Ten Observations from Wild Card Weekend in the NFL
1. Mike Shanahan cost both his quarterback and his team on Sunday.
That was a shameful display of coaching on Sunday by Mike Shanahan. First and foremost, who cleared Robert Griffin III to play? Dr. James Andrews said he never even examined him, so if it was Shanahan that cleared him then the league needs to investigate why a head coach is playing doctor. Secondly, RGIII was clearly in pain after he tweaked his knee near the end zone of the Redskins’ second scoring drive. It was painful to watch him fall to the ground after being untouched and then quickly glance to the sidelines looking for somebody (his head coach maybe?) to waive the white flag for him. But he’s tough and he should be commended for staying in the game. Still, it shouldn’t have taken his knee bending sideways and him lying on the ground withering in pain during the fourth quarter for Shanahan to finally pull him. He couldn’t run and he couldn’t put weight on his back leg, which caused him to throw inaccurately on nearly every attempt. By keeping him in the game, Shanahan continued to put RGIII at risk for serious injury. Forget being a human being at that point – why didn’t Mike Shanahan, the head coach, recognize that his injured quarterback was costing him an opportunity to win? Even if RGIII had begged to stay in the game Shanahan should have pulled the kid at halftime and allowed a healthy Kirk Cousins to have a crack at Seattle’s defense. There was a lot of bad coaching that took place this weekend but Shanahan was the king of stupidity on Sunday.
2. There’s a lot of good and bad that came out of the Seahawks’ win.
After 12 minutes had ticked off the clock on Sunday, it looked as if the Redskins were going to waltz down to Atlanta next week. So it was impressive to watch the Seahawks weather the storm and produce what wound up being a convincing victory. Marshawn Lynch was in full “beastmode” while rushing for 132 yards on 20 carries and he could be in store for another big game next week because the Falcons can’t stop the run either. Russell Wilson was shaky in his NFL postseason debut but he made plays when they counted, specifically on a 22-yard pass to Zach Miller on third down to set up a go-ahead touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. The defense also harassed a limited RGIII and held Alfred Morris in check outside of the first quarter. But the news wasn’t all positive for Seattle. The early reports are that top pass rusher Chris Clemons tore his ACL and his loss would serve as a big blow to Seattle’s defense with Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ explosive passing game on deck. That was also an extremely physical game for the Seahawks, who now have to fly back to Seattle before making the cross-country flight to Atlanta next weekend. That’s a lot of traveling for a team that has a history of not playing well on the road so while it’ll be a happy flight back to Seattle for Pete Carroll’s team, it might feel like a short week with all that transpired on Sunday.
3. Bill Musgrave did Joe Webb a disservice.
Joe Webb was brutal in Green Bay on Saturday night but he should be spared of heavy criticism. Christian Ponder’s injury left the Vikings in a bad situation and it’s hardly surprising that a quarterback with zero reps in the regular season struggled in a road playoff game. That said, Webb took first-team reps all week in practice so clearly Minnesota knew there was a good chance that Ponder wouldn’t play. So why offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave didn’t play to the strengths of his backup quarterback is beyond conventional wisdom. Remember, Green Bay prepared all week for Ponder, not the athletically-gifted Webb. Outside of Adrian Peterson, the biggest threat Minnesota had was the element of surprise but Musgrave decided against using it to his advantage. Why did he ditch the read-option after the first series of the game (a series that netted the Vikings a field goal)? Why didn’t he turn the contest into the equivalent of a college football bowl game? Instead of using Webb’s speed as a weapon, Musgrave kept him in the pocket. Instead of putting the Packers on their heels, Musgrave allowed Green Bay to turn Clay Matthews loose by forcing an inaccurate Webb to stand still. The results were predictably horrifying for the Vikings, who just one week ago beat that same Packers team to reach the postseason. Granted, Musgrave should be cut a little slack for having to call plays for a quarterback he hadn’t worked with all season (at least not in a regular season game). But instead of going for broke with the cards that he was dealt, Musgrave played things conventionally and wound up losing anyway.
4. The Bengals’ over thought their game plan.
Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden made tight end Jermaine Gresham the focal point of his game plan on Saturday because he believed the way to beat Houston’s defense was to attack its linebackers. It was, at the very least, a novel approach. But Gruden also completely outthought himself in the process. When it comes to the playoffs, teams need to dance with who brought them and in the case of Cincinnati, that would be A.J. Green. Andy Dalton had negative-6 yards passing at halftime of the Bengals’ 19-13 loss to the Texans on Saturday as Green wasn’t even targeted once. When the Bengals changed their approach at halftime to get Green (five catches, 80 yards) more involved, they moved the ball much more effectively in the second half. Granted, credit Wade Phillips for scheming to take Green out of the game. He often used a corner underneath and a safety over top in coverage, which helped neutralize both Green and Dalton. But Gruden’s job is to design ways for Green to get open and he didn’t do that until Houston had built a 17-6 lead in the third quarter. Failing to utilize his best playmaker in the biggest game of the season could eat at Gruden all offseason.
