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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.

- LaDainian Tomlinson hasn’t rushed for over 1,000 since 2008 but it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the best running back of the last decade. He’ll retire with 13,684 rushing yards and 145 touchdowns on 3,174 carries throughout his Hall of Fame career. He also set a single-season record with 28 touchdowns in 2006 and ranks fifth all-time in yards from scrimmage with 18,456. On top of his outstanding career, LT was a class act, too. I had an opportunity to meet him during an event in New York City and there was nothing fake about him. He was a competitor right through his final carry.

- When Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars agreed on a five-year, $30.95 million deal back in April of 2009, both sides assumed that he would live up to his contract. It’s not surprising that he went out and rushed for over 1,300 yards in his next three years, including his league-leading 1,606-yard performance in 2011. But what is surprising is that MJD now wants more money. It’s not like the Jaguars stiffed him on his ’09 contract. Both sides agreed that it was a fair deal and now that MJD has lived up to the contract he wants more? Yes, teams can cut players at any point and players need to make as much as they can, when they can. But this was a bad move by MJD and his agent, who are highly unlikely to sway the Jags into paying them more.

- It’s only June but John Harbaugh has to be concerned about his offensive line. Jah Reid, who spent most of this week’s mini camp at right tackle because the Ravens told Bryant McKinnie to focus on his conditioning instead of practicing, was carted off the field on Thursday with a leg injury. Center Matt Birk also missed camp after undergoing surgery to repair a varicose vein in his leg and former Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs is now in New Orleans after signing a free agent deal with the Saints. Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda are entrenched at their spots but the rest of Baltimore’s O-line is a major question mark right now.

- The Falcons will wind up regretting not bringing in outside options at left tackle. The hope is that new offensive line coach Pat Hill can restore Sam Baker back to his early days, but what does that entail? Baker was a second-round prospect back in 2008 but the Falcons drafted him in the first because GM Thomas Dimitroff panicked when he saw all of the tackles flying off the board. (And he needed a left tackle to protect his prized position in the ’08 draft, quarterback Matt Ryan.) Since then, Baker has been average at best and a complete disaster at worst. He’s in a contract year so maybe he’ll play well, but “well” for him at this level hasn’t been nearly good enough. The Falcons should have at least kicked the tires on Demetress Bell, King Dunlap or Anthony Collins this offseason.

+ Assuming the Cardinals defense makes significant improvements from last season (and it should), Ray Horton will become one of the hotter names in head coaching circles next offseason. His defensive influences come from Dick LeBeau’s scheme in Pittsburgh, so the system works if every player understands his role. As I wrote last week, there was a ton of confusion among Arizona defenders last year in Horton’s first season as coordinator. But now that everyone has a better grasp of the system, Horton will likely become a sought after commodity next year.

- Speaking of the Cardinals, Arizona Republic’s Kent Somers writes that he “couldn’t make a clear call on” the competition between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. That’s not good for the Cardinals, who don’t want to have competition at quarterback. They acquired Kolb and paid him all of that money so that he could solve their issues at the position. Instead, he’s only added to the problems.

- If I were the GM of a team that needed an upgrade at backup quarterback, I wouldn’t hesitate to send Cleveland a sixth or seventh rounder for Colt McCoy. The Browns did what they had to do in drafting Brandon Weeden. McCoy doesn’t have the arm strength to win in Pittsburgh or Baltimore in late December with the playoffs on the line. But he isn’t without ability. He’s mobile, accurate (or at least he was accurate at Texas), and he can run a NFL offense. Looking around the league, many teams could do worse than add McCoy as a backup, especially for the low cost of a late round pick.

- The Panthers are another defense that should improve upon last year’s effort (although how could it not, after last year’s Carolina team gave up the most total yards, passing yards, points and touchdowns than any squad in its 17-year history). Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott was at such a disadvantage last offseason because of the lockout but players are starting to get a better feel for his scheme in Year 2. Getting Jon Beason (Achilles’ surgery) back certainly helps and Luke Kuechly was viewed as one of the safest picks in his year’s draft. Granted, outside of Chris Gamble (who was solid in coverage last season) the secondary is a major question mark but there’s little doubt that Carolina’s outlook is bright for 2012.

- I truly believe Jeff Fisher will not be a bust hire for the Rams, but he’s got issues at outside linebacker. They missed an opportunity to land Mychal Kendricks, Zach Brown or Lavonte David in the second round of this year’s draft and while they gave the impression that they were fine with Lo-Jonn Dunbar starting, they just signed free agent Rocky McIntosh on Thursday. A combination of Dunbar, McIntosh and Mario Haggan doesn’t scream reliability and chances are outside linebacker will be atop their needs list next offseason.

- The Titans avoided a major scare earlier this week when Kendall Wright’s X-rays showed no structural damage to his shoulder. Because of Chris Johnson’s struggles and Kenny Britt’s knee injury, this is a team that lacked playmakers last season. After investing a first-round pick in him this April, the Titans can ill-afford to lose Wright.

