per 100 pass attempts: 0.00

Ben Roethlisberger
2010 Steelers adjusted sack rate: 29th
Roughing-the-passer-calls per 100 pass attempts: 0.20

Alex Smith
2010 49ers adjusted sack rate: 30th
Roughing-the-passer-calls per 100 pass attempts: 0.48

While Vick, on average, might get the calls other quarterbacks get, Flacco, Roethlisberger and Smith would be right to wonder why they don't.

Finally, something the Ravens and Steelers can agree on.

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Posted on: September 28, 2011 3:56 pm
Edited on: October 1, 2011 11:49 am
 

Film Room: Ravens vs. Jets preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit



Ever since Rex Ryan left Baltimore to become New York’s head coach, we’ve viewed these two teams as mirror images of one another – and understandably so. Both have young quarterbacks. Both have running backs entering their primes who are backed up by a sage veteran. Both feature an aggressive and deceptive 3-4 defensive scheme. And both talk abundant trash even though their respective rivals – the Patriots and Steelers – have all the rings.

Let’s take a closer look at these teams’ similarities.

1. Young quarterbacks
Something that stood out in Week 3 was how the Ravens and Jets heavily utilized play-action early on, but for different reasons.

The Ravens referred to it to allow time for downfield routes to unfold. They wanted to take advantage of a depleted Rams secondary that was starting undrafted second-year nobody Darian Stewart at safety and disintegrating Al Harris at nickel corner outside. (They succeeded, by the way).

The Jets referred to play action because they wanted to prolong the time that Raiders’ defensive backs had to hold up in man coverage. They also wanted to coax the Raider linebackers into running out of position. (They succeeded, but only in the first half.)

Same offensive tactic, but with vastly different inspirations. The Ravens were trying to showcase their young quarterback, while the Jets were trying to simply make life easier for theirs (nothing wrong with that). This makes sense. Flacco has been around a year longer than Sanchez and is clearly a year ahead of him development-wise. He has a stronger arm and, as of late, more refined tools. He has really improved his pocket movement, becoming more consistent in resetting his feet before he throws.

The Jets are working with Sanchez in this realm. Entering this season, the USC star had a habit of bringing the ball down while eluding rushers in the pocket. This compelled him to reset both his feet AND throwing mechanics, which is too slow of a motion for the NFL.

For what it’s worth, don’t expect such a heavy dose of play-action in this game. Both defenses have savvy linebackers and are too likely to blitz. Instead, the key will be which young quarterback does the best job at diagnosing coverages and pass-rushing attacks prior to the snap.


2. The running backs
Let’s get one thing clear: Ray Rice is a better football player than Shonn Greene. It’s not even close. If Rice were a Friday night, Greene would be, at best, a Wednesday afternoon. Rice runs with superb balance and strength, and his lateral agility is second to none (especially when he gets to the second level). What’s more, he’s a demon in the passing game, both as a receiver and blocker.

Greene, on the other hand, has been somewhat disappointing. He sits out most passing downs and has 1,440 yards rushing…in 32 career games. One issue is Greene’s more of a momentum runner than explosive runner. He excels on sweeps because those runs naturally allow him to hit the line of scrimmage going downhill. But sweeps don’t work against elite outside linebackers (like, say, Terrell Suggs).

Between the tackles, Greene’s vision and timing are very average. That’s why the Jets made LaDainian Tomlinson a prominent part of their offense last season. Tomlinson is off to a fantastic start as a receiving back this season (12 catches for 196 yards and a touchdown), but that’s in part because he knows how to outwit pass defending linebackers. On film, it’s clear L.T. has lost a lot of his speed and quickness. If the Jets are to go anywhere in 2011, they’ll have to ride Greene.

Same goes for the Ravens and Rice. Rice’s production is not a problem, though the Ravens were wise to bring in a supporting No. 2 back like Ricky Williams.

3. The receivers
Derrick Mason is the X-factor. He was Baltimore’s possession target last year and is now filling that role from the slot in New York. The crafty 15-year veteran is one of the few players in the league who does not need to get separation in order to be open.

Plaxico Burress is another one of those players. He’s been, for the most part, his same old self this season (which is remarkable when you really think about it). His matchup Sunday night against Carry Williams will be worth watching. If you asked God to make a cornerback specifically for defending Burress, you might get Williams. He’s only 6’1”, 185, but long and upright, he plays much bigger than that. He has an intriguing combination of physicality and change-of-direction ability, and if asked to play man coverage, he won’t be shy about using trail position technique (which will compel Burress to use his “speed” more than his strength).

It will be interesting to see what the Jets do with Darrelle Revis. The likely assignment will be Anquan Boldin, though last week, rookie Torrey Smith turned in a jaw-dropping three-touchdown first quarter that had the Rams redirecting their safety help concepts. Smith gets faster at the end of his routes, which is something all great deep threats do. Antonio Cromartie has the speed to run with him, so expect the Jets to trust that matchup. But expect the Ravens to readily go after it.

The weak link of both cornerbacking groups happens to be an ex-Boise State Bronco: Chris Carr for the Ravens and Kyle Wilson for the Jets. If it comes down to these ancillary matchups, the Jets have the overall advantage. Mason, their No. 3, is as reliable as they come. For the Ravens, newcomer Lee Evans (who now figures to be the No. 3 receiver) has not established any sort of a rhythm with Flacco.

4. The defensive lines
The Jets have a unique run-stopping approach with their three-man defensive line. Instead of asking their downlinemen to occupy blockers and fill two gaps, the Jets ask them to focus on physically manhandling the guy in front of them. The idea is this creates congestion through penetration and also defines the inside linebackers’ path to the ball (David Harris and Bart Scott are tasked with reading the defensive linemen’s action and attacking in the opposite direction that it’s drifting. More on that in the next section.)

The Jets are the only 3-4 team in the NFL that plays the run this way.

This unique approach is why general manager Mike Tannenbaum drafted a fist-fighter like Muhammad Wilkerson in the first round. Tannenbaum would probably give his right eye for a chance to have a guy like Haloti Ngata. The Ravens 335-pound defensive end/nose tackle is the most destructive front line force in the NFL today.

