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Sunday Morning NFL Quick-Hits

Every Sunday morning our NFL columnist Anthony Stalter will provide his “quick-hits” from around the league. You can follow him on Twitter @AnthonyStalter.

+ The Miami Dolphins might be on the verge of making a mistake by signing Chad Ochocinco, who reportedly lacked football I.Q. to survive in New England. Said Boston Globe’s Greg Bedard: “The Patriots would literally tell him to run a route a certain way, and a minute later he would run it the other way. It happened all the time.” Ochocinco made six Pro Bowls, led the NFL in receiving yards once (2006), and led the AFC in receiving yards twice (2003, 2005) in Cincinnati because he was allowed to freelance, which is one of the many things that frustrated Carson Palmer. So why would the Dolphins want someone like Ochocinco on their roster when there’s a strong possibility that they’ll start a rookie at quarterback this season? Teams need to put young players in position to succeed, period. It makes no sense to start Ryan Tannehill and then throw Ochocinco into the mix when the idea is not to stunt the rookie’s development. If Tom Brady couldn’t work with Ochocinco, why would anyone believe that Tannehill could?

- Smart move by the Patriots to lock up tight end Rob Gronkowski to a six-year, $54 million extension through 2019. Only $13.17 million is guaranteed, which is quite the bargain for the most dominate tight end in the league. This move also indicates that the Patriots have zero concerns about Gronk’s offseason ankle surgery and neither should anyone else.

+ Jets receiver Santonio Holmes is being made out to look like a baby following his meltdown at the team’s OTAs on Thursday. But keep in mind he had missed voluntary workouts while in Germany on a USO trip, so receivers coach Sanjay Lal could have done a better job easing Holmes back into action. After all, it’s June – not August. There will come a time when Holmes needs to ratchet up his workouts so that he’s prepared for the season but it does the Jets no good for Lal to burn out his receivers or risk injury three months before the season. That said, Holmes could have also acted like a professional. There was no need for him to toss his helmet and make a scene. His unpredictable attitude is one of the reasons why the Steelers felt compelled to trade him despite the fact that he was their Super Bowl MVP in 2009.

- Brandon Weeden has better size, a bigger arm, and has reportedly outperformed Colt McCoy in OTAs this spring. But it still doesn’t benefit Pat Shurmur to name a starter before or during training camp. Teams should strive for competition at all positions, especially at quarterback. Players become awfully content when they’re making a ton of money and know that nobody is breathing down their necks for their starting job. Even if it’s a foregone conclusion that Weeden will be the starter, it behooves Shurmur and the Browns to make him work for it all summer.

+ It’s great to hear that Michael Vick has been the first player in and the last player out during Eagles’ practices this offseason. It also pisses me off thinking about how undedicated he was in Atlanta. Did he want to win? No doubt. But you never read reports about him being the first one to the practice facility in Flowery Branch when he was quarterbacking the Falcons. Part of the blame falls on owner Arthur Blank and former coach Jim Mora, whom allowed Vick to come and go as he pleased. But considering the Falcons paid him franchise money to be the leader of their team, one would think he would have taken more pride in his work instead of continuously trying to get by on his talent alone. It’s a shame when you read that Vick is now finally dedicated to his craft 11 years after he was drafted but then again, it’s better late than never.

- From a defensive standpoint, one team that might be significantly improved this season from 2011 is the Arizona Cardinals. The team looked lost throughout the first half last year trying to learn new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s defense and as five-time Pro Bowler Adrian Wilson admitted, there were plenty of times where players didn’t even know if they were in the right position. The Cardinals also started a rookie at cornerback in Patrick Peterson, who suffered plenty of growing pains before coming into his own in the final six weeks of the season. One area the Cardinals must improve on is their interception total. They had just one pick in the final six weeks of the season and they went eight games in which they had zero interceptions. Assuming they’re more comfortable in Horton’s defense in year two and they can hang onto the ball when they have opportunities to make a play, Arizona should show marked improvements from 2011. Now only if they had a quarterback on the other side of the ball to lead them to the playoffs…

+ Asante Samuel is already paying dividends in Atlanta. After lining up opposite Matt Ryan four times throughout his career, the Pro Bowl cornerback has been giving instructions to his new teammate on how the quarterback can become more difficult to defend. Samuel has also reportedly brought a ton of energy to the practice field and fellow cornerback Dunta Robinson is thrilled that the presence of his new teammate will allow him to kick inside to the nickel position. Robinson is at his best when he can get his hands on a receiver and be physical at the line of scrimmage. The past two years he struggled in former defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme because he was forced to play off the ball. But with Samuel and Mike Nolan now in Atlanta, Robinson will play inside where he thrived early in his career as a member of the Houston Texans.