5. Andy Dalton needs more help.
Andy Dalton has struggled playing against the upper-echelon of NFL defenses in his first two seasons. No quarterback likes to have defenders in their face but Dalton especially struggles when teams figure out how to bring pressure up the middle. The Texans did that on Saturday and Dalton struggled mightily. His overthrow to A.J. Green late in the fourth quarter was so bad that a diving Green (who had broken open on the play) never laid a hand on it. And because of his talent limitations (the biggest knock on him is his average to below-average arm strength), there also seems to be a ceiling to Dalton’s development. That said, he’s led the Bengals (the Bengals, mind you) to back-to-back postseason appearances. Poor performance or not, Cincinnati isn’t considering making a change at quarterback right now, nor should it. That said, the Bengals need to find Dalton more weapons because it’s hard to imagine him leading Cincinnati to the Super Bowl on the strengths of his God-given abilities. They need to find another weapon opposite of A.J. Green. They need to find a running back capable of producing explosive runs. They need to find a slot receiver with breakaway speed and another pass-catching tight end to go along with Jermaine Gresham. Outside of upgrading the middle linebacker position (Rey Maualuga was repeatedly exposed on Saturday), Cincinnati’s defense is in good shape. What the Bengals need to focus on now is elevating the talent around their quarterback or else the expectations for both Dalton and the offense should be tempered.
6. The Texans seemed relieved, which isn’t a good thing with who’s coming up.
Despite their victory over the Bengals on Saturday, the Texans are far from “fixed.” Houston dominated Cincinnati in every facet of the game except the scoreboard. Arian Foster went off for 174 yards of total offense and J.J. Watt was once again a one-man wrecking crew but Houston still couldn’t pull away. In fact, had Andy Dalton not overthrown an open A.J. Green in the end zone late in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati could have easily pulled off a victory. Instead, the Texans hung on for victory and were rewarded with a trip to New England (the site of their 42-14 massacre in Week 14). One touchdown and four field goals isn’t going to cut it next weekend versus the Patriots. Nobody game plans to take away a team’s biggest strength like Bill Belichick, so don’t expect Foster to have the same output next Sunday. Can Matt Schaub elevate his play by putting an entire team on his shoulders? Considering how relieved he looked just to make it past a limited Cincinnati squad, it’s doubtful.
7. It was a collective effort by the Packers.
As Cris Collinsworth pointed out on the broadcast Saturday night, Green Bay’s defense did a great job walling off Adrian Peterson throughout the game. Considering he still rushed for 99 yards it’s not as if the Packers shut him down, but they ensured that he didn’t break long runs by tackling and constantly putting defenders in his face. But it was a collective effort by the Packers, who are at their best when they get everyone involved offensively. John Kuhn only touched the ball five times but he found the end zone twice. Greg Jennings didn’t score but he routinely caught passes on third down to keep the chains moving and DuJuan Harris did a nice job serving as Aaron Rodgers’ check down option. Speaking of which, Rodgers didn’t post monster numbers but he was highly efficient. His poise and accuracy allowed Green Bay to sustain drives and keep Peterson on the sidelines. With Joe Webb floundering on the other side, once Rodgers and the offense built a lead you knew the Packers could start preparing for San Francisco. The task gets much more difficult a week from now but Mike McCarthy had to be pleased with his team’s sound effort on Sunday night.
8. Win or lose, it was a hell of a season for the Colts.
This goes without saying – Andrew Luck needs more help. Save for Arizona, Indianapolis had the worst pass protection in football this year and yet because of Luck, the Colts made the playoffs. But teams that regularly have to throw the ball 50-plus times a game don’t win, especially on the road in the playoffs. He was hit on damn near every pass attempt this season and unlike Russell Wilson and RGIII, Luck wasn’t aided by an effective running game. He, and the Chuck Pagano-inspired Colts, were the best surprise of the 2012 season. And while I thought they would have kept the game on Sunday closer than they did, it was still a very successful season for that team. It won’t be long before the Colts are winning AFC South titles on a consistent basis again.
9. The Ravens offense finally woke up.
Throw out their impressive Week 16 victory over the Giants, the Ravens haven’t exactly been awe-inspiring of late. Their offense has struggled in large part to Ray Rice being limited by his own offensive coordinator and Joe Flacco’s inconsistency. But on in the second half on Sunday, Baltimore’s offense finally awoke from its month-long slumber. Anquan Boldin was marvelous. He essentially put the entire offense on his shoulders while harassing cornerback Cassius Vaughn of pass plays of 50, 46 and 21 yards. On a day when Ray Rice uncharacteristically put the ball on the ground twice, he stepped up when his offense needed him most. Credit the Ravens defense too, because they consistently came up with stops or held the Colts to three points when their backs were against the wall. This is a team built for the postseason and while Denver looks like an unstoppable force, don’t forget that Baltimore has often resembled an immovable object in the past. They’ll likely give Peyton Manning all he can handle next weekend.
10. Was anybody else left unfulfilled?
Life is all about expectations. The moment the final seconds ticked off the clock in Washington’s Week 17 victory over Dallas I immediately became excited for the weekend of playoff bliss that was ahead. RGIII vs. Russell Wilson? Adrian Peterson vs. Green Bay III? Andrew Luck making his first postseason start? Yes, please. Fast forward to Sunday night and I’m left completely unfilled. That just wasn’t a very sharp weekend of football. Cincinnati, Minnesota and Indianapolis all stunk. Washington came out of the gates hot but RGIII’s knee injury cooled that fire. Aaron Rodgers and Joe Flacco were good, but they were the only quarterbacks that played well. None of the games were blowouts by definition yet all four somehow managed to seem over well before the final whistle blew. After watching Northern Illinois, Kansas State and Oklahoma make a mockery of their bowl games, football fans were ready for a great weekend of NFL action. But instead we got three lackluster finishes and one game (Seattle-Washington) that barely would have caused a ripple on a regular NFL Sunday. “Meh” was the word of the weekend.