Ngata has the power of a tug boat and mobility of a clipper. Truly, he moves like a linebacker. Expect him to spend most of his time at defensive end this season, as last year’s second-round pick, Terrence Cody, has looked great at nose tackle.



5. The inside linebackers
These are the entertainers – the guys NBC cameras will fixate on Sunday night. The sagacious Ray Lewis and loquacious Bart Scott. Both back up their personas. Lewis no longer has elite sideline-to-sideline speed, but he compensates with instincts, ferocity and fundamentals.

He was a demon attacking Rams lead-blockers last week. The Ravens’ defensive style will always allow Lewis to be productive, as so much of their run approach is predicated on his teammates occupying blockers.

Scott, who is as aggressive downhill as any linebacker in the league, has both an easier and tougher job than Lewis. It’s easier in that he has a stellar running mate in David Harris. It’s tougher in that, as mentioned earlier, he must read the defensive linemen’s battles in front of him and pursue the ball accordingly.

The reason other 3-4 defenses don’t take this type of approach is it requires great intelligence and pursuit skills from both inside linebackers. Most defenses don’t have an inside combination like Scott and Harris.

So who will win? Check our expert picks for all Week 4 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: September 26, 2011 11:44 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 9:47 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 3

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. Podcast is coming tomorrow -- this week's edition of SSP is brought to you in tardy fashion by the Ford Fusion that hauled your writer home at 3:00 a.m. ET Sunday.

Group exercises are, for the most part, ridiculous. I trust you! You trust me! How groundbreaking.  

But play along for 30 seconds and repeat after me: "the Bills and Lions are undefeated."

Haha, but no seriously. This is happening. The idea that bad NFL teams become good and the idea that good NFL teams become bad isn't shocking. It shouldn't be. It won't ever be absolutely mind-blowing, because this is what happens in today's NFL -- some teams get good, some teams get bad and some teams just happen to become the first team in NFL history to mount consecutive comebacks of 18 or more points.

Parity is what drives this league. No one doubts that, no one thinks that's weird, and no one should. There'll be some regression to the mean, and it'll probably happen to the really good teams who are only really good through a few weeks. When it does, please don't act like it's any weirder than what went down in a b-a-n-a-n-a-s Week 3 of NFL action.

1. Young guns
Two of the top three passers from Sunday's action -- Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford -- are excellent examples of the young crop of quarterbacks that are blossoming early in 2011.

Questions surrounded both Flacco (Can he beat the Steelers?) and Stafford (Can he stay healthy?) and, three weeks into the year, they're answering their critics. Flacco struggled against the Titans in Week 2, but the Ravens did a fantastic job of bouncing back from a subpar Week 2 to point out to everyone that they're elite.

I watched the games Sunday with my NBA counterpart, Matt Moore (yes, the link's ironic, thanks, I know), and at halftime of the Vikings early beatdown of Detroit, he pointed out that the Lions bandwagon was derailing.

He was correct at the time, but the Lions stormed back on the strength of Stafford's arm, winning in overtime to move to a surprising 3-0.

If Stafford stays healthy and Flacco keeps developing like he has thus far this year, we're going to be re-ordering the list of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and both these guys will be joining the upper echelon sooner, rather than later.

Look, the list of truly "elite" quarterbacks will continue to feature the names you know: Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning.

Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger are also there, but we're seeing a new "generation" of quarterbacks starting to come into their own, as guys like Flacco, Stafford and other recently-drafted quarterbacks really start to generate some press.

And it's happening in a year when passing attacks are at an all-time high, which is only going to make the game better.

2. What do you know about pressure, Tom?

There's an ample number of awesome young quarterbacks in the NFL right now, but two very familiar names -- Brady and Brees -- are tops in the league when it comes to passing. Brady in particular is lobbing up some pretty ridiculous numbers right now; he leads the league in passing yards with 1,327, the most by a quarterback through three weeks in NFL history.

Only 22 people in the history of football have thrown for more than 4,500 yards in a single NFL season. 14 of those have happened in the past 10 years. (As we've noted, it's a passing league.)

So can Brady break Marino's record? Well, yes, he most certainly can. Remember that Marino, during his record-setting season, didn't surpass 400 passing yards in a single game until Week 5.

He's on pace for a stupid 7,077 yards for the season, although we have to assume he'll regress off that pace a little bit.

Just for fun, though, let's imagine Brady completes his schedule by passing for the exact same number of yards that his remaining opponents have allowed per game through three weeks. (Yes, there are several problems with this calculation, but just play along.)

Based on the remaining 13 games and the teams' respective yards per game allowed via the pass, Brady would pile up another 3,072 yards, which would give him a total of 4,399 yards for the season.

Conversely, Brady "only" needs to average another 289 yards per game to match Marino's record from 1984. That's not easy, per se, but it's certainly possible. And given how badly New England's own pass defense has been this season -- they're dead last in yards allowed -- it may be required too.

3. Hit the Snooze Button

Look, this is a world where Eli Manning is criminally undervalued -- the man referred to himself as "elite," tried to prop up his game, and everyone wanted to trot him out to the guillotine. No big deal though, you guys, because Eli doesn't need to show up and throw beautiful passes to Brandon Jacobs for 40-yard touchdowns. (Pardon the interruption, but FTC rules require that I write "OH GOD" in big letters again at this juncture so you'll be aware that the Apocalypse is coming soon to a city near you, by the way.)

The Giants are, somehow, not terrible. And while I might be [metaphorically] drunk on Tom Coughlin's team having watched them play in a Giants bar, it's pretty damn hard not to be impressed with what they've done this year. Last week's win over St. Louis was the single-worst blowout victory I've ever witnessed and, no, that is not a compliment.

This Sunday was an entirely different ballgame. Despite the face that actually fielding a defensive roster should be an impossibility, the Giants showed up to Philadelphia, generated a ton of pressure on Michael Vick, and barnstormed their hated division rival en route to a win that gives the NFC East more of a jostle than a trip to Sterling Archer's tumbler.

