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Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 8 in the NFL

Every Sunday evening 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…

DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING…

St. Louis Rams Steven Jackson looks downfield after making a reception in the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis on October 31, 2010. St. Louis won the game 20-10. UPI/Bill Greenblatt

- “If only the Rams could now somehow beat the Saints on Sunday, this would be the greatest sports weekend EVER,” uttered the random St. Louis fan on Friday night after the Cardinals defeated the Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series. How do the previously winless Rams defeat a team in the Saints that just racked up 62 points on the Colts? Well, that’s pretty easy. When you can’t stop Steven Jackson even though you know he’s going to get the ball every down, you lose two turnovers over on your side of the field, and you don’t protect your quarterback, you’re going to lose to most opponents regardless of whether or not they have any wins. The Rams won this game because of Jackson and their defense, which sacked Drew Brees six times and returned one of his passes for a game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. Chris Long absolutely abused Charles Brown, who should have been given more help because he clearly needed it. The Rams clearly haven’t checked out and they’ll continue to fight every Sunday. That was apparent for anyone who saw Jackson flip out on his offensive line late in the second half following yet another false start penalty. What a sweet first win this was for a city that is on cloud nine right now.

- It’s not really shocking that the 2-6 Panthers lost another game. But considering whom they were playing and given that they were 3.5-point home favorites, it was a little surprising to see Carolina go down in flames to Minnesota on Sunday. Christian Ponder’s 102.7 passer rating and 8.4 yards per attempt were both season-highs for the Vikings, who apparently just should have started the kid from Week 1 and bypassed acquiring Donovan McNabb altogether. Ponder threw for 236 yards and a touchdown on 18-of-28 passing while earning his first career win thanks in large part to Olindo Mare’s inability to hit a 31-yard chip shot. The miss, which came with under a minute left to play, cost the Panthers an opportunity to force overtime. Good thing Carolina GM Marty Hurney spent so much money on Mare this offseason. Dude was totally worth it.

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2011 NFL Week 7 Primer

Denver Broncos reserve quarterback Tim Tebow celebrates his fourth quarter 12-yard touchdown run against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 9, 2011 in Denver. Despite a comeback effort from Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, the Chargers held on for a 29-24 win. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Broncos @ Dolphins, 1:00PM ET
Tim Tebow said that the Denver coaching staff didn’t change the team’s offensive scheme to fit the quarterback’s skill set during the bye week. That makes sense. I mean why would any coaching staff want to try and play to their quarterback’s strengths? Bill Belichick doesn’t do that with Tom Brady. Mike McCarthy doesn’t do that with Aaron Rodgers. Both of those teams largely keep the ball on the ground and let Brady and Rodgers be the game managers they are. (I hate that I even have to write this but I know some people will misconstrue things: I’m being sarcastic.) While I like Tebow’s chances of succeeding this weekend in Miami no matter what the scheme is, I think the Broncos should have styled their offense around what he does best (i.e. being creative in both the run and the pass). But what do I know? I’m a doctor, not an offensive coordinator.

Falcons @ Lions, 1:00PM ET
It’s all well and good that the Falcons want to get back to Michael Turner and their ball-control ways, but at some point OC Mike Mularkey better figure out how to beat teams through the air. Matt Ryan is the only quarterback in the NFC South who has yet to throw for over 300 yards in a game this season and he ranks 17th in the league in overall passing yards. With Julio Jones (hamstring) expected to miss another week, it would be wise for the Falcons to keep the ball on the ground against the Lions’ suspect run defense. But again, at some point Mularkey has to do his job and figure out a way to let Ryan soar. The most obvious solution is to put him in the no-huddle full-time, but Mularkey and Mike Smith’s conservative ways just won’t allow it.

Texans @ Titans, 1:00PM ET
Hey Matt Schaub, it’s go time buddy. The AFC South is yours for the taking and while I understand that you lost your best playmaker and your defense is now without its best weapon, it’s high time you raise your game. Arian Foster is seeing eight man fronts so there’s no reason for you not to exploit defenses with your arm – Andre Johnson or no Andre Johnson. Tennessee’s pass rush is one of the weakest in the league, so figure it out and get your team a win, Matt.