Posted in: NFL
Tags: A.J. Green, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Anquan Boldin, Arian Foster, Bill Musgrave, Christian Ponder, Cincinnati Bengals, Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jay Gruden, Joe Webb, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Schaub, Mike McCarthy, Mike Shanahan, Minnesota Vikings, NFL Playoffs, RGIII, Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Redskins
Ten Observations from Week 11 in the NFL
1. Losing Gronkowski is a killer for Patriots.
Bill Belichick always finds a way. When Randy Moss became a nuisance in 2010 and the Patriots eventually decided to trade him, Belichick revamped his offense to feature rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Instead of attacking teams vertically with Moss, New England started going down the seam to its tight ends while mixing in a variety of screens (a staple in the Pats offense). So losing Gronkowski for 4-6 weeks due to a broken forearm isn’t going to completely derail the Patriots. They’re going to win the AFC East and they’ll probably wind up hosting a playoff game come January. But make no mistake: losing Gronkowski changes a lot for New England. Including Sunday’s 59-24 win over the Colts, “Gronk” had 37 touchdowns in 42 career games. He’s solidified himself as one of the most dangerous red-zone threats in the game and is perhaps the best player at his position. Indianapolis didn’t have an answer for him on Sunday and most teams usually don’t. He’s too fast for tight ends and he’s too big for safeties or cornerbacks. Double him and you’ll leave Wes Welker open in space, or create holes for New England’s shredding running game. The Patriots didn’t just lose a playmaker – they lost the most productive player on their roster not named Thomas Edward Patrick Brady, Jr. Again, Belichick will find a way to keep his offense firing on all cylinders (the return of Herndandez will help). But he just lost one hell of a piston.
2. The blueprint on how to beat the Falcons has been revealed.
Coming into this week, the most interceptions Matt Ryan had thrown in one game was three. He matched that total in the first quarter of the Falcons’ fortunate 23-16 win over the Cardinals on Sunday, and threw two more interceptions before the completion of the game. It’s fair to point out that one interception went off Roddy White’s hands while two more were tipped at the line of scrimmage. But the other two picks were all Ryan, who perhaps had the worst game of his career. Ray Horton put together a brilliant game plan, dialing up a heavy array of blitzes while bringing pressure up the middle. Arizona only sacked Ryan once, but the Atlanta QB was constantly under duress and had someone in his face all game. With Julio Jones limited due to an ankle injury, the Cardinals were also smart to play bump and run on the outsides. Ryan threw for 301 yards but Arizona turned his five interceptions into 16 points. If the Cardinals had something even remotely resembling a NFL quarterback on their roster, they would have won the game easily. Instead, Horton handed other defensive coordinators a blueprint on how to corral the Falcon offense. Pressure Ryan up the middle, play physical on the outsides, and bracket Tony Gonzalez in coverage and you’ll limit what Atlanta can do. Granted, that’s easier said than done but thanks to the cemented-footed Michael Turner, it’s not as if the Falcons can lean on their running game in efforts to mix things up. Considering they may face aggressive defenses like San Francisco and Chicago in the playoffs, the one-dimensional Falcons have legitimate concerns despite being 9-1.
3. Manning is now the clear choice for MVP.
Save for his disastrous five-interception effort on Sunday, Matt Ryan has been phenomenal for the Falcons this season. He’s having a career year and if the MVP award were to be handed out tomorrow, one could easily make an argument that he’s deserving of the honor. But if you were looking for an MVP favorite right now, it would have to be Peyton Manning, who is having a career year statistically for the Broncos. The Chargers sacked him three times on Sunday and constantly pressured Manning inside the pocket. But he still wound up completing 25-of-42 passes for 270 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He has a 21-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio over his last eight games and he’s put Denver in position to challenge for one of the top two seeds in the AFC. Thanks in large part to his production and the play of Von Miller (who’s a beast), the Broncos have now won five straight. And considering he missed all of last season due to multiple neck/back surgeries, what he’s been able to accomplish this season has been nothing short of remarkable. While his statistics have been impressive, you can’t measure what he’s been able to do for Denver this season. He’s going to make the Broncos a very tough out in the postseason.
4. At some point, the Rams need more from Bradford.
With how bad Sam Bradford was on Sunday, Brian Schottenheimer must have thought he was still calling plays for Mark Sanchez. Bradford completed just 23-of-44 passes for 170 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in the Rams’ 27-13 loss to the Jets. He completed just 52 percent of his passes for a dismal 3.9 yards per attempt and also lost a fumble while looking uncomfortable by what the Jets were doing defensively. One week after shredding San Francisco’s outstanding defense, Bradford put together a forgettable performance against a reeling Jets team that was without its best defender. Granted, the excuses for Bradford are still viable. He’s playing in his third offense and for his third offensive coordinator in three years. But at some point the Rams are going to have to see signs of sustained progress from their third-year QB. Right now the formula is too easy for opposing defenses: Contain Danny Amendola, shut down Bradford and the St. Louis passing game. There’s no question Bradford needs a better supporting cast and it’s not as if he hasn’t improved. At times this season he’s played with more confidence and has looked more poised than at any point in his career. But one major flaw that he lacks is the ability to create on his own. That’s what the best do. And while the New York loss shouldn’t solely be laid at his feet the Rams need more from their franchise player or the team’s success will remain sporadic.