Let's move past the Giants, though, because they're the same thing that we knew they were, we just undervalued the properties they own. The Eagles are in much worse trouble than New York, simply because everyone assumed that if you have a really talented but sometimes injured quarterback and combine him with a marquee-worthy defense that secretly sucks up the middle, you don't have to worry about the rest of your problems.

Then the season happened, and the Eagles, as it turns out, have a terrible offensive line and a pretty bad combination of linebackers and safeties. Vince Young's belief that this is the "Dream Team" was fun to mock in the offseason, but it's downright comical at this stage.

Vick and Nnamdi Asomugha drew the headlines in the offseason, and DeSean Jackson plus LeSean McCoy make any team a viable threat to win any week just based on offensive explosiveness. But just like the Miami Heat, the Philadelphia Eagles offseason signings might have masked some serious positional-skill issues that will only become more exacerbated when depth starts creeping in.



4. A Hue-gh Win
The only way that the weird scene of a rookie Raiders coach dominating a third-year, Super Bowl-guaranteeing guy is if, well, the Raiders won. And they did. And people predicted it -- this actually happened. The absolutely weirdest thing is that it somehow managed to go Hue Jackson's way, as opposed to Rex Ryan's.

With a few minutes left in the fourth quarter, Mark Sanchez threw a touchdown pass and in classic New York-style, Derek Jeter-fashion and the Jets shortened the lead to seven points. It had all the stink of a Ryan win, which is, frankly, a compliment. You can't lose well in the NFL -- just ask Cam Newton! -- and people will question your every move. But if you win and you're not that good at it, it's OK.

Jackson's got Oakland doing some fun, funky things on offense right now, as if Darren McFadden's pump-faking a throw nine yards in front of the line of scrimmage while running an option end-around of sorts doesn't make that obvious.

He's an aggressive attacker, and can do creative things with all the speed that the Raiders have drafted in recent years, but Jackson also knows that using Oakland's physicality and letting McFadden do what McFadden does best -- pile up yardage by the ton -- is how Oakland can remain a viable playoff contender all season long.

5. Ponder This
Are the Vikings that bad or are the Lions that good? The answer is likely the second one, but the Vikings aren't that bad, and it's not fair to say that just because they choked away a trio of halftime leads.

Here's the thing that people will miss -- the Vikings are a not good team in the middle of a rebuilding project they don't know about.

There are problems with the Vikings. Adrian Peterson is an epic talent somehow surrounded by an aging cast parading as a group of guys that are, in the NFL environment, "making a last run." The truth of the matter is that Peterson is the definition of sublime when it comes to running backs, and the rest of the Vikings just aren't that good.

On the bright side, at least they didn't do the double disservice of trading up for a quarterback AND trading further picks for a veteran who is, despite his reputation, quite clearly a one-year rental.

Which is where things get problematic -- I asked Rich Gannon last week if he thought the success of Newton and Dalton cranked up the pressure on teams like the Vikings, who drafted Christian Ponder this past year, to play their rookie.

"I don't think so," Gannon said. "I don't think the plan in Minnesota will change unless they continue to lose and all of a sudden that whole process will be expedited. I think there's more pressure now, certainly moreso now than there was 10 years ago to develop that position and have a guy play right away and be successful. Days of what they did even with Aaron Rodgers, I don't know if we're going to see as much as that. I think they're paying these guys so much money that it's like, let's get these guys on the field.

"The problem is they're not always ready to play."

And that might be the case with Ponder in Minnesota, especially if he looks as overwhelmed as he did during the preseason. On the other hand, if Ponder steps in and looks even remotely good after/if this season's lost for Minnesota, it'll do wonders for the scrutiny on Leslie Frazier.

6. What about the Packers?
Detroit won, so we shouldn't discount them for the sake of chatting about the Vikings. But the real NFC North story is the Packers, who dominated the Bears on Sunday, winning by double digits against their biggest rival for the first time in three years.

Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes, all to Jermichael Finley, and this is precisely why everyone should be very scared of Green Bay again in 2011.

Finley is an absolute terror who is nearly impossible to defend near the goal line and, really, anywhere else on the field. The Packers won the Super Bowl without him, of course, and if he's healthy this year, Green Bay's offense is only going to be more difficult to defend than it was in 2010.

What's interesting is how Rodgers and Mike McCarthy have done a fantastic job of making sure that Greg Jennings and the other wide receivers stay incorporated, though Finley's obviously a much bigger part of the passing game than he was last year.

Jenning really struggled early on in 2010 and only blew up after Finley went down (and after he'd made mention he wasn't thrilled with how many targets he was getting). The transition to the 2011 version of the offense featuring Finley's been much more seamless, and that's reason to fear the Packers again this season.

They're the defending Super Bowl champion and arguably the best team in the NFL right now, and yet, why aren't we talking about them much?

7. Not running away from anyone now
There's very little sympathy for Kenny Britt around the NFL. Dude racked up more tickets this summer than "my friend" at college piled up.

Aside from that clown's reputation, it's important to note that when stupid people do stupid things a stupid amount of time, we take notice. Britt drew tons of attention this summer for his off-field antics, and he should have. Somehow he skated out of a suspension, but karma appears to rolled his way, as he'll likely miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL and MCL.

Britt shredded his knee on a screen pass, fumbled the ball, and carted off the field in a Week 3 win against the Broncos.

The worst part about this saga is that Britt somehow had the "Dwayne Bowe circa 2010" look about him, making plays, looking like a top NFL wide receiver, and generally wrecking the same havoc on the NFL that he wrecked on the legal system this summer.

Without him, the Titans offensive gameplan is an entirely different ballgame, especially considering that the corpse of Chris Johnson can't do a whole lot without providing more than three yards a carry. Look, Matt Hasslebeck deserves tons of praise for doing what he's done with what he's had to do while, um, doing what he do.

That being said, this is a Titans team that's begging to lose it's offensive identity in 2011. The biggest curiosity they face isn't so much "how the hell are the 2-1?" so much as it's "how they hell are they scoring points at a pace to make them less terrible than the Chiefs?"