Chargers @ Jets, 1:00PM ET
“The more we get comfortable, we start playing pitch and catch and I’m doing my thing out there, the offense is going to go through the roof,” said Plaxico Burress in regards to Mark Sanchez and the Jet offense. Right, because naturally Plax is the key to whether or not New York’s offense is going to eventually get out of its funk. I think the Jets have it right in giving Shonn Greene an increased workload. The only way they’re going to really get their offense going is relying on the ground game to open things up for Sanchez. Burress is probably right when he suggests that he and Sanchez need to develop more chemistry, but the key to this offense is Greene and the ground attack.

Redskins @ Panthers, 1:00PM ET
Mike Shanahan is in a mess of his own making. Everyone knew going into the season that Rex Grossman is fine in small doses, but over the course of a season he’s going to hurt you. Thus, now that Shanahan has switched things up and is starting John Beck on Sunday, he better win. The Panthers are better than their 1-5 record would indicate but this is a game the Redskins have to win if they want to keep pace with the Giants in the NFC East.

Seahawks @ Browns, 1:00PM ET
Peyton Hillis has an injured hamstring and won’t practice on Thursday. His agent has advised him not to play in this game, or the next 12. If a case of the sniffles is equal to missing one game, then an injured hamstring must be equal to 13 missed games. Hillis and his agent just can’t be too careful when it comes to the King of Fumbles’ health.

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Sunday Evening Quick-Hitters: Reactions from Week 6 in the NFL

Every Sunday evening 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…

DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING…

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman (5) is congratulated by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) on the Bucs’ victory after their NFL football game in Tampa, Florida October 16, 2011. REUTERS/Pierre DuCharme(UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

- A week after the Bucs were absolutely embarrassed by the 49ers in San Francisco, they turn around on Sunday and dominate the Saints to even things up in the NFC South. Granted, this was the Saints’ third-straight road game and their head coach had to call plays from the bench and from up in the booth after tearing his MCL and fracturing his tibia in a nasty first-quarter collision with his tight end on the sidelines. But still, you can’t take anything away from the Bucs today. They picked off Drew Brees, forced four turnovers and got a 300-yard performance out of Josh Freeman. They were also without promising runner LeGarrette Blount, but Earnest Graham filled in admirably with a 109-yard effort. Suddenly the NFC South is once again tight, as the Saints and Bucs are both 4-2 and the Falcons are only one game behind at 3-3.

- Who would have thought that the midfield handshake would provide more action than the actual game between the 49ers and Lions today? I’m sure plenty of Lion fans were upset with Jim Harbaugh’s excitement following the Niners’ win in Detroit, which is understandable. Considering Harbaugh didn’t have his finest coaching performance of the year, he probably could have toned down his exuberance while heading out to midfield to shake Jim Schwartz’s hand. But let’s make one thing clear: If you’re going to dish it out, you better be willing to take it. And Schwartz has been dishing it out all year in the form of taunting opposing players and nearly knocking himself out with hay-maker fist pumps. In fact, as my good buddy Drew (a huge Lions fan) pointed out following the game, Schwartz gave Harbaugh guff in the first quarter after the San Fran coach challenged a touchdown. Schwartz seemingly shouted “No the rules!” at the 49er sideline. The Niners won and Harbaugh has every right to be excited. Schwartz should have kept his composure.

- For about the 9,000,000 time in my career, I was wrong about the Bears. They screw me at every turn. When I predict that they’ll win, they don’t. When I say they’ll lose, they completely dominate a divisional opponent 39-10 on national television. I don’t understand them and quite frankly, I don’t want to understand them. I have zero clue when it comes to predicting the success or failures of the Chicago Bears, whom I predicted would beat Peyton Manning in the 2006 Super Bowl. (We all know how that turned out and I think it’s fitting that I mention that game on the same day Rex Grossman throws four interceptions.) Tonight I thought Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson would take over the game in Chicago and instead, Jay Cutler and Devin Hester put on a clinic. They were masterful against a Minnesota team that I thought was a tad better than its record indicated. Thus, I humbly eat crow, as I was once again was wrong about Chicago. Congrats, Bears – you mother…

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Shanahan’s running game is starting to take shape in Washington

Washington Redskins’ head coach Mike Shanahan watches as his team plays the Buffalo Bills’ during their first pre-season game at FedEx Field in Washington on August 13, 2010. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

Say what you want about Mike Shanahan’s ego, but the man knows how to install a good running game.

Just two years into his tenure as head coach of the Redskins, Shanahan has the team’s ground attack heading in the right direction. Two weeks after racking up 140 yards versus the Steelers and one week after torching the Colts’ defense for 215 yards, the Redskins were at it again on Thursday night, compiling 103 rushing yards against a stingy Baltimore front seven.

