2011 NFL Week 8 Primer

Dallas Cowboys DeMarco Murray cuts upfield as St. Louis Rams Quintin Mikell defends during the first quarter at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas on October 23, 2011. UPI/Ian Halpeirn

Patriots @ Steelers, 4:15PM ET
This is an intriguing matchup not only because of the two teams but also due to the individual matches within the game. The Patriots arguably have the most efficient passing attack in the league, but they’ve struggled defending the pass for much of the season. Thanks to Ben Roethlisberger and the big-play ability of Pittsburgh’s receivers, the Steelers could strike for a long score at any point. I think this one will live up to the hype and with a whole slew of garbage matchups on the Week 8 schedule, I hope it does.

Cowboys @ Eagles, 8:20PM ET
It’s time to see how many of the Eagles’ problems Andy Reid was able to iron out over the bye week. Philadelphia looked great against Washington the week before its bye, but Dallas will provide a more difficult challenge than the Redskins did. DeMarco Murray is coming off a breakout game and the Eagles haven’t been able to stop the run all season. If Murray can get going again, the Cowboys have a chance to potentially put the nail in the coffin of their bitter rivals.

Lions @ Broncos, 4:05PM ET
The Lions have more pressing issues to worry about than whether or not Ndamukong Suh is a dirty player. Matthew Stafford (ankle) is hobbled, Jahvid Best (concussion) is out for another week and the defense can’t stop the run. The Broncos might not be the better overall team in this matchup but Tim Tebow has breathed new life into Denver and will be fired up to play at home. This will not be an easy road trip this weekend for the Lions.

Vikings @ Panthers, 1:00PM ET
Rookie quarterbacks will be on display this Sunday in Carolina when the Panthers host the Vikings. Outside of the two interceptions he threw to Charles Woodson in the third quarter last week, the Vikings had to be pleased with Christian Ponder’s first professional start. If Minnesota wants to give Ponder an opportunity to notch his first win, then the Vikes better get Adrian Peterson revved up. Carolina’s run defense has been bad all year and it would be wise to keep Cam Newton on the bench considering how bad Minnesota’s pass defense is.

Chargers @ Chiefs, 8:30PM ET Monday
This matchup certainly got more interesting over the past few weeks. After starting the year 0-3 the Chiefs have rattled off three-straight and who can forget the beating they gave the Chargers on Monday night last season? Of course, they won’t have Jamaal Charles this time around but Jackie Battle is starting to come on as KC’s leading rusher. The Chargers’ offense was blanked in the second half last Sunday against the Jets, leading to speculation about whether or not Philip Rivers may be hurt. If he’s not, then it’s time for him to step up on Monday night in what has turned out to be a pretty big divisional game.

Jaguars @ Texans, 1:00PM ET
Blaine Gabbert has received most of the attention this year in Jacksonville, but it’s been the Jaguar defense that has stolen the show. They absolutely dominated the Ravens on Monday night and thanks to strong play out of linebackers Daryl Smith and Paul Posluszny, Jacksonville ranks sixth in yards allowed this season. The Jags’ defense will certainly be tested this weekend, especially if Andre Johnson returns from the hamstring injury that has held him out for nearly a month.

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2011 NFL Week 6 Primer

San Francisco 49ers new Head Coach Jim Harbaugh makes a point to officials during play against the Oakland Raiders at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on August 20, 2011. UPI/Terry Schmitt

49ers @ Lions, 1:00PM ET
Neither of these teams has to prove anything this weekend. Both the Lions and 49ers are legit and if you disagree then you really haven’t been paying attention lately. No team in the league is playing better defensively right now than San Francisco and Detroit’s passing game is only overshadowed by the league’s elite (i.e. New England, New Orleans and Green Bay). This is the most intriguing matchup in Week 6 and I can’t wait to see the result.

Bills @ Giants, 1:00PM ET
What a great test for both of these teams. The Bills are 4-1 but in their two road games this season, they crushed a bad Kansas City team and lost to the Bengals after squandering a double-digit lead at halftime. The Giants, meanwhile, were playing with loads of confidence until they overlooked the Seahawks last week at home. Focus won’t be an issue for either of these teams as they both look to use this game as a measuring stick.

Eagles @ Redskins, 1:00PM ET
It’s funny, the Eagles haven’t played a full four quarters since Week 1 and have dropped four straight and yet, you get the feeling that people still expect Andy Reid and Co. to figure it out. Well, it’s now or never. If the Eagles can get to 2-4 with a bye week coming up, maybe they can put a little run together in the second half. But if they lose this week to another divisional foe then Reid and his coaching staff will have to sit on a five-game losing streak for two weeks. With their backs against the wall, if the Eagles can’t win this Sunday their deficit in the NFC East may be too much to overcome.

Panthers @ Falcons, 1:00PM ET
People are attempting not to break their necks jumping off the Falcons bandwagon – and for good reason. Their offense is broke and coordinator Mike Mularkey keeps trying the same conservative tactics to try and fix it. He’s either unable or unwilling to change and either way, the Falcons keep losing. Even though Atlanta owns the better record coming into this NFC South showdown, it’s Carolina that’s covered in optimism right now.

Rams @ Packers, 1:00PM ET
The mini scare they received last week in Atlanta may have proven to be great for Green Bay. Before the Falcons built a 14-0 lead on the Packers, Green Bay may have believed it was invincible. But they quickly got things corrected, won the game, and now they can get re-focused with another inferior team in the Rams coming to town this weekend. Two weeks ago the Packers crushed the Broncos and if they want to keep firing on all cylinders, Green Bay needs to rout a bad St. Louis team as well.

