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Tag:St. Louis Rams
Posted on: December 12, 2011 2:27 am
Edited on: December 12, 2011 2:35 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 14

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


1. They're Not Saying 'Boooooo' ...

True story: Just over two years ago, T.J. Yates came on the jumbotron at the Dean Dome during a North Carolina game as the lead-in to a UNC football video, said "I'm T.J. Yates and I'm a Tar Heel," and Yates, who was in the crowd, was booed mercilessly by Tar Heel fans in attendance.

One surprisingly strong senior season and a slew of injuries to Houston quarterbacks later, Yates is the starting quarterback for the first Texans team to ever make the playoffs. He's no figurehead, either, as his play in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 20-19 victory in Cincinnati showed.

We think that logic and common football sense says a rookie quarterback can't take a team deep into the playoffs, but does it? This Texans team's success is predicated on running the ball and playing defense.

And that's not too far off what Mark Sanchez and Ben Roethlisberger leaned on as rookies. Both those guys went to the AFC Championship Game, as a rookie quarterback mind you.

Yates is different than those Sanchez or Roethlisberger because he's matured under tough circumstances, his expectations are lower, he didn't leave school early so he's more experienced and he's got good mentors surrounding him on the roster.

If Houston gets into a shootout with an opponent or finds themselves with a huge halftime deficit, they're probably in trouble. But if that happens, it's not on Yates anyway -- the defense and rushing attack probably already let them down.

Just remember that when it comes time to debate the viability of the Texans in the postseason that the rookie quarterback under center is about as viable as the stereotype that the Texans can't stop anyone on defense.

2. Where It's Due in Denver

It's about time, in this LOL-worthy Tim Tebow saga that hit another high with Denver's 13-10 overtime win over Chicago Sunday, to give credit where credit is due. No, not the defense. No, not the running game. No, not the super-human effort from kicker Matt Prater on Sunday. No, not John Fox or John Elway.

Let's give credit to ... Josh McDaniels.

Remember, McDaniels is the guy that drafted Tebow and blossoming receiver Demaryius Thomas. Both might have been reaches when they were taken (25th and 22nd overall, respectively) and both looked like absolutely horrid selections pretty recently. But McDaniels obviously knew something about these guys and his premonitions and talent evaluation is paying off for Denver now.

Look, there are guys that were taken after Tebow and Thomas that are better overall additions to a roster (Dez Bryant, Rob Gronkowski, Devin McCourty stand out), and the value McDaniels wasted at those spots is disappointing. Also, given the Rams struggles on offense this year, handing credit his way isn't exactly the chic thing to do.

But as we get further from his nightmare regime in Denver and more ensconced in Tebowmania, it at least warrants a tip of the cap to McD for his decision to select two guys who are starting to fulfill the expectations that come with their draft slot.

3. Cowboy Down

We spent the better part of the podcast (you can listen above, just by clicking play!) trying to figure out who to blame for Dallas' failings in their 37-34 loss to the Giants on Sunday night.

But since Rex Ryan egged on some defensive coverages, Tony Romo egged on a big third-down throw to Miles Austin and Jason Garrett egged on clock management, isn't it possible that it's a systematic issue across the team as a whole?

We assume that because there's a new coach running the show, with different coordinators in place and some new players, that things are different. But things just aren't.

Jerry Jones knows this -- with the Giants at the goal line and the clock ticking down, an NBC camera caught him screaming "Timeout, Jason!"

Give credit where credit is to due to Eli Manning and the Giants for clawing their way back into this game, because it was a pretty magnificent comeback, something Eli's becoming quite proficient at this season.

But these Cowboys just can't close. We've seen it over and over this season and at some point, the bossman's patience for a lack of execution is going to run out.

4. Start 'Em/Sit 'Em?

The Packers have, with their 46-16 obliteration of Oakland in Green Bay, now officially clinched a first-round bye. Thanks to the 49ers losing to the Cardinals on Sunday, Mike McCarthy's team is just one win or one San Francisco loss away from clinching homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.

But Sunday's victory came at a price -- star wide receiver Greg Jennings is likely out for the remainder of the regular season. Aaron Rodgers said that "hopefully" the Packers can get Jennings back in time for the team's first playoff game, following their bye, which is approximately five weeks from now.

This begs the question: will McCarthy and Green Bay chase 16-0 with the same fervor as the Patriots?

Losing someone like Jennings is debilitating to their run at repeating as Super Bowl champions, but it's not a dealbreaker because of all the talent they have at the various skill positions. Losing Aaron Rodgers? That's a whole different story.

And what if someone like Charles Woodson or Tramon Williams or Clay Matthews was lost for the rest of the season playing in a meaningless game? Yeah, that would be bad.

There's no right answer that doesn't involve "winning the title" so it's unfair to judge whatever McCarthy and Ted Thompson decide to do. We don't know how things would play out in an alternate universe. But Jennings injury might be a bad sign for the chances at Green Bay running the table.\

5. Familiar Feeling

New England is streaking towards a likely No. 1 seed right now. And they have a  kerfluffle on the sidelines between Tom Brady and his offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien that everyone can talk about. And there's the whole "Can I draft Rob Gronkowski in the second round of my fantasy league next year?" debate that might be worth discussing when going over interesting things about this team. 

But I can't shake the fact that the Redskins piled up well over 500 yards passing between Rex Grossman and Brandon Banks (!) plus 120 rushing yards from Roy Helu and narrowly lost to the Pats 34-27.

Again: the Redskins did this. Back in 2009, New England got throttled by the Ravens in Foxborough, because Baltimore had a stout defense and Ray Rice went HAM on a Pats defense that couldn't shut him down.

This year? The Patriots defense, a season-long problem for the team, reminds a lot of that squad, in that they can't stop anyone who's physical and can play ball control. Or, really, they can't stop anyone -- only four teams have scored less than 20 points against the Pats, and one of those was quarterbacked by Tyler Palko.

There are a lot of good defensive teams headed to the playoffs in the AFC, with a lot of good running backs, and some pretty talented quarterbacks.

Brady and Belichick are great about covering up flaws on a roster, but when they run into a physical team in the playoffs, we might see a similar result from years past.

6. So You're Telling Me There's a Chance?

The 2011 NFL season wouldn't feel right if we didn't get a Lloyd Christmas-inspired false-hope run from the Eagles and Chargers, would it?

The Eagles are still alive after a 26-10 beat down of Miami, although making the playoffs at this point involves jumping a whopping five other teams, and is about as likely as the Eagles retaining Juan Castillo next season.

San Diego's path to the postseason should have been a little bit easier, because the Raiders lost and the Broncos were supposed to lose (see: Tim Tebow doing what Tim Tebow does). Now things are much murkier, as San Diego needs either the Jets -- a team they should have beaten -- to go 1-2 down the stretch, or the Broncos -- another team they should have beaten -- to lose. And the Bolts have to win

8-8 and 9-7, respectively, are doable based for the two teams, based on their schedules. But even that kind of effort might not be enough to save the jobs of certain people in certain positions for these teams.

7. Call It a Comeback, Kid

For the second time this season, four teams in a single week overcame 12-point (or more) deficits to win.