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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The NFC North has major offensive line issues

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Green Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) and Green Bay Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop (55) during the first half of the NFL NFC Championship football game in Chicago, January 23, 2011. REUTERS/John Gress (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Much of the focus in the NFC North this preseason is how the Bears’ offensive line could be in major trouble after allowing nine sacks in their preseason debut. But look around – the rest of the division isn’t much better.

Minnesota Vikings
Forget the Bears – the Vikings are the current owners of the worst offensive line in the division, if not the entire league. Once a major strength, Minnesota’s O-line has fallen on hard times over the last couple of seasons. It was major liability last season and somehow it got much worse. Things started off on a bad note when Bryant McKinnie gained so much unhealthy weight during the lockout that the Vikings actually decided to release him just days before camp. Now they have a left tackle in Charlie Johnson who has been manhandled thus far and would probably be better suited to play inside at guard. Speaking of guard, Steve Hutchinson is a shell of his former self and rookie Chris DeGeare will start on the right side because of Anthony Herrera’s injury issues. In the middle, John Sullivan lacks power and remains one of the least productive centers in the league. Good luck this year, Adrian Peterson.

Chicago Bears
Anyone who saw the Bills rack up nine sacks on the Bears last week is well aware of Chicago’s offensive line issues. The good news is that the Bears got Frank Omiyale out of the starting lineup. The bad news is that J’Marcus Webb will be counted on to protect Jay Cutler’s blindside after struggling as a rookie at right tackle last season. At the other tackle position, the Bears had to draft Gabe Carimi in the first round this year after moving Chris Williams (a 2008 first round selection) to left guard. If the team had better options, Williams would probably have been cut already. The most reliable member of Chicago’s O-line is Roberto Garza, but he’s now playing out of position at center after Olin Kreutz signed with the Saints. Mike Tice is a solid offensive line coach but he has his work cut out for him this season. The unit actually started to gel mid-way through the 2010 season but if Chicago’s first preseason game was any indication, it could be a long season for Cutler and Co. The Bears better hope Webb and Carimi develop fast.

Detroit Lions
GM Martin Mayhew deserves plenty of kudos for the way he has slowly rebuilt the Lions’ roster over the last few years. But it would have been more comforting to Detroit fans had he paid more attention to the O-line this offseason. The Lions return five starters from a year ago but they’re not in as good of shape as one would think. Left tackle Jeff Backus has a partially torn pectoral muscle and will likely miss plenty of practice time as he rehabs the injury. At the other tackle position, Gosder Cherilus is coming off microfracture surgery and while he is practicing, the Lions are taking it slow with the former first rounder. Inside, the Lions are actually in decent shape assuming Stephen Peterman’s foot has healed. Rob Sims was a huge pickup from the Seahawks last season and has solidified what has been a big problem area for the Lions over the years. At center, Dominic Railoa is aging and undersized, but the team could do worse. The biggest problem areas are at the tackle positions, which doesn’t bode well for quarterback Matthew Stafford’s health.

Green Bay Packers
This is the lone exception in the division. Once a major concern thanks in large part to injuries, the Packers’ O-line is now a top-5 unit. Losing Daryn Colledge (Cardinals) hurt, but GM Ted Thompson found a gem in Derek Sherrod, who fell into Green Bay’s laps at the bottom of the first round. Josh Sitton continues to be one of the most underrated right guards in the league and RT Bryan Bulaga looks like he could make major strides in his second year. Barring injuries to the starters, Aaron Rodgers won’t have to worry about eating turf like he did in 2009.

Thanks to Hester and Cutler’s big nights, the Bears clinch the NFC North

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 20: Quarterback Brett Favre  of the Minnesota Vikings is attended to after being sacked by the Chicago Bears at TCF Bank Stadium on December 20, 2010 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Here are five quick-hit observations from the Bears 40-14 rout over the Vikings on Monday Night Football.

1. Sweet home, Chicago.
With their victory, the Bears have clinched the NFC North and are now guaranteed to host at least one game in the playoffs. Regardless of whether you think they’re a dark horse or candidates to be one-and-done, it’s pretty impressive that the Bears one their division this year after everyone predicted the Packers (or the Vikings) to take home the North crown. Granted, Green Bay had a slew of injuries to deal with but Chicago was consistently the better team over the course of the season. The Bears are now the front-runners to clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC because they’ve already beaten the Eagles and thus hold the tiebreaker over Philly. That said, Chicago has two difficult tests remaining in the Jets (Week 16) and the Packers (Week 17 at Lambeau).

2. Devin Hester is the man.
As a football fan, I’m glad Devin Hester re-dedicated himself to the return game after trying to focus on his career as a receiver. He’s simply too dangerous a weapon for the Bears not to use on special teams and he proved once again tonight how he can turn a game on its head in the blink of an eye. After staying away from him for most of the night, the Vikings started to kick to Hester in the second half because clearly they wanted to suffer embarrassment (there’s no other realistic explanation). He thanked them by setting the NFL record for kick return touchdowns after returning a punt 64 yards for a score early in the third quarter. This came after he almost brought the second-half kickoff back for a touchdown as well (he was stopped inside the 10-yard-line). Much like he was in 2006 when the Bears went to the Super Bowl, Hester will be a vital piece for Chicago come playoff time.