Between the two questions, one is substantially better, and one question -- hint: it's about Kansas City -- is one you don't want everyone asking about your team. Yet Tennessee continues to survive. Maybe that's the way Mike Munchak's regime will win, and that's fine.

But expecting an exact repeat of Jeff Fisher's reign just because Munchak worked for Fisher but didn't necessarily retain all the offensive firepower seems like a stretch.

8. The Camwagon
As you probably know by now, when the word "Cam" gets dropped, it's time for some bragging. Well kudos first go to me for predicting that Cam Newton wouldn't have the monster game everyone expected when he beat -- yes, Cam won! -- the Jaguars on Sunday.

Before you strain your elbow giving some much-deserved pats, though, you should know that I have a weather app on my iPhone.

Speaking of weather, if someone tells you that Newton won a game, make sure you point out that he did it in the most terrible fashion ever. The Panthers might have come out victorious, sure, but did he throw for 400 yards? And was there a double rainbow? No sir there was not.

Ergo, the only answer is that Cam is absolutely terrible at controlling the weather and therefore not a winner. This is actually a thing that someone at your office will probably try and say.

Here's the truth though: Newton was really bad on Sunday, horribly inaccurate with his passes and very much looking like a rookie. The Panthers won 16-10, but they should have won 60-10, even with the weather. Blaine Gabbert, in his first career start, gifted Carolina a safety in his first career drive, and the Panthers somehow never managed to capitalize the opportunity.

Then all of a sudden there was a monsoon in Charlotte, the exhibition matchup became a legitimate great game and Newton was in danger of "not being able to step up." Or something. Everyone will find an excuse. Know this, though -- the Jaguars are a sneakily decent-sounding 1-2 and they're a terrible team. This is despite the career-high 185 yards (through the first two weeks anyway) that Maurice Jones-Drew has compiled.

Another nice day from MJD and a start from Gabbert masked what should have been one really team blowing out another much worse team. Jack Del Rio, this last sentence is for you, sir.

9. Just Wing It
Enjoy saying this now, because there's a strong chance you'll never say it again: "The Bills nearly left too much time on the clock when they scored." Fred Jackson streaked for the end zone to put Buffalo up a touchdown (Again! Against the Patriots!) and give Tom Brady a shot at what Tom Brady does.
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Instead, instant replay ruled Jackson down, the Bills got the ball just shy of the Patriots end zone, and were able to melt the clock down before kicking a game-winning field goal. The really wonked out thing here is that the scoring replay change was perfect for Buffalo.

We've watched enough football to know what happens if you hand this Brady character the pigskin with two minutes remaining and down a few points, right? Watching Brady eviscerate a pass defense en route to a comeback win is still exciting and thrilling and something everyone should do before they die, but it's borderline cliche.

Instead, the Bills flipped the narrative on us, won the damn game and are the leaders at the two-thirds of one-quarter mile-marker for the 2011 NFL season in an AFC East division that didn't have a single bit of prediction promiscuity at the top.

Yes it is early and yes we've seen the Bills storm out of the gates hot before, but there's something afloat in Buffalo's water these days and it's not Spalding's Baby Ruth bar.

10. Houston, We Have … No I'm Sorry I Can't Make That Joke
While we're taking a magical ride on the jump to conclusions mat, let's go ahead and assume that the Texans are terrible at defense and that they are much closer to the 2010 abomination we know, understand, love and play fantasy people against than they are the 2011 would-be division winners.

Except that's silly.

It's not silly to point out that there are a lot of teams who cannot "stop the pass" -- quotations are necessary here because in case you're not reading this regularly, the NFL woke up and decided to chunk the ball down the field with collective regularity.

Arian Foster missing is not the problem, of course. It's still defense for Houston, who appeared on the verge of justifying the Wade Phillips 3-4 hype before coughing up 40 points to New Orleans. But before we freak out and judge this team let's again remember that it's Week 3, again remember that this is Drew Brees commanding a very efficient and very dangerous offense, and let's, most importantly, remind ourselves that it's a baby-stepping process.

Houston wasn't becoming an elite defense overnight, and much less so in a lockout-shortened season. Losing to the Saints is tough, but they're still taking this division, and once they're playing against rookie quarterbacks, it will probably be on the strength of their offseason signings on defense.

While we're here, and because it's too important for muffed punts, Darren Sproles is the most important offensive signing of 2011's free agency. Yeah, I'm doing the knee-jerk thing, but this guy is making a difference in the Reggie Bush role for Sean Payton's offense.

The awkward thing is that he's just flat-out better than Bush at every facet of the game. That's not to rip Reggie, who probably needed to move on anyway, but it's an important reminder that sometimes it's not signings with the big, bold lights that really make the difference once people start playing football.

Pop-culture referencing Jim Irsay tweet that's sure to drive Colts fans insane of the week
"After 9 days,I let the horse run free..cause the desert had turned 2 sea"

Irsay's referencing "Horse With No Name" by the band America. Except he decided to do so a day after refuting his own statement that Peyton Manning wasn't playing this season.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
- A Fox Sports bar in the Charlotte airport made the decision Sunday night to shut off their televisions because a bunch of airport patrons were crowded around the outskirts of the restaurant, watching the Colts-Steelers game. It was the most obstinate, pig-headed display of customer service I've ever seen.
- If you go to New York City and need a good spot to watch some football, the Cornerstone Tavern in Manhattan is pretty freaking fantastic. Good food, nice beer selection and tons of televisions. Also, it's like the unofficial place for Florida Gators to go, so there's that.
- Alex Henery has been a bright spot for the Eagles, by the way. Kid comes in as a rookie, replacing a legend like David Akers, and is producing on some crucial kicks.