Why? Well, as it turns out, offensive points aren't the only exciting thing that's happened as a result of the offense-friendly rules the NFL installed over the past few years. Comebacks occur more frequently too.

And big comebacks as well -- Atlanta, Jacksonville, Houston and Arizona were all down by 12-plus points and mounted a comeback in Week 14 -- in Week 2, another four teams did it as well.

Limitations on members of the secondary, limitations on defensive players hitting quarterbacks and the middle of the field opening up because of defenseless receiver rules mean teams are able to sling the ball around more frequently.

Defenses simply can't clamp down on teams when they have a lead and if someone takes their foot off the gas (see: the Panthers vs. the Falcons on Sunday), a comeback is absolutely in the cards.

8. Taking Flight

Note to anyone who ends up in a December-only fantasy league: draft Shonn Greene. Dude gets unholy hot when the weather gets cold and he's doing it again this year, with four touchdowns and well over 200 yards the last two weeks, including a career-high 129 rushing yards in a blowout win against Kansas City Sunday.

Not coincidentally, it might be smart to not write off the Jets ever again. Somehow, someway, they manage to win enough games to sneak into the playoffs.

Rex Ryan's crew is doing it again, and even though this rendition of the Jets is clearly inferior to the previous two seasons, it's hard to count them out.

Twice in his two years as head coach, Ryan's used a formula to get to the AFC Championship Game despite fighting uphill to even get into the playoffs. And now he's doing it again.

The Jets last three opponents -- Buffalo, Washington and Kansas City -- are about as cream-puffy as it comes, but you only have to play the people on your schedule. So I'm really not sure why this wasn't as obvious an outcome as Greene being largely irrelevant for fantasy teams until now.

9. Get Your Mojo Running

Lost in some of the fantastic Week 14 action was the fact that the incredibly underrated Maurice Jones-Drew, the only elite skill-position player that the Jaguars have, set the franchise record for career touchdowns, surpassing the also incredibly underrated Fred Taylor.

"Mojo" did it on a day in which he went absolutely b-a-n-a-n-a-s, rushing for 85 yards and two touchdowns, and catching six passes for 51 receiving yards and a pair of scores through the air as well.

“Words can’t really explain how excited I am,” Jones-Drew said.

Jones-Drew's one of the prototypes for the modern NFL back -- small but powerful, quick, great hands and a secret workhorse. (Not to mention he's a stalwart in the community, and a good guy to boot.) Amid an often ugly offensive performance by Jacksonville on a weekly basis, MJD's been insanely consistent in 2011.

Dude deserves some love.

10. Great Expectations

It's fascinating to see that Raheem Morris and Steve Spagnuolo are two guys everyone agrees find themselves firmly on the hot seat. That's because last year, Morris and Spags were a combined one game away from both being in the playoffs last year.

Morris won 10 games with the surprising Buccaneers and even though Spagnuolo went 7-9, he had a shot at winning the putrid NFC West in the final week of the season.

The 17 total wins for the two teams has created a pretty terrible predicament for the coaches who nearly got them to the postseason though: both guys are looking like strong candidates to be fired after the 2011 season.

Tampa Bay lost its seventh-straight game in horrific fashion on Sunday when Blaine Gabbert and the Jags dropped a 41-14 bomb on the Bucs and the Rams are scheduled to start Tom Brandstater against the Seahawks. That will probably not end well.

The point of all this is that the NFL is a what-have-you-done-for-me lately business and Spags and Morris have lost lately. A lot.

Muffed Punts

Leftovers from Sunday's Action ...
... Packers have now scored 466 points on the season, the second-highest total in NFL history through 13 weeks, behind only the Pats 503 in 2007.
... Drew Brees and Johnny Unitas are the only two quarterbacks in NFL history with 40-straight games with passing touchdowns.
... Rob Gronkowski has the all-time record for touchdown receptions in a single season by a tight end with 15.
... Eli Manning's 400-yard passing performance was the 14th over the season, an NFL record.

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF(S) O' THE WEEK

You can see video of KC kicker Ryan Succop executing the worst onsides kick in the history of football right here, but this GIF of the three-yard putt/kick is just mesmerizingly depressing.



And I'm double dipping this week again, as Jabar Gaffney's dive into the seats without being caught is just too much fun to ignore.


Hot Seat Tracker

  • Steve Spagnuolo -- Spags really, really needs a win on Monday night against the Seahawks.
  • Raheem Morris -- As noted above, this team won 10 games last year!
  • Todd Haley -- After righting the ship, the Chiefs are back to sinking. This may be related to "starting Tyler Palko" but still, Haley's the coach.
  • Jim Caldwell -- *stares blankly at Colts record*
  • Norv Turner -- Norv's fanning the hell out of his seat, but the Chargers might not have enough games left to make up for the bad start.

Award Worth Discussing of the Week

Aaron Rodgers has retired the MVP watch and the Colts are locked into Andrew Luck so I'm adjusting on the fly. Today's award worth discussing: Coach of the Year.

I find this race fascinating because you have four primary contenders, all with totally different situations.

There's Mike McCarthy of the Packers, who's threatening to run the table with a defending Super Bowl champ. Then there's Jim Harbaugh, who's made the a talented, underachieving 49ers team relevant again and quickly. They're the two favorites.

Then there's the underdogs: John Fox, who continues to win despite Tim Tebow flying under the radar in terms of media attention, and Gary Kubiak, who will not let a quarterback injury kill his season.

If McCarthy goes undefeated it's impossible not to give him the nod because, well, they didn't lose. But if the Packers falter at all, Harbaugh's sheen could fade enough down the stretch (a loss to Pittsburgh and struggles against Seattle and St. Louis maybe?) to let Fox and Kubes make a play for the award.

My vote, provided things play out the way they have so far, is for Fox, since he's winning with less in a way no one ever saw coming, well ahead of when people believed he'd win.
Posted on: December 8, 2011 7:30 pm
 

Tom Brandstater could be Rams' starting QB on MNF

In May 2010, Brandstater was listed ahead of Tebow on Denver's depth chart. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

If there was ever a time to dust off those Tom Brandstater jerseys it's now. There's a good chance the former Fresno State quarterback and Broncos 2009 sixth-round pick could be the Rams' starter Sunday when they face the Seahawks in a (let's be honest: meaningless) NFC West matchup that just so happens to be on the Week 14 Monday Night Football schedule.

St. Louis' franchise quarterback, Sam Bradford (ankle), and backup A.J. Feeley (thumb) didn't practice for the second day in a row Thursday, which meant that Brandstater again took all the first-team reps.

"We're trying to keep the banging off them a little bit to make sure we get a healthy team come Monday night," head coach Steve Spagnuolo said. "You don't want to wear them out before we get to Monday night."

The Rams have also claimed quarterback Kellen Clemens off waivers (the Texans released him earlier this week to make room for Jeff Garcia), but he wasn't available for Thursday's practice. The addition of Clemens doesn't mean that Bradford's headed to injured reserve, though.


The St. Louis Rams will square off against the Seattle Seahawks on Monday night at CenturyLink Field. Who has the advantage in this game? NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz break down this upcoming game.