5. The Bucs are legit playoff contenders.
There’s something special brewing in Tampa Bay this year. Down 11 points late in the fourth quarter, the Bucs mounted an impressive comeback to beat the Panthers 27-21 in overtime. It was the fifth straight game in which Tampa scored at least 27 points and over the last six weeks, Josh Freeman has thrown 16 touchdowns with just three interceptions while averaging 285.8 yards per game. Granted, it wasn’t all good for Freeman on Sunday. He threw a mind-numbing pick-six to Captain Munnerlyn at the end of the first quarter while displaying shoddy footwork for much of the game. But with everything on the line late in the fourth, he threaded the needle to Vincent Jackson between two defenders and with one Panther hanging on him to put the Bucs within a 2-point conversation of tying the game. He then found Jackson again on the 2-point attempt before orchestrating an 8-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in overtime to put Carolina out of its misery. After what they’ve been able to accomplish over the past four weeks, don’t for a second think that the Bucs can’t beat the Falcons next week. Atlanta has had major issues in Tampa for the better part of a decade, including last season when the Bucs beat the Falcons, 16-13. They also can’t stop the run (hello, Doug Martin) and they’re banged up defensively (Sean Weatherspoon missed his third straight game due to an ankle injury, Asante Samuel hurt his shoulder and John Abraham came up limping several times on Sunday). That said, the biggest thing holding Tampa Bay back right now is its pass defense. And while Atlanta has proven to be one-dimensional offensively, the thing the Falcons do well is throw the ball. Next week will be the Bucs biggest challenge to date. Beat the 9-1 Falcons and all of a sudden they’re in the driver’s seat to secure one of the two wild card spots in the NFC.
6. The Steelers are in trouble.
Following the most athletic play of his career, Byron Leftwich did a very Byron Leftwich-type thing: He tripped over his own two feet with nobody around him and somehow hurt his shoulder in the process. He went on to complete just 18-of-39 passes for 201 yards with one costly interception in the Steelers’ 13-10 loss to the Ravens on “Sunday Night Football.” To be fair, it was a gritty performance by the former Jaguar, who stayed in the game despite taking hit-after-hit from aggressive Baltimore defenders. But the same progrems that plagued him as a rookie continue to plague him in his 10th year. He holds onto the ball too long, his elongated release welcomes turnovers, and he’s too erratic as a passer. Pittsburgh’s defense played well enough to win but Leftwich couldn’t sustain drives and special teams let the Steelers down when Jacoby Jones returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown in the first half. Leftwich should be good enough to beat Cleveland next Sunday but two weeks from now the Steelers will have to travel to Baltimore to play the Ravens again. If they lose that game, they’ll almost certainly lose the division and will then have to compete with Indianapolis and Cincinnati for a wild card berth in the AFC. With Leftwich under center, there are no more “gimmies” on the schedule.
7. The Eagles have no choice but to hand Reid his walking papers.
The sensible thing for the Eagles to do is fire Andy Reid right now in order to get a jumpstart on finding his replacement. Why delay the inevitable? But considering he’s been one of the finest head coaches to not win a Super Bowl over the past two decades, Philadelphia may decide to let Reid finish out the season. Either way, the Eagles need to make a move. Following their 31-6 loss to the Redskins on Sunday, it’s apparent that there will be no miracle in Philadelphia this year. Despite having all of that talent, the Eagles don’t do anything well on either side of the ball. They can’t tackle. They don’t start fast. They don’t finish strong. No matter who’s under center they generate too many turnovers from the quarterback position. They don’t play with urgency, their game plans are often puzzling and injuries have decimated the offensive line. They’re just a bad football team, perhaps one of the worst in the NFL. And when a team has that much talent and is playing this bad, the head coach must go. It’s not as if the game has passed Reid by. The players have just stopped responding and when that happens, it’s best for all involved if there’s a change at the top. Reid will surely find work after this season, or in two years if he decides to take a year off. But his time in Philadelphia is coming to an end. It simply has to.
8. The Packers have very quietly won five in a row.
Last year the Packers sprinted through the regular season while lighting up opponents along the way. But they’ve traded in style for grit this year and they’ve very quietly put together a five-game winning streak. In their 24-20 win over the Lions on Sunday, Mason Crosby missed two field goals, Aaron Rodgers spent most of the day not being on the same page with his receivers, and Mike McCarthy questionably stuck with a running game that simply wasn’t working. It was the second time in three games that the Packer offense struggled, although Rodgers remains on a pretty good tear. He now has 24 touchdown passes in his last seven games and was clutch Sunday when it mattered most, hitting Jermichael Finley for a 40-yard pass play to set up the game-winning 22-yard touchdown to Randall Cobb. Green Bay is far from being the juggernaut that it was last season but just like in 2010 when they won the Super Bowl, they’re having to grind out victories. That could serve them well down the road.
9. The Bengals still have a pulse.
Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have revived a Bengals team left for dead two weeks ago. At 5-5 there’s still time for Cincinnati to mount a comeback in the AFC, especially with Ben Roethlisberger likely to miss sufficient time due to injuries. With games versus Oakland, San Diego, Dallas and Philadelphia coming up, it’s realistic that the Bengals could be 9-5 heading into Pittsburgh on December 23. The key is whether or not Dalton continues to play with the confidence that he’s exhibited over his past two games. Following his four-touchdown, zero-interception performance versus the Giants, the second-year QB completed 18-of-29 passes for 230 yards with two touchdowns and no picks in Cincinnati’s 28-6 win over the Chiefs on Sunday. Green also caught a touchdown pass in his ninth straight game, leaving him one TD shy of tying Carl Pickens’ franchise record. At some point they need to prove that they can beat Baltimore and Pittsburgh if they want to be taken seriously. But suddenly the Bengals are in position to compete for that sixth and final wild card spot in the AFC.