Worth 1,000 Words


Hot Seat Tracker
So here's something fun -- Sportsbook.com has odds for the first NFL coach to be fired. We'll include them in parentheticals.
  • Tony Sparano (-120): Sparano's 0-3, the Dolphins can't seem to score and Chad Henne isn't progressing as we thought he might after the first week. Losses at the Chargers and the Jets over the next three weeks make him the favorite to get canned first.
  • Todd Haley (+180): A decent effort against the Chargers on Sunday at least should give Haley a bit of comfort that he can hold onto his job. Plus injuries are a nice excuse.
  • Jack Del Rio (+350): Speaking of nice excuses, the weather in Charlotte on Sunday really helped out Del Rio, because it gave the Jaguars a chance to win against the Panthers. Jacksonville recovered five (!) fumbles and still couldn't pull out a win.
  • Leslie Frazier (+400): Yeah, I was as surprised as you to see him here and I'm only including him because Sportsbook did. Oh, right, and because the Vikings have been outscored like 6,456 to six in the second half so far this season.
  • Jim Caldwell (+1000): It's hard to imagine the Colts canning Caldwell if he continues to keep games close, having lost Peyton Manning. There's  no reason for a midseason firing unless there's a particularly viable candidate out there.
  • Random note: It's just crazy that Tom Coughlin was in this spot less than seven days ago. Oh NFL, you're so nuts.
Chasing Andrew Luck (All odds mine)
Dolphins (1/2): They're almost assuredly going to be 0-5 through six weeks. That should be good for morale.
Chiefs (3/1): Somehow they've already played the easy portion of their schedule!
Colts (2/5): What to watch here is whether or not Indy thinks Peyton Manning can play more than two or three years.

MVP Watch
I'm sticking with my boy Matthew Stafford for now -- hard to argue with him considering the Lions are undefeated, he's second in the league in passing touchdowns (nine), fifth in passing yards and has only thrown two picks. Obviously Tom Brady's a good choice but if the season ended today, he'd get the Offensive Player of the Year award and Stafford would get my nod for MVP. Aaron Rodgers is certainly in the conversation as well.
Posted on: September 22, 2011 10:35 am
Edited on: September 23, 2011 9:16 am
 

Brock, Garay fined $15K, Morgan $7.5K for QB hits

Posted by Will Brinson

On Sunday, both Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger took some terrifying hits to the knee -- Roethlisberger's was more serious, but Brady's was reminiscent of the Bernard Pollard hit in 2008 that ended Brady's season.

The gentlemen responsible for those hits -- Antonio Garay and Raheem Brock, respectively -- were fined $15,000 each by the NFL on Thursday. Adam Schefter of ESPN first reported the fines.

"I'm glad I had a knee brace on," Brady said earlier this week on the Dennis and Callahan show on WEEI, via the Boston Herald. "That’s scary when you’ve been through those before. It got me in a good spot, and I’m glad the knee brace took the brunt of the force. Why I never wore a knee brace before, I have no idea. Why every quarterback doesn’t wear one on their left knee, I have no idea, to be able to withstand those."

Brady called the knee injury "The Carson Palmer Rule" -- he pointed out that he has his own rule, which involves tucking and should never be mentioned while touring around the city of Oakland -- as Palmer was knocked out for the year by the Steelers with a knee injury in the playoffs way back in 2005.

It was Pittsburgh's Roethlisberger, though, who appeared to suffer a similar fate Sunday. Ben was hit from behind by Brock and lay on the ground in pain, eventually returning to the game before limping to the locker room at halftime.

Apparently Roethlisberger is fine, and will require no knee brace this Sunday.

Derrick Morgan got nailed with a $7,500 fine for a late hit on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco Sunday -- Morgan was flagged for unnecessary roughness at the time, after Flacco fumbled the ball, recovered it on the ground and was touched by a different Titans player just before Morgan hit Flacco.

The defensive end plans to appeal the fine and said that a Ravens offensive lineman even told him the penalty was a bit much. Don't expect anything similar for Brock or Garay, who put the season of two of the NFL's most-popular quarterbacks in jeopardy.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed.
Posted on: September 12, 2011 10:14 am
Edited on: September 12, 2011 6:30 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 1

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



It's rather unfair to the rest of the NFL to expect a legitimate follow-up to the Thursday night spectacular that was New Orleans and Green Bay. To the extent that folks wanted drama, the most spine-tingling moments came before the action on Sunday, as the NFL and the nation honored the 10-year anniversary of 9/11.

Fantastic job all around by the NFL and the various broadcast partners and the players and Reebok and everyone involved for really making Sunday a touching tribute to one of America's greatest tragedies. Can you really imagine what would have happened if there hadn't been football on the anniversary because of the lockout?

Obviously the nation would have moved on -- it's just sports. But the public relations hit would have been 100-percent inverse of the boost the league received on Sunday.

Not that it matters. There was football. And it was good and there were lots of stories. Many of whom we'll break down below. In the words of Jay-Z, "let's rock."

1. Yes We Cam
What did you expect from Cam Newton in his first start as an NFL player?

Because, no offense, but it doesn't really matter -- Newton set the world on fire en route to throwing for 422 yards and two touchdowns, plus rushing for another score.

Carolina still lost to Arizona in a close game, but that's not really important, as they're not a Super Bowl contender right now. What's important is that they appear to have finally gotten their franchise quarterback. And that makes one guy -- Steve Smith -- pretty happy.

"He was everything everybody didn't expect him to be," Smith said after the game. "He was on point, he made some great runs, he made some great reads, made some fantastic throws. He made some throws out there that honestly as a receiver it made it easy to catch them."

In case you missed it, Smith wanted out of Carolina all of last year while catching (or, if you prefer not catching) passes from Jimmy Clausen but after the Panthers drafted Newton, Smith eventually got back on board with staying in Carolina over the long(ish) haul.

It worked out pretty well for him on Sunday, because he caught eight passes for a 178 yards, numbers which should have the same effect on Smith as Newton's totals have on fans: obscuring the win-loss column.

As we noted on Sunday, Newton's 422 yards was the highest passing yardage total by a rookie, in their season opener, in NFL history. It's tied for the highest total for a rookie in any game, with Matthew Stafford's 422 in 2009 against the Browns.

And perhaps most crazy of all, it's the fifth-highest season opener total in NFL history. Not rookie history -- NFL history. Damn impressive stuff is what it was -- maybe Bo Jackson was right after all.

Newton, by the way, is already 11th on the Panthers all-time passing yards list.

