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NFL Quick-Hits: 10 Observations from Week 2


Image source: Indianapolis Colts Facebook page

1. Schiano’s tactics weren’t dirty – just unnecessary.
When Eli Manning and the Giants got into the “Victory” formation following their thrilling come-from-behind victory against the Bucs on Sunday, Tampa Bay’s defenders fired off the ball and sent Manning backwards to the ground. The “Victory” formation is usually a causal affair. Players get down into their stances but only because it’s a formality. After the quarterback drops to a knee, players will pat each other on the helmet or shake hands because the game is over at that point. So it was rather lame for Greg Schiano to say following the game, “we fight until they tell us the game is over,” because the game is metaphorically over at that point. The play wasn’t dirty but it was highly unnecessary. The odds of a player getting hurt in that situation are much higher than a quarterback fumbling the ball, your team recovering, and marching into scoring position so you can either tie or win the game. So is there a lot to be gained by doing it? Schiano is trying to clean up the mess that Raheem Morris left for him in Tampa, which includes making his players tougher. But this isn’t the way to do it and it wasn’t very smart to tick off a head coach that has as much stature as Tom Coughlin. If he and the Bucs were pissed about the loss, then they shouldn’t have squandered a game that was well in hand until the fourth quarter. (Furthermore, what’s most disappointing about the situation is that everyone is now talking about that play as opposed to yet another incredible fourth quarter comeback engineered by Manning.)

2. Make no mistake, the Patriots’ loss was stunning.
Let’s really put the Patriots’ 20-18 loss into perspective. They were a 13.5-point home favorite against a team with the worst offensive line in football and arguably the worst quarterback situation as well. The Cardinals won despite gaining only 16 first downs, running just 61 plays and throwing for only 140 yards. Kevin Kolb’s average yard per pass went just 5.2 yards and Beanie Wells rushed for just 3.1 yards per carry. Arizona also lost the turnover and time of possession battles, so talk about one of the weirdest games in the past 10 years – this was it. That said, let’s give credit were credit is due. I wrote several times this offseason about how Arizona’s defense was likely to come together this year under Ray Horton. The Cardinal defenders were often confused and out of place last season, but the players are more confident in Horton’s second year. It’s the same system that the Steelers run in Pittsburgh so it’s predicated on every player understanding their role, executing their job, and trusting that the man next to them will do the same. The players have bought into the approach and we seen the results thus far. (Through two games the Cardinals have held opponents to 17.0 points per game, which ranks fifth in the league.) I don’t expect the Cardinals to keep winning, especially the way they did Sunday in Foxboro. But I do expect the defense to continue to play well under Horton, who will be a head coaching candidate again next offseason.

3. Frustrations are already boiling over in Tennessee.
Following the Titans’ ugly 38-10 loss to the Chargers in which Tennessee rushed for just 38 yards as a team, Chris Johnson sounded off about his teammates. Said Johnson, “People need to step up and do their job. They don’t need to let people beat them. It don’t matter who the opposing defense is, you can’t let your buy beat you.” Johnson’s right: The Titans offensive line has been brutal. It was brutal last year from a run blocking standpoint and it’s been brutal through the first two weeks of the season this year. But I can count on one finger how many times Johnson has hit the whole hard this year. He’s making too many cutbacks trying to hit a home run on every play instead of trusting his instincts and using his vision to find creases in the defense. Does his offensive line need to perform better? Certainly. But right now Johnson is as much of the problem as he is the solution so instead of calling his teammates out publicly, he needs to figure out what can be done internally to better the situation because we’re only two games into a very long season.

4. Alex Smith finally looks comfortable.
For the first time in his career Alex Smith is running the same offense with the same playbook with the same offensive coordinator as he did the year prior. And what do you know? He’s been successful. It’s too early to make bold statements about the positioning of any team, but the 49ers might just be the best squad in football. They beat the Packers in Lambeau, then returned home on Sunday night and suffocated the Lions for four quarters. Detroit had to scratch, claw, and fight for every single yard that they earned, which is the way San Francisco’s defense wants it. On the other side of the ball, Smith once again took what the defense gave him, didn’t turn the ball over and threw two more touchdown passes to give him a total of four on the season. It’s hard to make statements in only two weeks but the Niners have sent a message that last year wasn’t a fluke. If Smith is their weak link, they’re in good shape so far.