“That hasn’t entered my mind,” Bradford said Thursday, according to CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Ron Clements. “I hope it doesn’t come to that. That’d be pretty disappointing." Spagnuolo said Monday that Bradford's ankle probably wouldn't fully heal untl the offseason, but added Thursday that "We'll be hopeful on Sam, but we won't know until we get to the end of the week."

The Rams coach also joked that he might have take some snaps under center.

“I was thinking about lining up there myself," he said. "I was a wishbone quarterback in high school. We could pull those notebooks out.”

Hey, it worked for Tebow.

The Seahawks are preparing as if Bradford will play, but for now it appears that Brandstater is the favorite come Monday night. “That’s what this business is all about," he said Thursday. "You’ve got to be ready for anything.”

Ain't that the truth. Here's what Brandstater's 2011 season has been like:

* Sept. 13: signed to Rams' practice squad
* Oct. 22: promoted to active roster
* Nov. 9: released
* Dec. 2: re-signed to Rams' practice squad
* Dec. 4: promoted to active roster

So how did Brandstater keep sharp during the three weeks in November he was out of work? Clements writes that he stayed in the St. Louis area and worked out at a local gym, and over Thanksgiving he threw to his brother-in-law which, it turns out, was a little awkward.

“It was a little bit uncomfortable because he wasn’t quite athletic,” he said. (There are no truth to the rumors that Brandstater's brother-in-law is a receiver for the Jaguars.)

Other Brandstater fun facts (this one courtesy of PFT.com): In May 2010, weeks after the Broncos drafted Tim Tebow in the first round, Brandstater was listed ahead of him on the team's depth chart along with Kyle Orton and Brady Quinn. Just think: if things had worked out differently, we might all be Brandstering right now.

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Posted on: November 7, 2011 2:20 am
Edited on: November 7, 2011 12:26 pm
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 9

Posted by Will Brinson



Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action and figures out the most important storylines for you to digest. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 9 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

1. Deja Blue

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Reality Bites

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

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

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

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

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


3. We Want Rex?

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Raiders < Tebow

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. It's a Trap

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

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

Seems simple, right?

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

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

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

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

6. That's So Not Raven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


7. Nit-Packing

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

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

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

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

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

8. Cruise Control

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

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

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

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

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

9. Down By the Schoolyard

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

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

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

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

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

10. Pretty Good Weekend for LSU

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

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

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

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

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

Muffed Punts

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

Worth 1,000 Words



GIF O' THE WEEK

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


Hot Seat Tracker

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

Chasing Andrew Luck

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

MVP Watch

It's all Aaron Rodgers all the way, folks. At 8-0, Rodgers has the Packers looking like the best team in the NFL in large part to the fact that he's playing quarterback at the highest level we've seen in a while. There's honestly no one even close, though a monster game from Matt Forte on Monday could change things a bit.
Posted on: November 1, 2011 3:49 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2011 3:51 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 8



Posted by Will Brinson



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

Week 8 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  McCoy Houston Peterson  Reid
Judge Jackson  Dareus Peterson Tomlin
Prisco  McCoy  Long Peterson Spags
Brinson  McCoy  Long Peterson Spags
Katzowitz Jackson Taylor Peterson Frazier
Wilson  McCoy Woodley Peterson Spags
Week 8's in the books and we're (almost/kind of) halfway home in the 2011 NFL season. Let's get to the hardware.

LeSean McCoy might have stayed in the game too long -- he was carrying the rock with the Eagles up a lot of points -- but it worked out for him here, as he nudged out the Rams Steven Jackson for our Eye on Offense Award, thanks to 185 rushing yards.

Chris Long clotheslined his way to the Eye on Defense Award, thanks to a trifecta of sacks against Saints quarterback Drew Brees in a stunning upset.

Long's coach Steve Spagnuolo was rewarded as well, as his gameplan against New Orleans, despite being horribly overmatched, resulted in the least predictable win of the NFL season thus far.

And rookie Patrick Peterson, though his team lost, picked up the Eye on Special Teams Award for his beasty 82-yard touchdown return.

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

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
LeSean McCoy LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
The Cowboys allegedly had the top-ranked rushing defense. Then McCoy got a hold of it on Sunday night and by the time he was done with it left totally humiliated. McCoy had 30 carries for 185 yards and two scores. It was stunning to watch. The offensive line play, the play calling, the cutback running. The Cowboys are still licking their wounds.
Steven JacksonSteven Jackson, RB, Rams
First, he tells teammates what it will take to beat New Orleans. Then he demonstrates it, running for 159 yards and scoring twice in a stunning upset. Jackson is a terrific player on a not-so-terrific team, and it's games like this where we're reminded just how good the guy can be.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
LeSean McCoy LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
He rushed for 185 yards on 30 carries and scored two touchdown in the Eagles' rout of the Cowboys. His 6.2 per-rush average is what really impresses me. McCoy is having an Offensive Player of the Year type of season.
LeSean McCoyLeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
McCoy took advantage of a brilliant gameplan by Andy Reid (let Dallas' rushers get upfield and then cut Shady loose) for a career day, and he's now the only player in the NFL to score a TD in every game, after rolling for 185 yards and two touchdowns.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Steven JacksonSteven Jackson, RB, Rams
He was such a big part of getting the Rams off the schneid, I’d be foolish not to recognize him. From recovering teammates’ fumbles to rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, Jackson did it all. He caught passes, he gained yards, he yelled at teammates. And most impressively, he helped lead St. Louis to a huge win against the Saints without the contributions of Sam Bradford
LeSean McCoy LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
The combination of the Eagles bye week, a renewed focus on the running game and Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan flapping his gums created a perfect storm that took the shape of Shady McCoy. Eight weeks into the season and the Eagles finally look like … the Dream Team. Maybe Andy Reid should serious consideration to, you know, committing to the running game.
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Chris HoustonChris Houston, CB, Lions
Did his part to end the phony quarterback candicacy of Tim Tebow with a 100-yard interception return for a score. Houston did not "Tebow" which was good. No need to rub it in.
Marcel Dareus Marcel Dareus, DT, Bills
Now you know why the Bills took this guy with the third pick. It was a no-brainer. They wanted someone to plug the middle of the league's worst run defense, and Dareus is that someone. He had two-and-a-half sacks and three quarterbacks hits in Buffalo's rout of Washington, the first time Mike Shanahan has been shut out in the NFL.
Prisco Brinson
Chris LongChris Long, DE, Rams
He had three sacks against the Saints and spent the day in the backfield. Long is a relentless player who plays hard all the time, and that showed up against the Saints. He's getting better every year.
Chris LongChris Long, DE, Rams
Howie's kid was the cog in a Rams defense that quite unexpectedly shocked the world in their beatdown of the Saints, piling up three sacks on Drew Brees, including a third clothesline-like blow that's as brutal a sack as I've seen in a while.
Katzowitz Wilson
Ike Taylor Ike Taylor, CB, Steelers
There were others around the league with more impressive games. Guys who had big sack totals, those who mocked  the opposing quarterback. But Taylor was such a huge key in shutting down New England’s Wes Welker in the Steelers win. Welker was limited to six catches for 39 yards, his lowest output since Week 16 of last year, and Taylor was to blame.
LaMarr Woodley LaMarr Woodley, LB, Steelers
He only played two and a half quarters, but in that time he managed to harass Tom Brady into plenty of hurried throws, many of which were off target, and not more than 10 yards downfield. Woodley also had two sacks, giving him nine for the year, a total made even more impressive given that he had just 1.5 sacks through the first month of the season.
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, WR/KR, Cardinals
An 82-yard punt return was one of several keys that sparked the biggest comeback in Baltimore Ravens history. If it wasn't for Peterson, Joe Flacco might still be getting booed. (Yes, I'm being a smartass.)
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
For the second time this season he returns a punt for a touchdown, and while it wasn't enough to beat Baltimore it was enough to make the game interesting. Peterson is a special talent, with some regarding him as the best player in this year's draft. Peterson will be a premier cornerback. For now, he's a premier return specialist.
Prisco Brinson
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
He returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown against the Ravens, giving Arizona a 24-3 lead. They didn't hold on, but he still gets this award.
Patrick PetersonPatrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Peterson became just the third rookie in NFL history to return two kicks of 80+ yards in a single season (Devin Hester and Craig Yeast are the others) with his ridiculous 82-yard TD return against the Ravens. A standout rookie in a fabulous rookie class.
Katzowitz Wilson
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
Those who watched Peterson take a Ravens punt return back 82 yards for the touchdown won’t soon forget how easy the rookie first-round draft pick made it look. He looked so smooth, accelerating up the middle of the field and breaking five Baltimore tackles, that it was enough for me to award him this honor on the strength of just one play.
Patrick Peterson Patrick Peterson, CB/KR, Cardinals
He's still developing as a CB, but his ability on special teams is what makes him so dangerous. He shed five would-be tacklers on his touchdown return against the Ravens, and these weren't whiffed tackles. These were Ravens players who went from Peterson's shoulder pads, to his waste to his knees before ending up on the turf wondering what happened. It's too bad Peterson can't play quarterback, too.
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Andy ReidAndy Reid, HC, Eagles
Moved to 13-0 after bye weeks. Think about that for a moment. Here's a bye week. There's Andy Reid. Bye week + Reid = Win. There is no bigger guarantee in the NFL other than the Dolphins losing.