2. Most Valuable Peyton

In a brutal twist of irony, while Kerry Collins was starting his first game as a Colt, stinking up the joint and causing Colts fans to start researching Stanford's schedule in 2011, he somehow managed to pass Joe Montana for the 10th-most passing yards in NFL history. That Collins did so was the lone bright spot for a Colts team that got absolutely drubbed by the Texans in the first game without Peyton Manning at the helm since 1998.

Sunday was just the second time since Indy drafted Manning that they trailed 17-0 after the first quarter, and the 34-0 halftime deficit for Indy was the largest in franchise history.

Look, everyone knows that Peyton is really good. And everyone knows that Peyton meant more to this team over the past few years than anyone could possibly imagine, and that the Colts wouldn't have won as many games as they have without him.

But is it possible to give someone an MVP award when they don't even play for an entire season simply based on how poorly their team plays without him? Of course not. If it was, though, Manning would warrant consideration in 2011 just based off what we saw in Week 1.

As for the long-term issue of Manning's health, it's really hard to imagine that the Colts would even consider trying to bring him back in 2011. There's a very good chance that by the time we get halfway through his aggressive rehab schedule the Colts are 0-4.

At that point, the season's over for all reasonable intents and purposes. By Week 8, when Peyton might be ready? Yeah, there's a good chance Indy's done then. And if they are, there's little-to-no sense in bringing him back at the risk of busting up his career to try and ruin a good shot at landing Andrew Luck.

3. The Steelers are terrible
Just kidding. But I really wanted to make sure we make at least one absolutely incorrect knee-jerk decision in this column. The Ravens might have been favored by a field goal against the Steelers on Sunday, but the consensus amongst all the experts was that the Steelers are a significantly better team, though because of the rivalry factor things would come down to a field goal in a close, bloody game.

Whoops on all counts.

Well, except the blood -- Pittsburgh strolled into M&T Bank Stadium and got absolutely stuck in the face by their rival and then spent all afternoon trying to figure out how to make the gushing stop, only it never did.

Ben Roethlisberger threw three picks and fumbled twice and the Steelers committed a whopping eight turnovers as they generally looked like a boxer against the ropes getting continually pummeled.

"That playoff taste, now it's over," Rice said. "Now we’ve got that burden off our shoulders, boom! We’re one up on them right now.”

The two biggest concerns for the Ravens coming into this season were the offensive line and the secondary.

The Ravens were mocked for their desperation in signing Bryant McKinnie shortly before the season began, mostly because McKinnie was reportedly clocking in around 400 pounds. (As reported Sunday, he's now making more money for weighing less. So that's nice.)

But he was a tremendous difference for Baltimore on Sunday afternoon, as he provided stability at the left tackle position and made some key blocks. He wasn't perfect, of course, but that's OK.

Especially because the most important benefit he provides Ravens is the ability to slot their offensive lineman in correct positions. If he's motivated, he could be a difference maker.

4. Falcons get mauled
Mea culpa time I guess: the Bears probably won't finish in last place in the NFC North. Ha. Yeah, I predicted that. They still could, and as long as that offensive line is as porous as it was against the Falcons, I'll stick by that prediction.

After all, New Orleans and Green Bay -- Chicago's next two opponents -- are not only good but they're not shy about blitzing heavily. That could mean plenty of Cutler getting tattooed six-and-a-half steps into his drops. If that.

And if Caleb Hanie has to play, the Bears will struggle mightily. But they'll have their defense which, well, yeah, per usual it's the reason the Bears are dominating.

"We still have to play up to the defense's level," Cutler said. "They're still carrying us."

Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers, in particular, were beasts on Sunday. Peppers picked up two sacks, recovered a fumble and forced another fumble that Urlacher scooped and took the house. And Urlacher himself looked particularly spry, picking up an impressively athletic interception.

I'd still argue that the Bears have the makings of the third-best team in their division, but they are the defending champs and for some reason they will just not go away. Which should mean one or two angry comments from Bears fans every week. Sigh.

5. Living the dream
Many a writer ruthlessly mocked the Eagles this offseason for hogging the headlines, particularly when backup quarterback Vince Young decided to refer to Philly's squad as "The Dream Team."

It's still a stretch and I remain adamant that the metaphor is largely irrelevant for the game of football. (Case: in point, Philly's linebacking corps wouldn't exactly be starting for most other NFL teams.)

But my goodness -- the Eagles are just as explosive as last season, aren't they? LeSean McCoy is so sneakily fast for an every-down back that you don't realize it until re-watching him take the ball around the corner, past a defender and into the end zone.

The defensive line will swarm opposing quarterbacks and obviously the combo of Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson gives the Eagles the ability to score from anywhere. Seeing how Andy Reid operates in a close game going forward will be interesting though -- I saw some chatter about the Eagles running the ball immediately after Vick would get touched.

That pretty clearly, um, is a tell. And even if it's not something the Eagles are going to do every single series, it's something they have think about doing, because exposing Vick to multiple shots in back-to-back instances during games simply won't work if the Eagles want to dominate the way Vince Young expects them to.



6. These are your brother's Cowboys
They are not your father's Cowboys. And they're not even your uncle's Cowboys. These Cowboys like to score frequently and play quite well for about three and a half quarters.

And then things get tight and they choke.

The most disturbing thing about the way that Tony Romo handed the game to the Jets -- a pass intended for a gimpy Dez Bryant that Jessica Simpson could have intercepted, much less Darrelle Revis -- in typical, um, Tony Romo fashion.

As my man Mike Freeman wrote, it's precisely the kind of late-game debacling that causes people to think that Romo can't win big games or even close little games for the Cowboys.

"We win that football game if I don't do what I did," Romo said afterwards.

You simply can't fumble on the one-yard line (when a score would all but guarantee you victory) and then proceed to gift wrap a turnover for the other team when there's less than a minute remaining on the clock and the score is tied.

Going into what eventually turned out to be the final drive, Jason Garrett and Romo need to be on the same page regarding a few things. One, nothing stupid. Two, if you're going to force a pass, then you need to force the pass deep so the Jets don't get a free field goal. And three, nothing stupid.