5. Maybe it was just rust for Vick.
One week after playing like a rookie in Cleveland, Michael Vick completed 23-of-32 passes for 371 yards with one touchdown and added 10 carries for 34 yards and another score the Eagles’ 24-23 come-from-behind win against the Ravens on Sunday. It was vintage Vick, as he threw two costly interceptions and fumbled on an exchange with LeSean McCoy, but he also elevated his team to victory. That’s two last-second touchdown drives that Vick has engineered in as many weeks and while he deserves criticism for the turnovers, he deserves praise for pulling victory out of the jaws of defeat in back-to-back weeks. Still, questions remain about his health. He took two big shots by Baltimore defenders early in the game and he stayed down on his knee for a couple of moments after taking the first hit. How long before we see Nick Foles have to enter a game that Vick leaves due to an injury?

6. The rookie quarterbacks were much improved.
Andrew Luck, Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson picked up their first NFL wins, RGIII once again dazzled despite losing in St. Louis, and Brandon Weeden actually resembled a professional quarterback in a road loss to Cincinnati. All in all, it was a great day for rookie quarterbacks around the league. What Luck did in Indianapolis was particiluarly noteworthy. With the Colts and Vikings tied 20-20 with just 31 seconds remaining in the game, Luck took Indy 44 yards in four plays, setting Adam Vinatieri up for a game-winning 53-yard field goal. He certainly wasn’t perfect on the day, missing open receivers and taking a huge 22-yard sack on a crucial fourth down in the fourth quarter, but he remains well ahead of where he should be for a rookie signal caller. Wilson got a lot of help from his defense and special teams but both his and Tannehill’s athleticism were on display yesterday. Weeden also deserves praise for taking better care of the ball this week than in the Browns’ opening-season loss to the Eagles and credit him for taking what Cincinnati’s defense gave him. (The middle of the field was wide open throughout the day and Weeden just kept firing balls in between the linebackers and safeties.)

7. Morgan is fortunate to still be on Shanahan’s roster.
The Redskins were an enormous gift by Rams’ rookie Daryl Richardson, who fumbled with just under three minutes remaining in the game. Washington took over at its own 37-yard-line needing at least a field goal to tie the game and send it to overtime. But on a third-and-eight play in St. Louis territory, Redskins’ wideout Josh Morgan caught a pass from Robert Griffin III and after being shoved by Cortland Finnegan, Morgan chucked the ball at the Rams’ corner and was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul. So instead of being well within Billy Cundiff’s range to tie the game, the play moved the Redskins out of field goal range and they eventually lost the game, 31-28. Part of you feels for Morgan because Finnegan started the fire by shoving the Washington receiver. But Morgan simply has to be better than that. With the game on the line, he has to keep his cool. A team never wins or losses on just one play but in a situation like that, it’s hard not to forget everything else that happened prior to that situation. That’s a play that Morgan and the Redskins may not forget the rest of the year.

8. Bush reminds us of how exciting a player he is.
The Saints did what they had to do two years ago when they traded Reggie Bush to Miami. They knew they were overpaying him and they found his replacement in Darren Sproles very easily on the open market. But while he became a forgot man in NFL circles, Bush has quietly turned into a reliable playmaker for the Dolphins. He totaled 109 yards in Week 1 against one of the best defenses in the league (Houston), and then for an encore performance he rushed 26 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns in Miami’s 35-13 win over the Raiders on Sunday. The 23-yard touchdown run that he had in which he broke several tackles and refused to go down was reminiscent of his days at USC. He’s an exciting player again and doesn’t get enough credit for playing with raw emotion and passion. He continues to be the featured player in Mike Sherman’s West Coast offense and it’s a role that certainly suits him.