10. Quick-Hits from around the league…
Even though they eventually lost the game, Jaguar fans had to be thrilled with their team’s effort on Sunday. That said, big picture-wise it’s not good that Chad Henne lit Houston up for 354 yards and four touchdown passes while once again being forced into action because of an injury to Blaine Gabbert. Henne was exposed in Miami as a full-time starter and he’s not the long-term answer in Jacksonville. But through a season and a half, Gabbert doesn’t appear to be either…Speaking of Houston, what a day for Matt Schaub (43-of-55, 527 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs). On a rare day when he had to pick up his defense, Schaub and Andre Johnson (14 catches, 273 yards, 1 TD) were sensational…The Cowboys are in trouble if they’re barely squeaking by the Browns at home. How can anyone in Dallas be confident that the Cowboys will make the postseason when Green Bay, Tampa Bay, Seattle New Orleans and Minnesota are all playing better?…The Colts proved in New England that they’re not quite ready for primetime but Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton are starting to become a nice little duo. Hilton now has three 100-yard games this season and has emerged as a true deep threat in Indy’s offense. And while New England took two of Luck’s interceptions back for touchdowns, the rookie QB continues to show great pocket presence and toughness. He’s not afraid to stand in the pocket and deliver a strike in the face of charging defenders…. Mike Mularkey did wonders for Roddy White’s career in Atlanta and he could do the same for Justin Blackmon in Jacksonville. While receiving a team-high 13 targets as the focal point of the Jaguars passing game, Blackmon broke out with a seven-catch, 236-yard performance. He also caught an 81-yard touchdown pass while snatching the ball in triple coverage. It was the game Jacksonville fans have been waiting for since April…If Matthew Stafford ever decides to go back and review his performance from this season, he won’t like what he sees. Too many times this year he would be careless with the football, including on Sunday when he threw a side-armed interception just before halftime, killing whatever opportunity Detroit had to sustain momentum versus Green Bay. He’s also taken some bad sacks in crucial moments of games, hasn’t always secured the ball properly and often halted drives with poor decision-making. After throwing for over 5,000 yards in 2011, this season has been a bust for the fourth-year QB…Forget the Cardinals’ record – Ray Horton is going to be a hot name this offseason when it comes to coaching vacancies around the NFL. On most Sundays, his defense has played well enough to win games, even though Arizona’s offense constantly puts his players in horrible situations…The Saints’ victory over the lowly Raiders was impressive, but their playoff hopes firmly ride on the next four weeks: vs. 49ers, at Falcons, at Giants, vs. Bucs. If they can win three of four they can make the playoffs with a two-game sweep of the Cowboys and Panthers to close out the regular season…There’s not much going right for the Chargers these days, including a reckless Philip Rivers. But former Ram Danario Alexander is making the most out of a second chance. Limited by a hamstring injury in training camp and preseason, having five weeks off to heal up did wonders for Alexander’s career. He now has 15 catches for 291 yards and three touchdowns in his last three games.
Tags: A.J. Green, Aaron Rodgers, Andre Johnson, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Andy Reid, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Byron Leftwich, Chad Henne, Cincinnati Bengals, Danny Amendola, Denver Broncos, Doug Martin, Fire Andy Reid, Green Bay Packers, Jacoby Jones, Josh Freeman, Julio Jones, Justin Blackmon, Matt Ryan, Matt Schaub, Matthew Stafford, Mike McCarthy, New England Patriots, Peyton Manning, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Ray Horton, Rob Gronkowski, Rob Gronkowski injury, Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams, Tom Brady, Vincent Jackson, Y.A. Hilton
Quick-Hit Reactions from Week 13 in the NFL
Every Sunday throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…
– I’ll write this every week until somebody proves they can beat them: When it comes to the power structure in the NFL, it’s the Packers and everyone else. Outside of maybe the Saints, any other team would have tried a few feeble pass attempts at the end of that game today in New York and then settled for overtime. But not Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who glided down the field in 14 seconds, got into field goal range and kicked a game-winner at the end of regulation. Teams will continue to move the ball on Green Bay’s defense but give Rodgers an inch and he’s going to take 80 yards (and six points). I’ve written this several times on this site: Ted Thompson built one hell of a team because while Rodgers is unbelievable, he has a slew of weapons at his disposal. I just don’t see how this team loses at home in the playoffs.
– Tim Tebow made some great throws today, which of course is a noteworthy because Tim Tebow rarely makes good throws. That said, he might as well have been throwing against air because Minnesota’s secondary let Denver’s receivers run wild the entire game. It was almost as if the Vikings gave Demaryius Thomas a free one-day pass to tour their defensive backfield. And boy did he take advantage of it.
– The Texans will be fine with T.J. Yates under center. He was fortunate that his biggest mistake (an interception return for touchdown by the Falcons’ Mike Peterson) was wiped out by a holding penalty on cornerback Dunta Robinson. But even if that play stood ,Yates played well enough to win. In fact, he outplayed a mistake-prone Matt Ryan. That said, with Andre Johnson scheduled to undergo an MRI on his hamstring, you have to wonder if the Texans will just be happy to make the playoffs if/when they do. They’ve played some gritty football this season but they’re going to be awfully worn out come January.
– The Giants deserve credit for showing up today after being humiliated by the Saints on Monday Night Football. But it’s startling how easy it is for offenses to move the chains on their defense. Granted, New York is dealing with a ton of injuries on that side of the ball but it took Aaron Rodgers just 14 seconds to get into field goal range for the game-winner today. Fourteen seconds! It takes me longer to speed dial my mother.
– The Raiders deserve a lot of credit for overcoming injuries on both sides of the ball in order to win three in a row coming into this week. But a big part of me wondered if they were winning with smokes and mirrors. Michael Bush has been outstanding but was the defense as really as good as it seemed or was its play a product of the offenses they were playing (i.e. San Diego, Minnesota and the Jay Cutler-less Bears)? That question may have been answered today. Miami racked up 362 yards of total offense, including 209 yards on the ground. Oakland’s run defense has been Jekyll and Hyde all year and today they were more Jekyll than Hyde. Now that they’re tied with the Broncos atop the AFC West it’ll be interesting to see how Oakland responds to this loss, especially with a trip to Green Bay coming up next week.