Mike Munchak Mike Tomlin, Steelers
He found a way to beat arch-nemesis New England ... er Tom Brady ... by remaining patient with his offensive game plan, controlling the clock and keeping Brady off the field. On defense, the Steelers were in man-to-man defense 70 percent of the time, bottling up Brady's receivers at the line, before unleashing the attack dogs on third down. Perfect.
Prisco Brinson
Steve SpagnuoloSteve Spagnuolo, HC, Rams
His team was 14-point dogs to the Saints on a day they were playing without their starting quarterback. So what happens? They dominate the game. They ran it, played good defense, and pulled off the upset for their first victory of the season. Who else can ever be mentioned here?   
Steve SpagnuoloSteve Spagnuolo, HC, Rams
There was zero chance the Rams were winning this game, against the high-scoring Saints and without quarterback Sam Bradford. But Spags designed a defensive attack that smothered Drew Brees, and he was smart enough to hand the ball to an inspired running back in Steven Jackson.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jim Schwartz Leslie Frazier, HC, Vikings
Just for the simple fact that Frazier recognized that Christian Ponder would provide a spark to his teamand replaced Donovan McNabb with Ponder as the starting quarterback. Sure, Mike Shanahan can tell you it wasn’t an unprecedented decision, but after beating the Panthers, it seemed like it came at the perfect time.
Steve Spagnuolo Steve Spagnuolo, HC, Rams
The man beat Drew Brees and one of the league's best offenses with a defense that is without its top four cornerbacks. And the Rams' offense was led not by Sam Bradford by by A.J. Feeley. In fact, we should name the award after Spagnuolo.


Posted on: October 31, 2011 4:13 am
Edited on: October 31, 2011 4:29 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Week 8

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



1. Denver Gets Tebowned
The past week was full of far too much talk about Tim Tebow, leader of men, winner of games and erstwhile quarterback-at-large. The Broncos quarterback even got his own meme -- Tebowing. And call me crazy, but I don't think any of this attention and chatter and one-knee posing sat to well with the Detroit Lions, who rolled into Mile High Stadium on Sunday and delivered a 45-10 beatdown on the Flying Tebows.

But it wasn't enough for Detroit, coming off two-straight losses with their playoff-contender status potentially wobbling, to simply sack Tebow seven times and limit him to 172 passing yards and 63 rushing yards, most of which was well after the Lions victory was in hand.

No, they made things personal, mocking Tebow's pose several times through the course of the game. First there was Stephen Tulloch Tebowing directly behind Tebow immediately after sacking Tebow.



It was a marvelous moment of meme-worthy irony that would make Xzibit proud. But it didn't end there. Tight end Tony Scheffler caught a pass from Matthew Stafford and busted out Tebow's "celebration" too.

Of course, the Lions aren't saying they were coming after Tebow -- after the game Tulloch said that "it's just fun, no disrespect" meant with his celebration, and that he even told Tebow as much. Tulloch had an even better point, though, when he was asked about all the hype that surrounds the former Florida Gator.

"It’s not his fault; it’s the media that gives him that hype," Tulloch said.

This is true, and it's really the most important thing to mention when talking about Tebow right now, because the debate as to whether or not he's good isn't a debate -- it's one-sided argument with some people using intangible and inconsequential analysis to try and support Tebow under center.

Tebow's failure to be a good quarterback isn't on him. I mean, ultimately, it is him that decides whether or not he succeeds, of course. But the only reason people are up in arms about his shortcomings as a quarterback is that too much is made out of whether not he can be a quarterback.

We saw this same thing happen with Cam Newton, who was the talk of every single NFL conversation during an offseason that featured furious debate about whether or not he could succeed. Now he's succeeding and Cam -- in terms of loud, screaming media scrutiny -- is on the backburner.

Yes, that's right. Cam's success made him less of a focus for the media. There's no one forcing themselves to doubt his ego and character in the face of folks who trump his athleticism and win-loss record. In short, it's the complete opposite of Tebow, who's continued lack of statistical -- if not empirical -- success still manages to generate a substantial amount of debate in the media.

Which is pretty unfortunate for him.

2. Steeling the AFC
For the first few weeks of the season, a lot was made of the Pittsburgh Steelers and their crumbling dynasty and "old" defense. As it turns out, Phil Simms was spot-on when he told Warren Sapp that his comments were a "tremendous over reaction." And if Sapp didn't believe Simms in Week 2, he should certainly believe him after Pittsburgh shredded New England 25-17.

The score doesn't tell the full story of this game, either, because the Steelers were certainly more than eight points better than the Patriots on Sunday. They held the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game (their time of possession, 39:22, dwarfed the Patriots 20:38) and out-Pats-ed the Pats, as Ben Roethlisberger utilized all of his available options and a ball-control passing attack to keep the rock out of Tom Brady's hands.

Pittsburgh was dominant on defense too, even if the Steelers looked a little less devastating when LaMarr Woodley left with a hamstring injury that could keep him out against the Ravens on Sunday night in Week 9. Brady was fairly efficient, completing 24 of his 35 passes, but he only managed 198 yards, good for 8.25 yards per completion, more than five yards off his season average of 13.5.