9. Bad day for injuries around the league.
The Giants’ offensive line isn’t very good and the depth behind the starters is thin. Thus, losing left tackle David Diehl (knee) for any amount of time is troublesome. Even worse, running back Ahmad Bradshaw underwent an X-ray for a neck injury and at this point, his status remains unclear…The Eagles lost center Jason Kelce, left tackle King Dunlap and receiver Jeremy Maclin in their win over the Ravens. Kelce is done for the season and keep in mind this is a team that already lost Jason Peters to a season-ending injury before the season even started…Adding insult to injury, the Patriots could be without tight end Aaron Hernandez for awhile after he suffered a high ankle sprain in the team’s embarrassing 20-18 loss to the Cardinals…People in St. Louis thought running back Steven Jackson was benched right before halftime for spiking the ball following what he believed to be a touchdown, and then cost the Rams an opportunity for a touchdown as they were pushed back 15 yards. But it was worse – Jackson suffered a groin injury on the play and never returned. The Rams also lost Rodger Saffold again, this time to a knee injury…Blaine Gabbert had to be replaced by Chad Henne after he injured his toe and hamstring…Despite not being listed on the Seahawks’ postgame injury report, receiver Sidney Rice, who hasn’t looked right all season, left the game early for an unknown reason…Just a bad day for injuries in the NFL.

10. It’s going to be a great one in Atlanta.
The NFL couldn’t have asked for a better Monday night matchup than the one it’ll get tonight when the Falcons host the Broncos. Peyton Manning was sharp in Denver’s win last Sunday night against the Steelers and it’ll be interesting to see how he attacks an Atlanta secondary that lost its top corner in Brent Grimes (Achilles) for the season. On the other side, Matt Ryan is now at the helm of an offense that can actually outscore opponents through the air instead of trying to grind out wins on the ground. As Michael Turner’s play continues to decline, Julio Jones’ career is just taking off. The Broncos love to get after the passer so Ryan will need to continue to get the ball out of his hands quickly as he did in Week 1 and throughout the preseason. There’s also added incentive for both teams after what happened on Sunday. The Chargers are 2-0 after beating the Titans so if the Broncos don’t want to lose any ground in the AFC West, they need a victory tonight. And with the Saints sitting at 0-2 two weeks in, the Falcons could take sole possession of the NFC South, which is huge considering how good that division is top to bottom. It’s going to be fun tonight.

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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Crabtree to start for 49ers?

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat is reporting that there’s a strong possibility that first round pick Michael Crabtree will start this week when he makes his NFL debut against the Texans. He would replace Josh Morgan while Isaac Bruce will remain at flanker.

There’s a good chance that Crabtree won’t have much of an effect on the Niners’ offense for at least a couple of weeks. They’ll remain a run-first team and Morgan will still see plenty of playing time considering he’s San Fran’s best run-blocking receiver.

The question I have regarding Crabtree is what kind of an affect he’ll have on the team’s locker room. Considering he held out for five weeks, he couldn’t have endeared himself to his teammates. And now at the first opportunity, he’s being thrust into the starting lineup.

With that in mind, Mike Singletary wouldn’t make a move like this if he knew he’d lose the locker room. He has the respect of his players and they trust his decisions. If he thinks that starting Crabtree gives his team the best chance to win, his players will follow.

Why not see if the rookie can sink or swim right away?

Fantasy Fallout, Week 7: Free Agents

Now, for a little news about players that are probably on your league’s waiver wire…