Granted, 103 yards isn’t overly impressive but don’t forget that the Skins were playing against a very good Baltimore defense and Week 3 of the preseason is when teams play their starters well into the second half. It appears as though Washington’s offensive line has taken to Shanahan’s zone-blocking scheme and is starting to gel. Cohesion is crucial to Shanahan’s system and the Redskins’ front five has apparently found it, allowing Tim Hightower to gain 56 yards on nine careers (6.2 YPC) with one touchdown last night.

Shanahan has taken a lot of heat over the past two years for the way he’s run things in D.C., specifically in his handling of free agent bust Albert Haynesworth and quarterback Donovan McNabb. And seeing as how this Rex Grossman/John Beck situation seems destined to blow up in his face, there may be more criticism of Shanahan to come.

That said, he didn’t just fall into his 152-108 career coaching record and let’s not forget that the man has won two Super Bowls. He’s quirky yes, but it’s not that big of a stretch to think that he’s starting to turn things around in Washington. We’ll know more once the regular season starts, but I don’t think the Redskins’ success on the ground this preseason is a fluke. Take notice, NFC East.

Just Sayin’: Criticize Bruce Bochy all you want but the man comes up big again

San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy paces the dugout during a loss to the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field in Denver on May 17, 2011. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

Kleenex sales went through the roof the week that the 2011 MLB All-Star Game rosters were announced. That’s because from coast to coast, everyone from media pundits to MLB managers were crying about some of Bruce Bochy’s choices for the NL squad. Two skippers in particular, the Marlins’ Jack McKeon and the Pirates’ Clint Hurdle, were publicly vocal about Bochy’s perceived favoritism to some of his own players.

I wonder what McKeon and Hurdle have to say now after the National League downed their AL counterparts 5-1 on Tuesday night. Granted, the victory was largely thanks to Prince Fielder’s three-run dinger, some solid pitching performances by the NL staff, as well as the unavailability of some of the AL’s best pitchers. But just like in the 2010 postseason, Bochy managed yet another perfect game. He was aggressive on the base paths (particularly in the fifth inning when Angels reliever Jordan Walden took the hill), he made all the right moves with his pitching staff and he played the matchups incredibly well. He also didn’t even use Tim Lincecum or Ryan Volgelsong (two pitchers in which Bochy was accused of showing favoritism), and wouldn’t have used closer Brian Wilson in the ninth had Starlin Castro and Joel Harahan not allowed two runners to reach base.

If the Marlins or Pirates somehow manage to make the World Series this year, they’ll be the host team thanks in part to Bochy. Any chance that McKeon or Hurdle pick up the phone in that instance and show their appreciation for Bochy’s hard work over the last week with the NL All-Star team?

More Quick-Hits for Wednesday:

- James Harrison shared, uh, some interesting takes on Roger Goodell in the August issue of Men’s Journal. James used the words, “crook,” “devil,” “stupid,” “puppet,” and “dictator,” while describing Goodell, then threw in an anti-gay slur for good measure. “If that man was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it,” Harrison told the magazine. “I hate him and will never respect him.” Tell us how you really feel Eminem James.

- I wish FOX had mic’d the head groundskeeper for Tuesday night’s All-Star Game because I would have loved to have heard what he said after watching Padres closer Heath Bell tear a big divot out of the infield when he slid into the mound. “Thanks a**hole, you know someone has to repair that right? Couldn’t have ran onto the field like a normal human being, huh?”

- Don’t expect the Mets to trade Carlos Beltran as fast as they did K-Rod. Not with Jose Reyes, David Wright and Ike Davis all injured. And I don’t think Beltran is a sure-bet to land in ‘Frisco either. If I’m Scott Boras, I’m telling my client to choose an American League team to waive his no-trade clause for, so that he can show his stuff as a DH for next year.

- Apparently Mike Shanahan is set on John Beck as his starter in 2011. That makes sense considering that when he benched Donovan McNabb last year, he immediately inserted Beck as the starter to get him ready for this season. Wait…what?

- I can’t wait for the NFL lockout to end so I can see how quickly teams sign free agents. Because I refuse to believe that these teams haven’t somehow been in contact with these players throughout the last couple of months. I know league rules prohibit teams from trying to contact players, but come on – this is the NFL. You know these teams have been sneaking around for months now. It’ll be interesting to see how much time elapses from when the lockout officially ends until when a team signs that first new free agent. If it’s more than 12 hours, I’ll be shocked.

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