So who's the best team in the AFC now? Well, it's not the Ravens at the moment. Even with Brady under center it's hard to give the Pats the nod with their secondary so depleted. And I'm not quite ready to shove all my chips in the center of Chan Gailey's table. Pittsburgh, though, if they can stay healthy on defense, showed Sunday exactly why they're probably the best bet to repeat their success in 2010.

3. Nine Times? Nine Times
It's pretty hard to believe that since Mike Shanahan became offensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Raiders in 1985, he was never shut out by an opposing defense until October of 2011 against Buffalo ... in Toronto. (Can you imagine if he went back in time and told 1985 Mike Shanahan that? I'd definitely pay upwards of $5,000 for a YouTube of 85 Shanny's reaction.)

Then again, it's unfathomable that the Redskins head coach would come into the 2011 season expecting the duo of John Beck and Rex Grossman to lead Washington to the promised land. Because it's not happening. We talked about it last week and the story's still the same -- Beck and Grossman aren't going to get it done, but there's not a whole lot Washington can do to change that right now.

As Pete Prisco wrote Sunday from Toronto, the Bills no-name roster continuing to impress with All-Pro performances is the real story. But, really, again, how on Earth did Shanahan think that he'd end up winning this year with Grossman and Beck? And how can anyone be optimistic about Beck after he's thrown up stinkbombs against the Panthers and Bills who just aren't that good on defense?

Buffalo sacked him nine times on Sunday, and as Ed Rooney will tell you, that's too many.

I follow a lot of Redskins fans on Twitter (and also a lot of Bears fans, but I didn't realize that until they started getting all Fake Jay Cutler on me during the Panthers game), and it was borderline depressing to follow the game through that virtual medium on Sunday.

It's pretty clear that the quarterback situation is the direct result of this year's hopelessness amongst the D.C. faithful -- and can you blame them? When the option of benching your best quarterback is technically benching your backup so you can go back to starting Rex Grossman, you have a serious problem on your hands.

Unfortunately for Shanahan, neither the Colts or the Dolphins are going to trade him that top-overall pick. So here's hoping Matt Barkley really is good.

4. All Hyped Up
All season long, everyone's based the Eagles for their "Dream Team" nickname that was entirely inapplicable. So it seems only fair, after watching Philadelphia dismember Dallas 34-7 on Sunday night, to give credit where credit's due.

For starters, kudos to Andy Reid for clearly outcoaching Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan and running his record after a bye week to a ridiculous 13-0. Props to Michael Vick, who looked comfortable all night long en route to an incredibly efficient 21/28, 279 passing yard night. It probably didn't hurt him much that LeSean McCoy piled up 185 yards on 30 carries with a pair of touchdowns.

Of course, it probably didn't hurt him to get left tackle Jason Peters back on the field. Or for Philly to have an early 14-point lead, forcing Dallas to chase Vick and giving McCoy a ridiculous amount of space to get his joystick-like moves on.

This is precisely what the Eagles imagined for their team when the season began -- an athletic, big-play offense that's capable of exploding to the end zone at any moment and a defense that eliminates the opponent's passing game.

Considering that 68 of Reid's career wins (and one tie!) have come after Halloween over the course of his career, it's not crazy to think that the Eagles -- at 3-4 and now tied for both second and last place in the NFC East -- could end up winning the division.

5. Rams Over Saints
For the Rams sake, it seems like it might be smart to trot Tony LaRussa and the World Series champion Cardinals out to every home game.

But it was the Cards appearance, not LaRussa's wardrobe, at the Edward Jones Dome that inspired the Rams to rise up and knock off the Saints in a 31-21 shocker on Sunday.

"I think the Cardinals being here was great for the city," running back Steven Jackson said. "Whoever showed up today, regardless if the place was empty, today was the day.

"We came out with a mindset we were going to fight."

Because of the particular circumstances leading up to this game -- Sam Bradford out, Saints coming a 62-point outing, Rams being terrible, Al Harris being older than Rafael Furcal (no, really, it's true) -- there was zero reason to think St. Louis could cover the two-touchdown spread, much less win.

But Jackson was inspired, piling up 159 yards on 25 bruising carries. And the Rams defense was even better, limiting Brees from the start and sacking him six times. (Although I wouldn't be opposed to crediting them with just five sacks since Chris Long's third sack probably qualifies more as something you'd see in the WWE ring.)

There's no reason to get carried away and expect the Rams to start making a run in the NFC West, but take a look at their schedule. They've played some really tough teams to get to 1-6 and the schedule gets really, really, really easy from here on out, matchups against San Francisco, Cincy and Pittsburgh notwithstanding.

Or they could stop playing football and just sell tickets to see LaRussa try on Sam Bradford jerseys. I'd be fine with that too.

6. Bengals emerge
Ryan Wilson and I said before the season that the Bengals, by virtue of a puff-pastry-filled early-season schedule, could start out hot and win a few more games than anyone expected. They've done just that after a dominant 34-12 win in Seattle on Sunday moved them to 5-2.

Everyone is surprised ... except the Bengals. Naturally.

"To the people on the outside, they may be surprised and what not," cornerback Leon Hall said. "Every season we come in expecting to win. Just hopefully, we've got some big games coming up, so we execute in those games."

Hall's speaking to the widely-held belief that the Bengals will fade with  Baltimore and Pittsburgh showing up on the sked twice each in the second half of the season. That might be presumptuous, though, because this Bengals team is quietly becoming legit.

Beating the Seahawks doesn't exactly make them the Super Bowl favorites or anything, but their success is coming with a pretty simple formula that's been forgotten in this day of high-scoring NFL games: defense.

Lest you forget, the Jets made the AFC Championship game two years ago with a rookie quarterback, a stout running game and the best defense in the NFL. The Bengals aren't as good on the ground as the Jets (or even close really) and not as good on defense, but Andy Dalton's better than Mark Sanchez and A.J. Green's better than any of the receiving options the Jets had then.

Cincinnati's top-five defense will get a couple bigger tests soon in the form of the Steelers, the Ravens and a game against the Texans, but the Bengals also get the Titans, the Browns, the Rams and the Cardinals the rest of the way home.

Which means there's actually a decent chance they get to double-digit victories and one of the more shocking playoff berths we've seen in a while.

7. Ponder Wins the Weinke Bowl
The differences in Cam Newton and Christian Ponder are pretty obvious right? Their physical stature, their style of play, their respective hype coming out of college, their expectations once they were drafted ... all very different.

But they have one common thread -- they were both tutored by Chris Weinke, former Florida State and Carolina Panthers quarterback.

Ponder won their first matchup 24-21, thanks to a 31-yard honk by Olindo Mare at the end of regulation field goal that was setup by a penalty-flag honk on a holding call against Steve Smith after Cam Newton scrambled for a first down.

"I got a few texts saying already in the HD it didn't look too bad," Smith said of the official's call. "For a 70-year-old man gimping down the field, I guess that's what he saw."

Hilarious. And also probably a statement that will get Smith some kind of fine. From my vantage point, it was surprising, but not entirely unjustifiable to nail Smith with the yellow flag on the play. It shouldn't have mattered though, because as Newton pointed out after the game, the Panthers didn't do enough earlier in the game to take advantage of a game they should have won.