3. Brett Favre really should call it a career.
I’ll admit, I was excited when I heard Favre was going to play on Monday night. As a football fan, I was glad that he would have one more MNF game to go out on and what a better opponent than the Bears? After he threw a touchdown pass to Percy Harvin on the first drive of the game and did his patented Brett Favre fist pump, my excitement grew because it looked like the Vikings were ready to play. But nothing went right for him after that. He wound up throwing an interception on a batted ball and then a Corey Wootton sack ended his night – if not his career. It was a sad reminder that the game has officially passed Brett by and that it’s probably best that he walk away for good. It’s a sad thing watching a legend go out, but Favre’s time is done. It’s not that he can’t play the game anymore, but his body can’t take any more of the abuse. It’s been one hell of a ride, but this has to be his swan song. This has to be the longest year of his career.

4. It’s frustrating to watch a team give up.
The Vikings have withered away to nothing. The team that took the field on Monday night had zero pride, zero urgency and zero desire to win. Their appearance in the NFC Championship Game last January feels like it was a decade ago. They need a head coach, a quarterback and a new stadium to boot. Their offensive line is pitiful (nice effort, Bryant McKinnie) and their defense has turned to mush (has somebody posted missing person signs yet for Jared Allen?), too. Once Favre went down you could see that the Vikings had checked out and everyone had succumbed to the fact that Joe Webb wasn’t going to be able to move the offense. Their effort was akin to the free win the Cowboys gave the Packers earlier in the year right before Wade Phillips was canned. The way the Vikings have deteriorated over the course of the year has been rather amazing to watch.

5. Jay Cutler can chuck the rock.
His decision-making isn’t always spot on but Jay Cutler can’t certainly throw the football. Granted, he was playing against 11 ghosts but the way he zipped the ball on a cold, nasty night in Minnesota was rather impressive to watch. He looked like he was having some fun out there too, which is kind of ironic given he opposed Brett Favre (the king of “man, does he have fun out there or what!”). Once again, Mike Martz stuck with the short-to-intermediate routs and Cutler only took chances down field when the coverage was right. Otherwise, he took what Minnesota’s pathetic defense gave him and he marched up and down the field the entire night. That version of Jay Cutler can beat anyone.

McKinnie kicked off NFC Pro Bowl roster

Vikings left tackle Bryant McKinnie has been dismissed from the NFC Pro Bowl squad after missing four of five practices and attending just one team meeting. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, McKinnie also missed the team photo.

McKinnie has been Tweetering (or is it Tweeting? Ah screw it…) all week about enjoying the Miami nightlife, so apparently he has partied his way out of Miami. Giants’ offensive lineman David Diehl will likely have to play the entire game now because the NFC only had three tackles on its roster.

If McKinnie wasn’t going to take the game seriously, then he should have forfeited his game check like some of the other NFL players who have bowed out of the Pro Bowl. There was no sense in him taking up a roster spot just so he could be an idiot for a week. He could have done that on his own time.

One would have thought that since this was his first Pro Bowl that he would have taken the honor seriously. But instead he embarrassed himself and the Vikings by being kicked off the team.


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Is it time for these 0-2 teams to hit the panic button?

Brad ChildressThe Seahawks were supposed to be the favorites to win the NFC West again this year. The Browns were supposed to contend for a playoff berth in the AFC. The Vikings were the chic-pick in the NFC. The Jaguars and Chargers were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders.

But all five of these teams have started the 2008 season 0-2. And all five teams have major issues.

So is it time for these teams to the hit the panic button? Let’s take a closer look.

Cleveland Browns

What’s gone right: Not much. The only real bright spot offensively has been TE Kellen Winslow Jr., who has 12 receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown. And DT Shaun Rogers, the team’s top offseason acquisition, has made an immediate impact with 10 tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss.

What’s gone wrong: Everything. The defense was brutal in Week 1 against Dallas, but bounced back in Week 2 against Pittsburgh (thanks in large part to bad weather conditions and Ben Roethlisberger’s bum shoulder). The offense that averaged over 25 points a game last year has managed just 16 points total in two games this year. Turnovers, penalties, poor quarterback play (Derek Anderson currently has a QB rating of 57.1), and bad coaching have buried this team so far.

Time to hit the panic button? Yes. The Browns’ poor preseason play has carried over into the regular season and the schedule doesn’t get any easier with the Ravens, Giants, Jaguars, Broncos and Bills coming up over the next eight weeks. Outside of Rogers, the offseason acquisitions Cleveland made on defense have not paid off and the offense has been non-existent. Worse yet, the Browns aren’t sneaking up on anyone this year and Romeo Crennel is starting to look overmatched once again.


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