– How did so many teams miss Antonio Brown in the 2010 draft? It’s not like he didn’t tear it up at Central Michigan and clearly he has the speed to be an effective return man yet he lasted until the sixth round. He only made two catches today but his 45-yard catch-and-run was a display of pure speed. It’s almost unfair for defenses to that Big Ben is always able to break out of would-be tackles and throw to speedsters like Brown and Mike Wallace.
– They played the Rams so take this for what it’s worth: The Niners showed today that they have more than “just” Frank Gore on offense. Alex Smith (17-of-23 for 274 yards and two touchdowns) had his best game of the season, while receivers Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams flashed a good deal of playmaking ability themselves. Given how good the defense is, if some of San Fran’s other weapons step up offensively, there’s no reason to think the Niners can’t make it to the NFC title game or beyond.
– The Falcons’ offense was completely out of sync today in Houston. Part of the reason for that was because Michael Turner was dealing with a groin injury and ran like he had four tons of cement tied to his legs. Wade Phillips’ defense also constantly harassed Matt Ryan, who wasn’t on the same page with his receivers (who kept dropping the ball). But the bigger issue is that Mike Smith and Mike Mularkey blew it by not running the no-huddle at the start of the year. It’s the offense that Ryan is most comfortable and most successful running but because the Falcons are trying to iron out kinks in live games, it’s no surprise that they sputtered against a good defense. Had Smith switched to the no-huddle months ago, the Falcons may be firing on all cylinders right now. Regardless, it’s clear that Atlanta isn’t good enough to beat the top teams in the league. They’re a classic second-tier team and I don’t see them getting over the hump this season.
– Considering Percy Harvin has been the Vikings’ entire offense the past two weeks while Adrian Peterson has been out, I don’t blame Christian Ponder for looking his way with Minnesota needing a big play with under two minutes remaining in a tied game. But in the name of Tim Tebow that was a horrible decision by Ponder on Andre Goodman’s interception. Harvin had coverage in front of him, behind him, and to the side of him. He might as well been wearing a Denver uniform he was so covered up.
– Jets, Bengals, Falcons, Lions, Bears, Giants. Nice Wild Card teams this year. Not a flaw in that group.
– Rob Gronkwoski is only 22 and he’s already the GREATEST TIGHT END TO HAVE EVER PLAYED THE GAME. Just ask his fantasy owners.
– Tyler Palko’s first career touchdown pass was even more improbable than his first career win. On a day when the 4-7 Chiefs knocked off the 7-4 Bears, Palko’s first TD as a pro came on a fluke Hail Mary to Dexter McCluster right before half. Brian Urlacher leaped into the air and batted the ball perfectly into McCluster’s hands. Who would have thought that score would be all the Chiefs needed to win?
– You heard it here first: The Panthers will beat the Falcons next Sunday in Carolina. The records say different but there’s not that big of a gap between Carolina and Atlanta right now. And with two of the Falcons’ top three corners out with injuries, Cam Newton should have a field day throwing the ball. (On a related note, that pitch-back to Newton that the Panthers ran today in their win over the Bucs was sweeeet.)
– Every team has to deal with injuries. It’s the ones that draft well and build depth through free agency that can overcome the inevitable bumps and bruises. But what’s a team to do when it losses it’s quarterback and star player in a three-week span? You almost have to feel for the Bears, who lost Matt Forte to a Grade 2 MCL sprain today. For those that watched Chicago’s loss to Kansas City, you saw a Bears team that had absolutely nothing offensively. Even though they currently own the fifth seed in the NFC, the Bears aren’t making the playoffs with a backfield tandem of Caleb Hanie and Marion Barber. It’s an unfortunate situation for a team that looked like it was postseason bound just three weeks ago.
– Following Cleveland’s loss to Baltimore, Browns coach Pat Shumur said that Peyton Hillis is dealing with an undisclosed injury and his status for Week 14 is uncertain. I’m not suggesting he’s a bad player but what team in their right mind would give Hillis a huge contract? The guy just can’t stay healthy. (Although if you’re the Browns, what choice do you have? That team has zero offense.)
– Classic Cowboys. They scratch and claw their way up the NFC East standings and with a golden opportunity to take a two-game lead over the Giants in the division, they lose to the Cardinals while scoring only 13 points. Oh, and after Jason Garrett freezes his own placekicker. Even though New York lost to Green Bay and remains one game behind Dallas with four weeks left to play, the race in the East is far from over. As Arizona proved today, that’s a very flawed team that Jerry Jones owns.
– The fact that the Cardinals continue to fight despite the fact that they have basically nothing to play for is a credit to Ken Whistenhunt. Some were suggesting that he be fired at the start of the season but he’s clearly still the right man for the job. One strong offseason and I envision the Cards challenging the Niners in the division next year.
– The Ravens have gone run-heavy the past three games following an ugly loss to the Seahawks in which they tried to win by being aggressive through the air. That makes me wonder what John Harbaugh said to Cam Cameron the week after the Seattle loss. “Hey Cam, come on in. As you’ll see behind me, Ray Rice is standing to my left and to my right is the door. It’s up to you which one you want to use from this point forward but it will be one or the other.”
– The Bengals have been one of this year’s biggest surprises and nobody thought they’d win five games nevertheless seven. But their performance today in Pittsburgh proved just how far they have in their maturation process. Andy Dalton looked like a deer caught in the headlights and if it weren’t for A.J. Green (who at this point is clearly better than Julio Jones), Cincinnati may not have cracked 100 yards of offense. The fans in Cincinnati have suffered long enough and they deserve to watch their team in the playoffs but it’s hard to imagine the Bengals winning a postseason game on the road.