Once again, the problem really became that they can't stop anyone who resembles a physical running back. Adrian Peterson, who led the Vikings with 86 rushing yards and 76 receiving yards, is the definition of a physical running back, and he had his way with the Panthers defense, who let the Vikings convert seven of their 14 first downs (the Panthers came into the game ranking 29th in the NFL, allowing opponents to convert 45.5 percent of their third downs).

And when you can't stop the other team's offense and your own offense stalls out for several consecutive drives in the second half, it makes winning games hard. Newton was brilliant again, and even though the Panthers are losing, fans aren't exactly getting upset at it. The future is bright.

It's bright in Minnesota too, and it kind of makes you wonder what took Leslie Frazier so long to hand Ponder the reigns. Maybe he should have called Weinke and gotten his opinion first.

8. Fast Learners
Speaking of common threads, how about six of the top seven players in the 2011 NFL Draft coming from the SEC and making an immediate impact on the NFL as rookies?

Newton (Auburn), Marcel Dareus (Alabama), A.J. Green (Georgia), Patrick Peterson (LSU) and Julio Jones (Alabama) all hail from college football's best conference and all have put a serious footprint on the league through eight weeks. Hell, on Sunday, Newton threw three touchdowns, Dareus had 2.5 sacks, Green caught a(nother) touchdown, and Peterson returned a(nother) punt 82 yards.

To take it a step further, and move away from the SEC, it looks like this year's first-round rookies are going to be a pretty damn good crop. Ponder's clearly an upgrade for Minnesota, Ryan Kerrigan's been tremendous in Washington, Robert Quinn's coming on strong for St. Louis, J.J. Watt's a day-one starter for Houston, Aldon Smith is wrecking shop for San Francisco ... and so on and so forth.

It's early -- like eight weeks early -- but it's hard to find a slam-dunk bust in the top 10 of the draft like we've seen seen the past few years. We'll know more by season's end, but the point being is that it's an incredibly impressive performance by this rookie class on such short notice.

Or maybe the lesson is to just avoid drafting for need and grab anyone who played in the SEC.

9. Needing a New Nickname
Chris Johnson is often called "CJ2K" as an homage to his 2,006 yards rushing in 2009. His performance in 2011, coming off a contract dispute, is an insult to the letter K. And perhaps the number 2.

Certainly, it's insulting to Titans fans who had to watch him grind out 34 yards on 14 carries in Tennessee's 27-10 win over Indy Sunday.

Oh and speaking of insults, what's worse for Johnson? That Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said Johnson reminds him of Hassy's old Seattle teammate Shaun Alexander, or that Mike Munchak is having him split carries with Javon Ringer?

"The running game hasn't been where we wanted it to be all year, so I guess they just trying new things," Johnson said.

I mean, does this guy care? Because it always seemed like he might care -- there are certain guys in sports that seem as if once they get paid, they're going to reduce the amount of effort they put forth. We saw this with Albert Haynesworth and the Redskins; everyone except Dan Snyder saw his lack of effort coming.

But Johnson always seemed motivated by people who questioned his ability to be a full-time NFL running back. Maybe he's still motivated and just isn't in game shape yet, but his refusal to take accountability for a holdout followed by a monster contract followed by what is easily the worst season by a running back in the NFL this year is disappointing to say the least.

10. Upset Sunday Gets Upset
The Rams taking down the Saints is obviously a big deal. Perhaps the biggest, considering the Rams were two-touchdown dogs at home. But the early goings of Sunday's action had a lot of potential for upsets, with the Ravens losing big to the Cardinals and the Giants struggling against the winless Dolphins.

Both New York and Baltimore came back to win, but the inconsistency they've both shown against mediocre teams this year is terrifying for their fans. The Ravens looked like they might lose to the Cardinal and Jaguars in less than seven days and the Giants aren't that far removed from getting beat by the Seahawks in their home stadium.

And there's one thing they have in common: inconsistent quarterback play.

Both Joe Flacco and Eli Manning are elite-level talents with big arms. Both guys are capable of great performances. But both guys are equally capable of shooting their teams out of games.

Ken Wisenhunt and Tony Sparano deserve credit for getting their undermanned squads ready to play. Particularly Sparano, since I refuse to believe that this scene didn't unfold in the Dolphins locker room before the game Sunday:



(Yeah that's right, I'm only one Teen Wolf reference away from the trifecta.)

Anyway, the point is that Manning and Flacco scare me. As Clark Judge noted, Manning's been great at times this year, but he's absolutely capable of doing what he did against the Seahawks and tossing three picks. Flacco's more concerning, of course, because he's shown zero consistency this season, and has tended to play down to the opposition (Tennessee, Jacksonville, Arizona are all good examples).

The upside of being inconsistent and talented, though, is that you can make big throws. And both guys did that late on Sunday to help their team win. They just need to show up with more regularity if they expect either squad to make it a deep run this year.

Muffed Punts
Leftovers from Sunday's action ...
... Reggie Bush recorded his second career 100-yard rushing game Sunday. Both of them came against the Giants.
... LeSean McCoy is now the only NFL player to score a touchdown in every game this season.
... Teams coming off a bye this week were 5-1. So much for that theory about being at a disadvantage.
... The Bills are the eighth team in NFL history to start a season 4-0 at home a year after starting the season 0-4 at home.
... Calvin Johnson joins Randy Moss (2007, Pats) as the only players since 1970 to record 11 touchdown catches in their first eight games of the season.
... Five times a team's come back from 20 points to win this year -- most in NFL history.
... Cam Newton, Peyton Manning, Sam Bradford and Matt Ryan are the only quarterbacks with five 250-yard passing games in their rookie season.
... Drew Brees somehow kept his TD streak alive and now has a touchdown pass in 35 consecutive games. Johnny Unitas has the record at 47.
... Patrick Peterson joined Devin Hester and Craig Yeast as the only rookies with more than one 80+ yard return touchdown in a season

Worth 1,000 Words



Jim Irsay Pop-Culture Referencing Tweet That's Sure to Drive Colts Fans Isane of the Week
"No one is "Tanking the season"...that's absurd conspiracy theory mumblings...Suck4Luck doesn't exist n Indy"

Suck for Luck counts as a pop-culture reference right? Whatever, at this point Colts fans want the team to finish dead last right?

GIF O' THE WEEK
I could watch fat men lateraling the football for hours.



Hot Seat Tracker
  • Tony Sparano -- Great effort from Miami, but they came up short. Again.
  • Ken Wisenhunt -- Tough to see that comeback by the Ravens and not get discouraged.
  • Norv Turner -- Unless he wins on Monday.
  • Mike Shanahan -- That 4-12 thing looks more realistic than it did last week doesn't it?
  • Jim Caldwell -- Charley Casserly said he's locked but I dunno.
Chasing Andrew Luck
Colts (-600): They're clearly the NFL's worst team in 2011 ...
Dolphins (-500): But they're in a harder division.
Cardinals (-300): Season. Unraveling.
Rams (-250): Hope!