The Browns may be looking to make a change after Derek Anderson’s shaky outing (14/37, 136 yards, TD). The Brady Quinn era could start soon…As long as Chris Chambers is out, Malcom Floyd (7-140-2 over the last two weeks) looks like a sneaky good start…With both Brandon Lloyd and Devin Hester hobbled, Rashied Davis (3-24) and Marty Booker (3-79-1) become even more important at WR…Cedric Benson (15 touches, 62 yards) is now the starting running back in Cincy, and he didn’t look too bad in the Steelers’ blowout win…Ryan Fitzpatrick (164 yards, TD) did a pretty good job filling in for Carson Palmer, who may be out a while…Kolby Smith (12 touches, 25 yards) was the main ballcarrier with Larry Johnson out and he (and the Chiefs) were ineffective against the Titans’ stout defense…Greg Camarillo (6-74) continues to post spot starter numbers in PPR leagues…Josh Morgan (5-86-1) finally had a good game. I wouldn’t run out and try to acquire him, but he’s a guy to monitor…Vernon Davis (1-5) proved that last week’s nice game was a fluke. Leave him on the waiver wire unless you’re absolutely desperate…Donnie Avery (9-138-1 over the last two weeks) is worth a pickup in bigger leagues…Kevin Smith (11 touches, 68 yards, TD) may not technically be the starter, but he sure looks like the Lions’ best RB…Mike Furrey (6-89) deserves a big upgrade (especially in PPR leagues) now that Roy Williams is gone…Ahman Green (15 touches, 65 yards, TD) looks like he’ll get considerable work as long as he’s healthy. The Texans want to avoid wearing down Steve Slaton…There was a Javon Walker (5-75-1) sighting! Is this a reason to get excited? Doubtful, but monitor the situation going forward…Jeff Garcia (310 yards, TD) is back in the saddle in Tampa and he’s roster worthy going forward.

Is wide out still a concern for 49ers?

In the weeks leading up to the kickoff the 2008 NFL Season, I’ll take a look at position groups that could potentially lift teams to new heights, or bury them and their postseason hopes. Today I break down the San Francisco 49ers’ receiving corps.

It would be an understatement to say that San Francisco 49ers fans long for the days when Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Terrell Owens lined up at wide receiver. Ever since the 49ers traded Owens after the 2003 season, they’ve had a void at wide out. Actually, a Grand Cannon-sized hole might be a better description.

After signing longtime St. Louis Rams’ great Isaac Bruce and veteran Bryant Johnson (Cardinals) this offseason, as well as selecting Jason Hill and Josh Morgan in the past two drafts, the 49ers hope they’ve finally solved their issues at wide receiver.

But have they?

Bruce is still adding to an already fantastic career, but one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank. Still, he’s a viable starter, knows new offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s offense and will provide veteran leadership in the locker room. As of now, he’s penciled in as one of the two starters.

But the other two positions appear to be wide open with Hill, Morgan, Johnson, Arnaz Battle and Ashley Lelie all vying for playing time. Johnson and Battle have battled injuries this preseason, which have given youngsters Morgan and Hill opportunities to turn some heads.

Morgan hauled in five passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in the Niners’ second preseason game, so the spot opposite Bruce looks like his to lose. Hill might have the inside track for the No. 3 receiver role after catching four passes for 94 yards and a touchdown in San Fran’s third preseason game. A former third round pick in 2007, Hill has outstanding speed and excellent height. Both he and Morgan have more upside than Lelie, who might not even make the roster.

A trio of Bruce, Morgan and Hill won’t keep defensive coordinators up at night, but the x-factor is Martz’s offense. It made Kevin Curtis and Mike Furrey into playmakers and might do the same for Morgan and Hill. Martz likes to confuse opponents by making defenders jump underneath routes and then throwing over top of them. The goal is for receivers to find open space, make the catch and get up field. The system doesn’t require superstars at the receiver position, which is a plus for the Niners because they don’t have any.

If quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan can step up and play well in Martz’s system, it shouldn’t matter who the receivers are as long as they’re not dropping passes. Time will tell if the 49ers have finally solved their issues at receiver, or if fans will spend yet another offseason begging for more help at the position.

Fantasy Football Impact Rookies

In the realm of fantasy football, using early picks on rookies is usually a dicey proposition. It’s not often that a rookie comes into the league and is able to quickly establish fantasy relevance, though a few players do break through every season. Typically, a few running backs make an immediate impact, as that is the easiest position to transition to from college. In 2007, Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch were drafted for the sole purpose of taking over their team’s running game, and they both went on to have successful seasons. Even an undrafted rookie like Ryan Grant can have an impact if he finds the right situation. (I was lucky enough to snatch him off the waiver wire before he went on his 10-game train ride to fantasy stardom. I went on to win the title in that league despite disappointing performances from two of my keepers – Shaun Alexander and Marvin Harrison.)