- All signs point to Chris Johnson having a bounce back year in Tennessee. It’s public knowledge that he showed up to camp out of shape last year following his contract dispute and the lockout. But Dan Pompei of the National Football Post has been told by sources that Johnson has rededicated himself this offseason. Of course, it doesn’t matter how good a shape Johnson is in if his offensive line doesn’t open up holes for him in the running game. Eugene Amano, David Stewart and Leroy Harris all struggled in run blocking last season and Johnson often found himself bottled up. It’s great that he’s committed to offseason workouts but without a better effort from the Titans’ front five, he won’t be rushing for over 2,000 yards again anytime soon.

+ Despite a messy contract situation, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Matt Forte doesn’t report to training camp. Forte wants a long-term deal from the Bears, who seemingly want to go year to year with their star running back. But at the end of the day Forte is a perfect fit for the Bears’ offense and he’s such a competitor that I don’t see him holding out all season. Plus, he has no leverage. He’s coming off a season-ending knee injury, he’s a running back in a passing league, and the Bears signed Michael Bush earlier this offseason as insurance. For Forte to hold out during one of his prime years doesn’t make sense. Plus, as long as he signs his franchise contract before the July 16 deadline he’ll make $7.7 in guaranteed money. Nobody is going to pass up that kind of cash, no matter how angry they are at their team.

- If the reports out of Seattle are any indication then the Seahawks might be in store for another rocky year at the quarterback position. Despite landing a three-year, $26 million contract, Matt Flynn has yet to distance himself from neither Russell Wilson nor Tarvaris Jackson. Everyone has been cautious when it comes to predicting Flynn’s success in his first year with the Seahawks, which is smart given his lack of experience. But it’s not like the Hawks gave him chump change – they paid him starter’s money. Thus, it’s a little surprising that Flynn has yet to emerge from a pack that also consists of a rookie third-round pick and one of the most underwhelming quarterbacks in the league.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @TheScoresReport. You can also follow TSR editor Gerardo Orlando @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom, and you can follow TSR editor Anthony Stalter @AnthonyStalter.

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Which position is the safest bet in the first round?

I was watching one of the many Mel Kiper and Todd McShay arguments on ESPN the other day [video], and Kiper was arguing that if McShay has Matthew Stafford ranked so high (McShay currently has Stafford ranked #8), then he should almost be a no-brainer for the Detroit Lions, who have the #1 overall pick and need a quarterback. McShay isn’t convinced that he’s a so-called “franchise” quarterback, so he says he would go another direction. (For the record, at the time Kiper called McShay “crazy” for having Stafford that high, but now he has the QB ranked #3 on his big board. It’s clear that Kiper’s pure hatred for McShay is causing him to slowly lose his mind.)

Anyway, the debate piqued my interest and got me wondering – when it comes to the first round of the NFL Draft, is one position safer than another? For example, if the Lions have three holes to fill (they have more, but bear with me) – quarterback, linebacker and tackle – and they can’t decide amongst the three players, is one position a safer pick than the other two?

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Super Bowl XLIII Preview: Five reasons why the ________ will win

If Super Bowl XLII between the Giants and Patriots taught us anything, it’s that regular season records mean nothing and there are no guarantees when it comes to crowning a champion in the NFL.

The 17-0 Patriots looked like a slam-dunk to win the Super Bowl last January. That is, until a rowdy Giants bunch that played perfect football throughout the playoffs shocked most of the world en route to a 17-14 victory. Sound familiar?

No, the Steelers didn’t go 17-0 in the regular season. In fact, they were far from perfect and at times, looked awfully inconsistent. But with their No. 1 defense leading the way, it’s hard to argue that Pittsburgh doesn’t have the better overall talent heading into this year’s Super Bowl against the Cardinals, especially when you consider Arizona finished with a 9-7 record, competed in a crappy division and scored just one more point than they allowed this season.

But as the Giants proved last year, sometimes all it takes is momentum, which the Cards certainly have after soundly defeating the Falcons, Panthers and Eagles to get to Super Bowl XLIII. Arizona has a lot going for itself these days, including a resurgent veteran quarterback in Kurt Warner, a highlight reel playmaker in Larry Fitzgerald, and an underrated defense that is playing its best football of the season.

So who has the edge in Super Bowl XLIII? You can make a case for either team, which is exactly what I did. (Five of them actually.)

Below are five reasons the Cardinals will win on Sunday and five reasons why the Steelers will come away victorious. Contradictory? Sure, but play along – it’ll be more fun that way.


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Super Bowl XLIII Notes 1/30

Ben Roethlisberger- Despite the best efforts of Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin to keep the story under raps, Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger apparently underwent an x-ray on his ribs on Wednesday. Big Ben suffered the injury in the AFC Championship Game, but there is no indication that he’ll miss the Super Bowl. (Rotoworld.com)

- Hines Ward returned to full practice on Thursday and is on track to start Sunday against the Cardinals. (FanHouse.com)

- Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times writes that the Steelers’ defense won’t let Kurt Warner enjoy a fairy-tale ending to his 2008 season. (Los Angeles Times)

- Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News wrote an excellent piece featuring the top two safeties in this year’s Super Bowl: Adrian Wilson of the Cardinals and Troy Polamalu of the Steelers. (Dallas Morning News)

- Need picks for the Super Bowl? Head to our partners at Sports Gaming Edge.com for daily picks & previews from some of the best handicappers in the business. They’ll give you top picks throughout the year.