MVP Watch
Aaron Rodgers somehow picked up some more space on his bye week -- Tom Brady's poor performance separates the Packers quarterback even further. Once again, though, we need to mention Fred Jackson as a viable MVP candidate (though he won't get votes). LeSean McCoy could get some run if the Eagles really get hot.
Posted on: October 28, 2011 3:17 pm
 

The Rams to be without Sam Bradford

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

For the second-straight week, a high ankle sprain will keep Sam Bradford from stepping on the field, as the Rams official injury report lists Bradford as out for Sunday’s game vs. New Orleans.

Though Bradford said a week ago that, “definitely, I’m doing everything I can to play…whether we were playing in Dallas or in Alaska, I’m going to do everything I can to play every Sunday,” his high ankle sprain, as expected, will keep him out for a few weeks.

Therefore, A.J. Feeley will take the reins again, and the chances of the Rams upsetting the Saints have dropped to minimal proportions.

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Posted on: October 25, 2011 9:57 am
 

Coach Killers, Week 7: Carson Boller, everybody!

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat. (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson

Raiders quarterbacks (take your pick)
Remember Raiders head coach Hue Jackson in the days leading up to the Chargers game, joking about about drinking irish coffee before deciding on his quarterback? He was coy and evasive about whether Carson Palmer would start less than a week after Jackson swapped two first-rounders for him and save Oakland's season. Carson had spent the previous nine months on his couch refusing to play for the Bengals, and while the Raiders was a better situation for him (think about that for a moment), he didn't know the offense or his teammates, and would no doubt be rusty from having taken nearly a year off.

The QB changed, the results didn't (Getty Images)
So when the Raiders took the field Sunday, it was with backup Kyle Boller. Not ideal, but it's what you have to do given the circumstances. What you can't do, no matter how bad things get against a division rival: you absolutely can not bring Palmer in.

First, because, as we've established: HE'S NOT READY. Second, long-suffering Raiders fans have something this October that they haven't possessed in a decade: hope. (The Raiders entered Sunday's game with a 4-2 record. Since 2002, the last time they went to the Super Bowl, Oakland won four games or fewer for an entire season four times. And they haven't had a winning record since 2002.)  After gazing on Palmer in all his unmitigated awfulness, now that's been taken away from them, too.

Jackson panicked. Boller threw three first-half interceptions, the Raiders got down early, and Jackson, perhaps finally realizing that he had mortgaged Oakland's future, decided to get Palmer some work against a Chiefs team that suddenly looked like defending division champs.

Bad idea. Because when Palmer entered the game in the third quarter, he picked up right where Boller left off, tossing three interceptions of his own. And all the talk about the zip on his throws? He must've left that on the practice field, too, because our first glimpse at 2011 Palmer looked a lot like the 2010 Palmer that struggled with the Bengals.

Yes, we get it, that was his first game action since last season. But that's our point: don't even subject him, his fragile psyche and the fans' hopes and dreams to that in the first place. Not now. It's okay to lose convincingly with Boller. People expect it. But to throw Palmer in the mix and to have that happen … well, that's bad. Really, really, bad.

Not to worry, though.

"This football team is not going to blink," Jackson said after the game. "We've got to play better. We've got to play better offensively. I take full responsibility, because this is a team that I lead, and we didn't play like the Raiders can play."

Um, okay. It gets better (or worse, depending on your perspective).

"We knew they had a quarterback controversy," said the Chiefs' Kendrick Lewis, who pick-sixed Boller's first pass of the afternoon. "We studied film and studied their routes and knew they would have a limited playbook. When we had the opportunity to make big plays and capitalize, that's what we did."

No argument here.


The 4th interception of the day for the Kansas City defense was a pick six off of the newest member of the Oakland Raiders Carson Palmer.

Chargers' two-minute offense
San Diego scored 21 points in the first half against the Jets, and led New York for three and a half quarters. And then, when they needed to score a touchdown with just under two minutes to go, the offense showed all the urgency of a team trying to run out the clock. It was only slightly more inexplicable than the defense's decision to cover Plaxico Burress until he got into the red zone because quarterback Phil Rivers, one of the league's best quarterbacks, is supposed to excel in these late-game situations. Sunday, he did not.

A recap:

* 1:29 on the clock, ball on Chargers' 24-yard line. Rivers to Antonio Gates for 18 yards. Perfect start. We've seen this before, right?

* With no timeouts remaining, Rivers sashays up to the line of scrimmage like it's the first drive of the first quarter. Compounding matters: head coach Norv Turner appears to be in no rush to get the play call into Rivers. Twenty-nine seconds later, the Chargers finally snap the ball. Rivers, perhaps drawing inspiration from Tim Tebow, takes a deep drop before throwing a four-yard pass nowhere near the sidelines. Patrick Crayton makes the catch, the clock continues to run.

* Rivers liked the previous play so much, he runs it again, but only after 46 seconds have elapsed. Seriously.

* On third down, the ball is snapped with 17 seconds left in the game and the Chargers having gained a grand total of 25 yards. Thankfully, Rivers throws the ball a) downfield and b) to the sidelines. It falls incomplete. If nothing else, the clock stops.

* On fourth down, needing 51 yards and with just 11 seconds to do it, the Chargers will undoubtedly call a play that gets them a quick first down and then take one last chance in the end zone. Because, really, they're out of other options at this point, right? Turns out, not exactly. Rivers did something nobody expected: he throws the ball … out of bounds.  And we don't mean in a position near the sideline where only his receiver can make a play. We mean: over the bench, almost into the crowd.

So, yeah, that happened.

"Very disorganized," Tony Dungy said Sunday during NBC's Football Night in America. "You expect more Philip Rivers and that offense." Yes, yes you do, Tony.

Chargers tight end Randy McMichael agrees.

“We had them down and took our foot off the gas,” he said. “I’m not giving credit to anybody. This is our fault. Nothing to do with the play calling … Their secondary isn’t anything. It’s our fault. The guys in this locker room, we lost the game. The San Diego Chargers beat the San Diego Chargers. Nothing to do with the New York Jets. It’s embarrassing.”

Unfortunately, the San Diego Chargers don't get a win and a loss for beating themselves.

Jets cornerback (and former Coach Killers honoree!) Antonio Cromartie had a different take.

"When you're up by 11 points in the fourth quarter, and you can't even finish the game up, that shows what kind of team you are: a team that can't finish," Cromartie told The Newark Star-Ledger. "And that’s been San Diego the whole time. There it is."

And Rex Ryan's response when he was asked about McMichael's comments? "Stay classy, San Diego." We're not kidding.

Week 7 Recap

Kevin Kolb, quarterback, Arizona
You think the Cardinals regret a) trading a second-round pick and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for Kolb, and b) then giving Kolb a $62 million extension? Because we're almost positive Arizona could go 1-5 with pretty much any combination of Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton.

Against the Steelers, Kolb looked like … well, the same dude we saw behind Donovan McNabb in Philly. We were confused when the Cards gave up so much (and then paid so much) to get him in free agency since Kolb hadn't shown that he was anything other than a quality backup and spot starter.