Last year’s wide receiver crop was a bit thinner. Dwayne Bowe was the top rookie, finishing in the top 20 in most scoring formats. This was an upset considering all the fantasy owners that were drooling over Calvin Johnson’s intangibles before the season started. James Jones and Anthony Gonzalez flirted with fantasy relevance, but otherwise rookie wideouts didn’t make much of an impact in 2007. But every year, it seems like there’s one or two that become starter-worthy. (Who can forget Marques Colston’s 2006 campagin?)

So let’s take a look at this year’s top fantasy rookies and see who’s likely to make an impact.

RUNNING BACKS

1. Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (pictured)
Stewart is a power back and that’s the Panthers’ style. DeAngelo Williams has been something of a disappointment, so if Stewart runs well during the rest of the preseason, it’s not inconceivable that he could earn a starting role. However, durability is a concern with Stewart, so it is more likely that the Panthers will split carries to keep him fresh and injury-free.

2. Darren McFadden, Raiders
Due to his combination of strength and speed, some compare the #4 overall pick to Adrian Peterson. McFadden joins Justin Fargas and Michael Bush in the Raider backfield. Fargas had something of a breakout season in 2007 and Bush is running very well in camp, but McFadden will still get his touches. The team has said they’d like to use McFadden like the Saints used Reggie Bush in his rookie season. Oakland won’t want to wear him out, so this looks like a RBBC for the time being.

3. Matt Forte, Bears
The Bears drafted Forte in the second round to shore up a struggling running game. Cedric Benson was a bust, but the offensive line has been suspect for a couple of years now, so there’s no telling just how much Forte will help Chicago’s ground game. He has looked solid in the preseason, and should be a solid RB3 in most fantasy leagues.

4. Kevin Smith, Lions
Smith is one of the more promising rookies simply because the Lions don’t have any other good options at tailback. Tatum Bell and Brian Calhoun haven’t made their mark, so it’s Smith’s job to lose. He has had durability and character issues during his career, so there is some question as to whether or not he can hold up to the wear-and-tear of a 16-game season. Still, given the lack of competition, he’s an intriguing middle-round fantasy pick.

5. Chris Johnson, Titans
The diminutive speedster seems to be earning a bigger and bigger role as the preseason wears on. LenDale White will get most of the work between the tackles (and, presumably, around the goal line), but Johnson will see a lot of work in the passing game and as a change-of-pace back.

6. Ray Rice, Ravens (pictured)
With Willis McGahee coming off of knee surgery, and Rice impressing in camp, there’s a real possibility that the rookie starts at tailback in Week 1. There are rumblings that the team is none too happy with McGahee’s (lack of a) work ethic, so Rice’s value is enhanced in keeper or dynasty leagues.

7. Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
The Steelers raised some eyebrows (including Willie Parker’s) when they drafted Mendenhall in the first round. For now, they see him as a complement to “Fast” Willie, but he should eventually turn into an every-down back. The writing is on the wall for Parker; it’s just a matter of time before Mendenhall takes over as the Steelers’ feature back.

8. Steve Slaton, Texans
Ahman Green is hurt. Big surprise. Chris Brown is hurt. Big surprise. Somebody has to carry the ball in Houston and Slaton is second in line after Chris Taylor. Slaton has better speed, but Taylor is a little more physical. If Green and Brown continue to miss time, we might be looking at a Taylor/Slaton RBBC in Houston.

9. Felix Jones, Cowboys
Jones is the “lightning” to Marion Barber’s “thunder,” but this isn’t a timeshare. Barber is the main back, and Jones will be used to spell him and to add some punch out of the backfield in the passing game. Barber owners should definitely target Jones as a handcuff in the late-middle rounds.


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