– That’s almost kind of like a win for the Colts, right? Twenty-one point dog and they lose by seven. Not bad considering.
Posted in: NFL
Tags: A.J. Green, Aaron Rodgers, Andre Johnson hamstring, Antonio Brown, Atlanta Falcons, Cam Newton, Christian Ponder, Dallas Cowboys, Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos, Dunta Robinson, Green Bay Packers, Julio Jones, Kyle Williams, Matt Forte, Matt Ryan, Michael Crabtree, Mike Peterson, New York Giants, New York Jets, NFL scores, Oakland Raiders, Percy Harvin, Peyton Hillis, Ray Rice, Rob Gronkowski, San Francisco 49ers, T.J. Yates, Tim Tebow, tyler palko
Quick-Hit Reactions from Week 12 in the NFL
Every Sunday throughout the 2011 NFL season I’ll compile quick-hit reactions from the day that was in football. I vow to always overreact, side with sensationalism over rationalism, and draw conclusions based on small sample sizes instead of cold, hard facts. It’s the only way I know how to write…
– Vince Young threw some ugly passes in the Eagles’ 38-20 loss to the Patriots, none bigger than his “touch” pass to Brent Celek in the back of the end zone on fourth down midway through the third quarter when the score was still relatively close. But he also deserved a better fate in the end. He threw for 400 yards and one touchdown, and should have had two more scores had DeSean Jackson not dropped two passes in the end zone. For a guy who is so concerned about his contract, Jackson isn’t playing with much concentration, focus, or drive right now. He was also benched by Andy Reid late in the fourth quarter, which signals that he’s just as likely to get the boot in Philly than a new deal.
– Matt Leinart admitted following the Texans’ 20-13 win over the Jaguars that his season is likely over. Dude waits two years to get another shot to start in the NFL and when he does, he breaks his collarbone in his second quarter back. That’s a tough break, both literally and figuratively. Now Houston’s playoff hopes ride on fifth-round rookie T.J. Yates, although it’s not like the Texans were pinning their hopes on great quarterback play from here on out anyway. If they win, it’ll be because of their running game and defense – not Leinart, Yates, or whomever they find while dumpster diving next week.
– I loved how CBS kept showing Tim Tebow sitting on the bench as the Chargers marched down the field in overtime trying to get into field goal range for a game-winning score. As if Tebow was going to summon some magical higher power to help Denver’s defense stuff Mike Tolbert on a 4-yard loss on 3rd-and-6 and force the Chargers to attempt a 53-yard-field goal instead of a 49-yarder. And then magically lead the Broncos down the field, get into field goal range and then win in come-from-behind fashion once again. I mean, let’s get real…….say again? That’s exactly what happened? For Tebow’s sake, are you serious? That CBS is genius…
– …in all seriousness, Denver’s defense deserves most, if not all of the credit for the team’s sudden turnaround. Tebow is 5-1 and has been incredibly clutch in the fourth quarter and in overtime, but without the Broncos’ defense holding opponents to 13 points or less he may not win a game. Von Miller is something special and John Fox has done wonders for Denver’s entire defense.
– Their mismanagement of Blaine Gabbert has made the front office and coaching staff in Jacksonville look like a bunch of clowns. Gabbert clearly wasn’t ready for NFL action when the Jaguars drafted him with the 10th overall pick last April, which was fine because David Garrard was still the starter. Gabbert could have held a clipboard in his first year before taking over next season or in 2013 when he was ready. But instead, the front office released Garrard and the Jaguars shoehorned Gabbert into the starting role right away. Then, because he’s been so ineffective over the past two months, the team had to bench him today against Houston in favor of Luke McCown. Had the Jags remained patient from the start this situation could have been avoided. But now Gabbert’s confidence has likely taken a huge hit and GM Gene Smith may lose his job for his poor decision-making this offseason.
– The Chargers are done and you wonder whether or not Norv Turner’s time in San Diego is up. If it is, maybe he should give serious consideration to staying an offensive coordinator. Stripped from all of his head-coaching responsibilities, I think the guy could win multiple Super Bowls again just calling plays. Granted, the Chargers only scored 13 points today but Turner’s version of the Air Coryell offense can often be very explosive. He just lacks whatever guys like Mike Tomlin have in order to inspire a football team. I don’t want to say what’s best for Turner because only he knows that. But as an outsider, I don’t think it would be such a bad thing if he finishes his coaching career up in the booth calling plays. (If the Chargers end his tenure in San Diego, that is.)
– Only Mark Sanchez could throw for four touchdowns and still leave people doubting his abilities. I watched a good portion of the Jets’ 28-24 win over the Bills on Sunday and while Sanchez certainly executed in the red zone, he was shaky against a miserable Buffalo defense (which should have finished with more than just one interception). But at least New York picked up the win, which was big given New England’s victory against Philadelphia late on Sunday.
– I know it was only Minnesota but the Falcons’ offense is finally starting to resemble the unit that everyone thought it would at the beginning of the year. Matt Ryan went his second-straight game without turning the ball over and threw three touchdown passes, while Roddy White had his second straight 100-yard performance and made a sweet catch in the back of the end zone for his lone score during Atlanta’s 24-14 win. After two months of wasting his talent, OC Mike Mularkey has also finally figured out what a weapon Harry Douglas is in the slot. The next thing Mularkey has to do is stop using Julio Jones as just a complementary piece in the offense. Once that happens, the Falcons will really be firing on all cylinders.