Kolb threw an interception on Arizona's first possession, which led to seven Steelers' points, and he now has just as many TDs as picks (7) this season. He's also completing just 58 percent of his passes, and missing wide-open targets. On Sunday, he short-hopped a ball to tight end Rob Housler on what should've been a first-half touchdown, and the TD pass he did throw -- a 73-yarder to LaRod Stephens-Howling -- was a Tebow special: the ball traveled 10 yards and Stephens-Howling did the heavy lifting for the final 63 yards to the end zone.

As long as we're making comparisons, here's one more: through six games, Kolb is basically Kyle Boller with a permed mullet. This is not a compliment. (Upside: if there's ever a movie about his life, Danny McBride's getting the lead role, though Kenny Powers might have a better arm.)

Like he did in the team's previous loss, Whisenhunt vowed to examine what the Cards are doing and who's doing it. Clearly, Kolb is part of that examination, although there has been no discussion of replacing him. "I"m not saying that," Whisenhunt told the Arizona Republic's Kent Somers when he brought up the possibility. This is what happens when you pay guys $62 million and you're not really sure if they're going to pan out: you have to play them while you find out. Through six games, Kolb's struggling.

That said, he said after the Steelers loss that he felt he was making progress.

"When you have lost five games in a row, I don't think anybody is progressing at the rate we need," Whisenhunt said when apprised of Kolb's remarks.

"I think you're naïve if you say that. I'm not saying Kevin is naïve to say that. Kevin has made progress in some areas, but I think all know there have been some plays he's left out there."

We don't think Kevin's naive, either. Saying "I'm progressing!" is a coping mechanism.

Titans offense, defense
The biggest game of the season against a hated division rival and Tennessee decides to take the afternoon off. That sums up nicely what we can expect from this team the rest of the season. The Titans stumbled out of the gate losing to the Jags, then beat the Ravens in Week 2, got to 3-1 and then were smoked by the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Following their Week 6 bye, they came out wholly unprepared against a team they see twice a year every year, and following a 41-7 beatdown are now 3-3.

And there were no bright spots Sunday. Texans running back Arian Foster, not happy to just run all over the Titans, added an arial assault to the whipping. He had 115 receiving yards in the first half, including a 68-yard pitch and catch from Matt Schaub. By the time it was over, he had 119 yards receiving and another 115 rushing and three touchdowns.

“We got embarrassed in our own backyard. That’s the tough thing about it,” safety Michael Griffin said. “It can get worse. No team is going to look at us as a team that won three straight games. They’re going to look at us as a team that was 0-and-2 against good teams. We’ve got to turn this thing around.”

Luckily, Chris Johnson and his Amazing Disappearing Act, isn't to blame. At least according to Chris Johnson.

“Basically, if you are watching the game and you really can’t tell what is going on with the run game then I would say you really don’t know football,’’ Johnson said. “I wouldn’t say I am the issue. I am very confident I have been doing the things … I do.”

And in 2011, "doing the things I do" means rushing for 18 yards on 10 carries. Yes, Chris, keep doing that. It's a huge help.

Kyle Boller haunted the Ravens on MNF. (Getty Images)
Tie: Rams defense/Ravens offense
Lord have mercy on both these units. It's the unstoppable force and the immovable object having taken the shape of ridiculously bad football. The Rams, an admittedly dreadful team, got steamrolled by a Cowboys' run defense that, prior to Week 7, didn't exist. Remember: Dallas couldn't run the ball late in the game last week against the Pats' porous D. Against the Rams? It looked like Tony Dorsett and Emmitt Smith joined forces, hopped in a time machine, and went off.

Instead they just lived vicariously through rookie DeMarco Murray, Dallas' third-round pick. Murray's first touch of the game came on the Cowboys' first possession, on first and 19 from the Dallas nine-yard-line. Ninety-one yards later … touchdown. That set the tone for the rest of the afternoon. Murray, who saw extended action because Felix Jones was out with an injury, rushed 25 times for 253 (TWO-HUNDRED FIFTY-THREE!) yards.

Jeff Gordon's Rams Report Card in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is … well, about what you'd expect: Defensive line - F, linebackers - F, secondary - D-minus (woo hoo! passing!).

Head coach Steve Spagnuolo got an "F" too. "Spagnuolo was supposed to build this team from the lines out . . . and yet the Rams keep getting manhandled in the trenches, despite heavy investments there. Overall sloppiness remains pervasive six games into this winless season. … The death march continued."

And that's about the best thing you can say about the 2011 Rams.

The Ravens, meanwhile, entered Monday night's game as one of the best teams in the AFC, with their always-stout defense and a young offense that was supposedly improving. Other than the Week 1 hurting they put on the Steelers (which included seven Pittsburgh turnovers and great field position for Baltimore's offense), and the hapless Rams, the Ravens' offense looks to be right out of the era prior to the invention of the forward pass.

And that's fine if offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is feeding the ball to Ray Rice, easily the team's best weapon. But against the Jags, Rice fumbled early and ended up spending much of the evening on the bench. Predictably, Baltimore's offense faltered. (By the way, if Joe Flacco was benched every time he had a turnover he'd be on the practice squad by now.)

By the time it was over, Rice had eight carries for the night. In related news: the Ravens scored seven points, and that came on the next-to-last drive. Ironically: Flacco threw one of the worst interceptions you'll ever see on the last drive, sealing the win for the Jags.

“It's about as bad as you can play on offense,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said afterwards. “I don't know if we could play any worse than that until that [late] drive."

You can't. We checked. The Ravens didn't get their first first down until the third quarter.

“If we don't get the consistency on offense, we're not going anywhere," Harbaugh continued. "You can't play like we played tonight on offense and expect to win. We all know it. We got our butts handed to us from that sense, and we'll go back to work just like we always do.”

Linebacker Terrell Suggs, like everybody else, has no idea what the offense was doing.

"I don't really know what the game plan was," he told CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco after the game. "When I have a Pro Bowl running back, and he's not getting his touches, I'm going to feel some kind of way about it. He wants the ball. And I think we should feed him. Ray Rice is a phenomenal player. You have to use your phenomenal players. I have to question how many touches Anquan [Boldin] had. We've got guys on this team that can do some great things. We have to use those guys. It's that simple."

And this is why the torch-and-pitchfork crowd will be mobilizing this week and calling for Cameron to be fired (it's a weekly occurrence, but the cries should be especially loud this week after losing to the previously 1-5 Jaguars).


Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 105 yards against the NFL's best run defense, Josh Scobee kicked four field goals and the Jaguars snapped a five-game slide with a 12-7 victory over the Ravens on Monday night.

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Posted on: October 23, 2011 5:05 pm
 

Jason Smith leaves Rams game on stretcher

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Rams tackle Jason Smith was badly injured at the end of the first quarter of the St. Louis-Dallas game, and he had to be stretchered off the field with his head taped down in a scary scene.

After a Rams fumble, Cowboys safety Abram Elam made the recovery and tried to advance the ball down the sideline. As Smith went to make the tackle, his facemask connected with Elam’s thigh, and it appeared to jam Smith’s neck. The official injury is being called a blow to the head.

Fox reported while trainers worked on him that Smith’s breathing was labored and that officials removed his facemask before loading him onto the stretcher.

But there was a piece of good news: as Smith was being driven off the field, he waved his hands at the crowd and made his hands into what looked like a heart sign.

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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