Look, I get that the Jets used a defense designed to confuse Romo into thinking Dez was in single coverage and therefore force a ball his way. But he has lots of weapons. In fact, I was in the middle of writing how good I felt about my pick of Dallas to the Super Bowl because of their creative defense (Rob Ryan did outstanding work last night with limited manpower) and a high-octane offense so stocked with weapons that Kim Jong-Il is jealous.

All they need is Romo to put it together and stop being the stereotype that people put on him. He was doing all that until the Cowboys got in a position to put a tough road game against another Super Bowl contender on ice and he absolutely melted down.

7. Detroit hope city
Matthew Stafford's been getting pumped up all offseason long -- that he exploded in the preseason didn't help matters much, and that he was overdrafted by most fantasy football players helps even less.

So there were some funny moments in his eventual breakout on Sunday. First there was the early interception -- a pick-six by Aqib Talib -- against Tampa that made everyone realize that there were a lot of eggs in a basket. And no one really knew what the basket was built out of, except that it was probably the most fragile type of straw a man can find.

Then Stafford started going off ... except after his first touchdown pass he began cramping up. (Lots of cramping Sunday in case you didn't notice.) The world collectively held its breath as Stafford was examined on the sideline because, my goodness, it's early to be injured even if you're Stafford.

Instead, the former Georgia standout and No. 1-overall draft pick returned to the game and kept slinging teeters to Calvin Johnson, eventually finishing with 305 yards and three touchdown passes in Detroits 27-20 win over Tampa Bay.

Let's not get out of hand and start giving the Lions a playoff berth quite yet -- they certainly have problems, most notably in the secondary -- but there's reason to be excited for football in Detroit.

As long as Stafford can stay healthy anyway.

8. Rex Grossman is ... not bad?

I know, it's weird, but it might be true. Grossman appeared to be pretty darn competent most of Sunday. He threw for 305 yards on two touchdowns and backed up Mike Shanahan's seemingly inexplicable to name him the starter during the preseason.

It's not that John Beck is such a logical choice, it's just that, well, he's Rex Grossman. It seems to make no sense.

"Any typical kickoff weekend, your emotions are high," Grossman said after the game. "Being it's Sept. 11, 10th anniversary, Colin Powell's in the locker room giving you the pregame speech, and then coming out and the fans are chanting 'U-S-A.' I was overwhelmed. It was a fun day. It's a day I'll never forget."

Let's not get too high on Grossman just quite yet, because the Giants were basically trotting out a practice squad of players on defense after their starting lineup was ravaged by a ridiculous run of injuries during the preseason.

Maybe he is the answer at quarterback and maybe the Redskins could win the NFC East and maybe the Shanahans really are able to turn contaminated water into a Colt 45.

But we've seen Grossman light teams up -- like he did while tossing four touchdowns and 322 yards against Dallas in Week 14 of last year -- and immediately follow it up by laying an absolutely egg. Let's reserve judgment until we see his body of work over the span of a few weeks.

9. Go West, Young Man
We already covered Newton and his impressive rookie performance, but he wasn't the only rookie to have a big impact in Week 1.

Ryan Kerrigan returned an interception for a touchdown to help push the Redskins over the Giants, J.J. Watt terrorized the Colts defensive line, Patrick Peterson returned a punt for a touchdown that proved to be the difference maker against Carolina, A.J. Green caught the go-ahead touchdown pass for the Bengals, Randall Cobb trended on Twitter Thursday night thanks to his holy return, Tyron Smith was big on the line for the Cowboys, and Andy Dalton started out white hot … until Phil Taylor knocked him out of the game.

So yeah, very impressive week -- thus far anyway -- from an impressive group of young NFL players, especially given the shortened time frame they're working on.

10. Injured Rams
Not a great day for Steve Spagnuolo, huh? The Rams were seen by many, including yours truly, as a team on the rise in 2011. They play in a terrible division, they have anchors on both sides of the line, they have a franchise quarterback in Sam Bradford and they easily could have been a playoff team in 2010.

But a number of injuries during Week 1 are a quick reminder of how fragile success is in the NFL.

Steven Jackson pulled his quad which has "lingering" stamped all over it, Danny Amendola dislocated his elbow and could likely be done for the year and most terrifyingly, Bradford hurt his finger.

We don't know precisely what will happen to Bradford, but there was discussion of "nerve damage," which is scary as hell. Bradford downplayed the injury after the game.

"I don't see any way I'm not going to be on the field, to be honest with you," Bradford said.

Well, here's one way: if you're at risk for a bigger injury, the franchise won't let you near the Big Apple, even it's for a matchup against the would-be hapless New York Giants.

Put an APB out for:
Charlie Weis. Because from what I saw of the Chiefs offense on Sunday, they might be missing the guy who turned Matt Cassel into a Pro Bowler, Jamaal Charles into the best running back in the NFL last year, and Dwayne Bowe into a touchdown monster. We've touched on the fact that the Chiefs had a REALLY easy schedule in 2010. That's fine. But the offense has too many weapons to be scoring seven points against the Bills and not consider "If we did X last year and we're doing Z this year and Y isn't there anymore, gee what could be the difference?"

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday ...
... Anyone ever notice that Rex and Rob Ryan really look like George and Oscar Bluth?
... 49ers punter Andy Lee posted the third-highest average for punts in one game, smoking his 59.6 yards per punt.
... How does Joe Torre -- the Yankees coach during 9/11 -- not let baseball players wear NYPD and NYFD hats?
********

Worth 1,000 Words




Hot Seat Tracker

I'm hoping to have my fancy mathematical formula to track who's most likely to get canned up and running by next week, but in the meantime, we can break down coaches in trouble pretty simply. (That's mainly because of all the first-year head coaches -- it's pretty unlikely we see a lot firings between now and next season.)
  • Tom Coughlin -- Coughlin's got a plethora of injuries to fall back on, so maybe he can buy some more time. But the way the Giants lost to the Redskins Sunday, it's hard to imagine New Yorkers won't continue the annual tradition of calling for Coughlin's head.
  • Todd Haley -- What's worse: showing up for work without wearing pants or getting beat by the Bills 41-7 at home? Gotta be the latter.
  • Jack Del Rio -- Yeah, he won, but we need people to add to this list. Plus, he beat the Titans.
  • Jim Caldwell -- The "Manning Factor" for his job will be fascinating to watch this season.
MVP Watch
Peyton! No, but seriously, in the way-too-early glance at the MVP race, I'll go ahead and throw Philip Rivers out there, since he's fourth in passing yardage right now and the Chargers are 1-0. Also: Michael Vick.