Jaguars @ Steelers, 1:00PM ET
I guess all those claims that the Steelers’ run was over after they lost to the Texans were a tad overstated, huh? The Steelers looked like their dominant selves last Sunday against the Titans and now get to feast on a rookie quarterback in Blaine Gabbert this weekend. The Jaguars haven’t had much offense since Gabbert took over the quarterback reins and they could once again struggle at Heinz Field this Sunday. That’s not an easy place to play when your resume is lacking experience.

Colts @ Bengals, 1:00PM ET
The Bengals have a golden opportunity to get to 4-2 on the season but they face a huge test this Sunday. No not on the field, as the Colts are less fearsome than a box of puppies. But mentality this is a prime opportunity for Cincinnati to be overconfident. They know they should beat the Colts and that’s often how NFL teams get burned. If anything, Marvin Lewis and his team should remember how overconfident the Bills were coming into Cincinnati a few weeks ago. Buffalo believed it had a win locked up after knocking off the Patriots the week before and the Bills squandered a double-digit lead at halftime. Beware the letdown, Cincinnati.

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Three factors that could derail the Eagles in 2011

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick leaves the field after the team lost to the Green Bay Packers in their NFC Wild Card NFL playoff football game in Philadelphia, January 9, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Word has it that the Eagles loaded up this offseason. BIG TIME.

They added Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Ronnie Brown, Anthony Hargrove and Vince Young to a roster that already included Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and Asante Samuel. In other words: CHAMPIONSHIP!

Following their huge offseason, there’s no doubt that the Eagles should be favored to win the NFC East, but let’s pump the breaks for a second and play devil’s advocate. Just like any team at this point of the year, they have question marks. Below are three factors I believe could make Philly fail to live up to the hype.

(For those wondering why I didn’t include DeSean Jackson’s contract situation: I fully believe that the Eagles will pay D-JAX at some point, which is why I chose to focus on other factors.)

1. Michael Vick
Last season, Vick compiled career-highs in completion percentage, touchdowns and QB-rating, while posting a career-low in interceptions and interception percentage. Now let’s see if he can do it again. Talent has never been the issue with Vick – consistency has. When he set a then career-high for completion percentage in ‘04 with Atlanta, he regressed as a passer in ‘05 and ‘06. He’s also injury-prone and has a habit of forcing the action when his team is trailing in the fourth quarter and counting on him to make a play. (One example of this came in last year’s playoffs against the Packers in which he was picked off in the end zone on the Eagles’ final drive.)

There’s no doubt Vick has matured as a player and a person. Prison and not being coddled by an owner (Arthur Blank) and head coach (Jim Mora) will do that for an athlete. But let’s see if Vick can put together back-to-back successful seasons before we anoint him a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. He has a habit of getting complacent in his situation, especially when he has nobody behind him to push him. Granted, Andy Reid is 10-times the coach Mora was, but it remains to be seen whether or not Vick will stay hungry for 16-plus games. Remember, he’s 2-3 as a starter in the playoffs and 0-3 in postseason games in Philly.

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The history of the West Coast offense

Now that Mike Holmgren has his own man in Cleveland with Pat Shurmer, Browns fans are learning more about an offense that has its roots with Paul Brown and the Browns back in their glory days.

Tony Grossi traces the history of the offense in today’s Plain Dealer, starting with Paul Brown, then to Bill Walsh who joined him in Cincinnati and then on to Holmgren and other like Andy Reid. The “West Coast” nickname was originally coined by Bill Parcels.

It’s a great read for anyone who appreciates football schemes and how they evolve through the years. The bottom line for Browns fans is they have a quarterback in Colt McCoy who has the potential to flourish in this system. That said, the West Coast offense relies heavily on timing, so expect some growing pains as the Browns try to install a new system in a year without any off-season prep. I suspect the Browns and other teams installing new systems with play their starters much more in the pre-season.

Andy Reid’s job is on the line with Castillo hire

Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid talks to an assistant during the fourth quarter at Soldier Field in Chicago on November 28, 2010. The Bears won 31-26. UPI/Brian Kersey

Andy Reid is smarter than you.

Everyone thought he would finally go with an outside hire when he had to find a new defensive coordinator. And why wouldn’t he? Replacing Jim Johnson with in-house option Sean McDermott backfired, so surely he would go with someone established like Dick Jauron or Jim Mora.

Only Reid hired his offensive line coach instead. Don’t adjust your monitors, you read that right. In an unprecedented move, Reid hired his offensive line coach to coordinate his defense.

And you want to be my latex salesman.

Juan Castillo deserves an opportunity to have success before everyone says he can’t. He did coach linebackers and defensive line to start his career at Texas A&M Kingsville, so it’s not like he’s always been stuck on the offensive side of the ball. From what I’ve read, he’s also gotten this far on hard work and his ability to coach up and motivate players. That sounds like a winning combination for a coach.

But does he know how to put together a defensive game plan? Does he know how to implement a scheme? Does he even know how to be a playcaller? Considering he has zero experience on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL, it’s hard to fault anyone who thinks this is a horrendous hire. Just because he’s a hard worker doesn’t mean he has what it takes to become a great coordinator. Just because he can relate to his players doesn’t mean he’ll be able to make the personnel adjustments on Sundays in the heat of the moment.

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