– Speaking of firing on all cylinders, I give you the New England Patriots. Wes Welker: Eight catches, 115 yards, two touchdowns. Deion Branch (from my fantasy bench): Six catches and 125 yards. Aaron Hernandez: Six catches and 62 yards. Rob Gronkowski: A very quiet four catches for 59 yards and one 24-yard touchdown catch. Tom Brady topped everything off with 361 yards threw the air and three touchdowns. The Patriots are at their best when they get everybody involved a la the Saints and Packers. That was a very sound performance out of New England, which never panicked even though it was down 10-0 early to the Eagles.
– If Beanie Wells could only stay healthy he could be one of the league’s premier backs. The Rams don’t have the greatest of defenses but Wells looked explosive while rushing for a record 228 yards on 27 carries in the Cardinals’ 23-20 win. He and Patrick Peterson (who returned his fourth punt return for touchdown this season) snatched victory from the jaws of defeat (other wise known as John Skelton).
– Outside of Chris Johnson’s 190 rushing yards, it wasn’t a great effort by the Titans in their 23-17 win over the Bucs. But all wins are huge for Tennessee from here on out. The Titans only trail the Texans by two games in the AFC South and now that Houston is down to T.J. Yates at quarterback, Tennessee has a very realistic shot of catching Houston down the stretch. For Tennessee, it’s “Just win baby” from here on out.
– The Browns are something else. They find new ways to lose every week. They managed to catch the Bengals sleepwalking today in Cincinnati but they squandered a 17-7 halftime lead and a 20-10 third-quarter lead to lose 23-20 on a last-second field goal. Joe Haden (who is a star in the making) was stuck to A.J. Green like Velcro for 58 minutes and the one big play Green makes goes for 51 yards to set up the Bengals’ game-winning field goal. Unreal. And Colt McCoy does just enough not to win every week. The kid threw two touchdown passes but he his average pass went for 4.4 yards. Four-point-four yards! The Browns need a little more out of McCoy than that.
– Want to know how bad things are right now for the Vikings? Percy Harvin had a 107-yard kickoff return today and still didn’t score a touchdown. That’s tough to do.
– You have to love Mike Shanahan. Five days ago he basically said that Roy Helu wasn’t ready to be the Redskins’ full-time back and then handed the rookie 30 touches in the team’s 23-17 win over the Seahawks on Sunday. Helu finished with 108 rushing yards and 54 receiving yards, with one touchdown and seven receptions to boot. I’m sure Evan Royster will start and receive the same opportunities next week as Shanahan continues to ruin fantasy football owners’ lives.
– While the Seahawks remain a highly perplexing team, Marshawn Lynch continues to be one of the steadiest backs in the league. For the third time in his last four games, Lynch rushed for over 100 yards and for the seventh straight week, he found the end zone. It came in a losing effort but he’s a free agent at the end of the year and if he continues to run like he has, he’ll be earning a long-term contract next offseason.
Posted in: NFL
Tags: A.J. Green, Beanie Wells, Blaine Gabbert, Chris Johnson, Colt McCoy, Denver Broncos, DeSean Jackson, Harry Douglas, Houston Texans, Joe Haden, John Skelton, Julio Jones, Marshawn Lynch, Matt Leinart, Matt Ryan, New England Patriots, Patrick Peterson, Percy Harvin, Roddy White, Roy Helu, T.J. Yates, Tennessee Titans, Tim Tebow, Vince Young, Wes Welker
A.J. Green to Falcons rumors heating up again
Just over a month ago, Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote an article suggesting that the Falcons should do everything in their power to move up in order to select dynamic wide receiver prospect A.J. Green. If Peter King’s latest tweet comes to fruition, Schultz’s wish may become a reality.
Just days before the first round of the draft is set to take place on Thursday night, King tweets that Atlanta is seeking an “explosive outside threat” and is trying to “get way up” for either Green or Alabama’s Julio Jones. King does mention, however, that the situation is unlikely.
The reason that it’s unlikely is that the Falcons hold the No. 27th overall pick and there’s a very good chance that both Green and Jones will go in the top 10. If that’s the case, Atlanta has a ton of ground to cover in order to put itself in position to nab either wideout. Seeing as how teams can only trade picks from this year’s draft, a move like that could prove to be difficult. (The reason teams can’t deal picks from future drafts is because without a CBA in place, there is no 2012 draft. No draft = no draft picks to trade.)
That said, Falcons’ GM Thomas Dimitroff has made at least one bold move every offseason since arriving in Atlanta in 2008. He signed free agent Michael Turner in ’08, traded for tight end Tony Gonzalez in ’09 and signed corner Dunta Robinson to a lucrative deal last offseason. He also traded back into the ’08 draft to select offensive tackle Sam Baker, so he does have at least some history of trading up. (Although it’s important to note that he was also armed with multiple second round picks that year because of the DeAngelo Hall trade with Oakland, so he had more to work with in order to move up.)
As King suggests, it seems highly unlikely that the Falcons would be able to pull off a trade in order to get into the top 10. Cleveland, which holds the seventh overall pick, would seemingly make a great trade partner. But with needs at defensive end and along the offensive line (three of the five starters from last year’s O-line are free agents), would Dimitroff sacrifice most, if not all of his draft in order to make a deal like this? He knows he has a Super Bowl-caliber roster on his hands and adding a weapon opposite Roddy White to spread defenses vertically is a must. But at the end of the day, a deal like that may be too rich for Dimitroff and the Falcons’ blood.
Posted in: NFL, NFL Draft
Tags: 2011 NFL Draft, 2011 nfl draft rumors, A.J. Green, a.j. green draft rumors, a.j. green falcons, Anthony Stalter, Atlanta Falcons, falcons draft rumors, Julio Jones, julio jones draft rumors