And Ryan Fitzpatrick.

What? It's Week 1.

Posted on: September 10, 2011 10:38 am
 

7-Point Preview: Steelers vs. Ravens



Posted by Ryan Wilson


1. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) vs. Baltimore Ravens (0-0)
The Ravens will begin the 2011 season the same way they ended 2010: facing the Steelers. Not only are they AFC North rivals, but there's a good argument that this matchup is annually the NFL's fiercest. At least in terms of physicality; as for the results, Pittsburgh has the edge, especially when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is under center. In fact, Big Ben is undefeated against the Ravens in his last seven starts, something that leaves defensive end Terrell Suggs a little queasy.

"They spoiled our Super Bowl dreams for the last two out of three years," Suggs said. "We have to switch that, you know? It's sickening. It ends our season every year we lose to our division rival. I'm sick of it. I'm disgusted. I'm tired of having a sick feeling in my stomach for a whole year."

But the Ravens have their own franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco, who has helped his team to the postseason his first three years in the league, and has yet to miss a start during that time. Still, the playoff wins on the road against the Patriots in '09, or the '08 AFC Championship Game appearance don't mean much unless the conversation ends with "and the Ravens won the Super Bowl." Exacerbating matters: Flacco is 2-6 against the Steelers in his career and he has yet to beat Roethlisberger. (The two wins came against a Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh team -- Dennis Dixon started late in the '09 season, and Charlie Batch was under center during Week 4 of the 2010 campaign.)

The Rivalry

2. What the Degenerate Gamblers and Eggheads Are Saying:
"You can throw the records out the window" is a cliche, yes, but in this case it's also fitting. While the Steelers hold the win-loss edge, these matchup are invariably close, usually coming down to a huge fourth-quarter play. That, their similarly bruising styles, and the game being in Baltimore means the Steelers are just one-point favorites, according to Bodog.com.

As for the pocket-protector set, our good friends at Football Outsiders have the Steelers atop their preseason rankings (2nd in defense, 5th in offense, 5th in special teams), and the Ravens are sixth (9th in defense, 8th in offense, 3rd in special teams).

The CBSSports.com experts are split: three like the Steelers, two favor the Ravens.

3. Key Matchup to Watch
For the first time in his career, Flacco finally has a legitimate deep threat. The Ravens traded for wide receiver Lee Evans after rookie Torrey Smith's unimpressive showing during the first week of the preseason. (To be fair, Smith didn't have a chance; the second-round pick out of Maryland missed OTAs and minicamp because of the lockout, and had just a few weeks to transition to NFL.)

Evans will play opposite Anquan Boldin, but Flacco's two go-to targets -- Derrick Mason and Todd Heap -- are no longer with the team. Mason signed with the Jets and Baltimore released Heap, who is now in Arizona. Second-year players Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta will replace Heap although it may take time for Flacco to develop a rapport with them that he shared with Heap.

The Steelers will try to stop the Ravens' passing attack with what many experts consider its weakest link: the cornerbacks. Ike Taylor broke a finger during the preseason but will be on the field Sunday. And, frankly, the cast he'll be wearing won't have much bearing on his performance. He's a solid cover cornerback who's been known to drop an interception or 12. As long as his legs work, he'll be fine. The other corner, Bryant McFadden, is another story. He's battled a hamstring injury for all of training camp and if 2011 is anything like 2010, offenses will target him all day.

Safety Troy Polamalu, the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year, can mitigate many of the secondary's shortcomings, particularly when he's at full strength. And to hear him tell it, his Achilles injury, which bothered him late last season all the way through the Super Bowl, is healed and he feels as good as ever.

The Steelers' defensive backs might have more critics but the Ravens' secondary is young and inexperienced, the two things you absolutely don't want to be when facing the likes of Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, and with Roethlisberger throwing them the ball.

Rookie first-rounder, cornerback Jimmy Smith, will start, as will Cary Williams, who spent much of his NFL career on the practice squad. But future Hall of Famer Ed Reed will be on the field, too, which means that a turnover is always just a play away. Still, Reed understands what his guys are up against.

“We have to do our job, and that job is to slow those guys down, keep them out of the end zone, and cover them," he said, according to the Baltimore Sun. We’ve got fast guys around here, too. The only disadvantage for the defense is, for the secondary guys, we’re moving backwards at the start. But it’s part of the game. We knew that. We signed up for it. And we’re definitely ready for the mission.”

Whether Baltimore's offensive line, currently held together by duct tape, feels the same way is another story. Recent free-agent additions Bryant McKinnie and Andre Gurode join a group that has been reshuffled due to injuries and inconsistencies. It's one thing to make these changes months before the season; it's something else entirely to try to pull it off in just a few weeks after a lockout against a front seven that led the NFL in sacks a season ago.

And this is where the most important cog in Baltimore's offense comes in. Ray Rice is one of the most dangerous players in the league, a sure-handed running back who is both powerful and elusive and also serves as a genuine pass-catching threat. If he's running the ball effectively, Flacco's job is made markedly easier. The problem, of course, is that the Steelers stop the run better than any defense in the league.

4. Potentially Relevant YouTube
Apparently, these two teams play a physical brand of football.


5. The Steelers win if…
The defensive front seven creates confusion for the Ravens offensive line and forces Flacco into mistakes. If Big Ben and his stable of big-play pass-catchers take advantage of a young Baltimore secondary, the game might not be close.

6. The Ravens win if…
The offensive line holds up and gives Flacco an opportunity to exploit McFadden (particularly if he's covering Evans), which should also allow Rice more room to make plays. Defensively, Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Suggs will have to help their young secondary by getting consistent pressure on Roethlisberger.

7. Prediction: Steelers 24 Ravens 20

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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