Six Pack of Observations: Cardinals heading to the Super Bowl

Here are six quick-hit observations from the Cardinals’ 32-25 win over the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.

1. Just keep doubting them – the Cardinals will just keep winning.
Let’s run through everything the Cardinals weren’t supposed to do this postseason, shall we? They weren’t supposed to stop Michael Turner or beat the Falcons in the first round. They weren’t supposed to win on the road or stop the Panthers’ dynamic running game in the second round. And then even when they did accomplish those things, they weren’t supposed to beat the Eagles because Philadelphia would finally pressure Kurt Warner like he hadn’t been the previous two weeks. Yet the Cardinals did beat Philly on Sunday, and they did so even though adversity stopped by in the third quarter and smacked them square in the mouth. (More on that next.)

2. The Cardinals did something Sunday that they hadn’t done much of all season – battle adversity.
When the Eagles scored a go ahead touchdown with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game to take a 25-24 lead in front of a stunned Arizona crowd, the Cardinals could have easily crumpled in the final quarter. Philadelphia had just scored 19 points in a matter of nine minutes, were starting to pressure Warner with more ease and had seized all momentum. But the Cards answered with a 14-play, 72-yard drive that took 12:07 off the clock and culminated in a Tim Hightower 8-yard touchdown run. They added the 2-point conversation on a pass reception by Ben Patrick and even though there was still plenty of time left on the clock at 2:53, you got the impression that the Eagles were cooked. Granted, ‘Zona benefited from a non-pass interference call on a 4th and 10 attempt to Kevin Curtis on the final drive, but the Cards had already capitalized on the most pivotal moment in the game by taking the Eagles’ best shot and answering back.

3. The Eagles only played 19 minutes of this game…
…had they played the entire game, they probably would have won. Something that got overlooked by many pundits in the week leading up to the contest was that this was the third straight road game for Philadelphia. It’s hard to win on the road as it is, nevertheless three straight weeks. It’s why most sixth seeds don’t make it to the Super Bowl. That said, had the Eagles played the entire game as well as they did in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, they would have won. Granted, that’s an obvious statement since they scored 13 points and limited the Cardinals to –1 yard of total offense in that third period – but look deeper. In that third quarter, Jim Johnson finally was able to dial up the right pressure on Kurt Warner, Andy Reid was finally able to get the tired Arizona defense on their heels and Donovan McNabb finally was hitting receivers in stride and striking for big plays. (None bigger than DeSean Jackson’s wild 62-yard touchdown reception early in the fourth.) The Eagles essentially only executed their game plan for 19 minutes of this game and yes, the Cardinals had a lot to do with that. But Philadelphia also got in its own way more times than not by dropping passes, failing to execute Johnson’s blitzes and McNabb misfiring on a handful of passes. Were the Eagles tired? They didn’t necessarily show it if they were, but don’t overlook the fact that this team had to do a lot just to make the playoffs and then a lot just to get to Glendale on Sunday. And that could have factored into how they played.

4. Larry Fitzgerald.
What else can one say that hasn’t already been said? He’s amazing, spectacular – exceptional. With all due respect to the Texans’ Andre Johnson, Fitz is the best receiver in the NFL and the adjustment he made on Kurt Warner’s under throw on a 62-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter was incredible. He’s one of the few receivers in the league that consistently goes up to get the ball at its highest point and never lets it get to his body. He’s the best.

5. Who the hell is Brent Celek?
Non-Eagle fans go ahead and raise your hand if you knew who Celek was before the game. I knew who he was, but I had no idea he could be a game-changer. The second-year tight end out of Cincinnati was the perfect complement to DeSean Jackson and Kevin Curtis in that he worked the seams and gave Donovan McNabb a solid, reliable target the entire game. He also freed Jackson and Curtis up by clearing out the Cardinal safeties, which had to adjust to him being a legitimate target as the game wore on. What a game by the youngster who has no doubt made Eagle fans forget L.J. Smith.

6. How can you not love Adrian Wilson?
Because the Cardinals have been bad for so long, Wilson has often been known as just an underrated playmaker on a brutal defense. But now that the Cards are heading to the Super Bowl, general football fans can start to appreciate just how good the eight-year veteran is – and how loyal. When Wilson was set to become a free agent at the end of the 2004 season, he could have signed with numerous teams dying for a playmaking safety and a natural born leader. But as Joe Buck and Troy Akiman noted during the broadcast, Wilson never contemplated signing with another team and reached a modest five-year, $21 million contract with the Cards. Now he’s being rewarded for his contributions to Arizona’s franchise by having the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl. If you can’t root for a guy like that than you won’t be able to root for anybody.

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