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Five from Sunday: Eli, Rodgers elite but human; pass-blocking hits new lows

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The word "elite" is certainly overused when it comes to discussions about NFL quarterbacks. Elite doesn't mean perfect. Webster's dictionary says it means super achievers who dominate. Well, that's who Eli Manning is most of the time otherwise how did he win two Super Bowls and two SB MVPs?

Sunday he led his team to a win over the Packers, a team some considered the best in the NFL. He connected on his 200th touchdown pass and now is the all-time leader in that category in Giants history. His three touchdown passes were more than he had in his previous five games combined, which may indicate he's not perfect at times but he sure knows how to get back on course when it counts most.

I think Aaron Rodgers is an elite quarterback but he just wasn't on Sunday night.

For the record, the past four games between these two elite quarterbacks have been pretty close, and there's really no reason to separate them by who is elite and who isn't especially because they are both 2-2.

Aaron Rodgers: 93 of 153, 1,256 yards, 11 TDs, 3 INTs, 13 sacks
Eli Manning: 77 of 136, 1,227 yards, 11 TDs, 6 INTs, 4 sacks

Heading down a slippery slope

The NFL appears to be out of linemen who can pass block. There was a time when I felt there were too many five-man protections or quarterbacks who simply held the ball too long, but after watching Week 12, it's clear there are real problems with pass blocking.

Try these numbers on for size (minus the Monday night game): There were 77 sacks recorded and another 147 hits on quarterbacks while throwing the ball. Nine quarterbacks were sacked a minimum of four times and none took a worse beating than Chad Henne of the Jaguars, who was sacked seven times and hit another 12. It is remarkable he led his team to victory. But how long can he last taking that kind of beating?

For the season no one is under more fire than Rodgers. Imagine where the Packers would be without Rodgers but Sunday he added to his safety concerns by being sacked five times, hit another seven and tackled three times. He leads the league in sacks with 37 and his grand total for physical contact shots between sacks, hits and tackles now stands at 138. All I can say is it is getting harder for any quarterback to play all 16 games in this league the way the pass protection looks now.

The punishment did some good

Rams head coach Jeff Fisher is trying to change the culture in St. Louis from a losing mentality to a winning one, and sometimes that means tough love. Fisher benched two of his rising stars a few weeks ago and suffered through a tie with the San Francisco 49ers.

Maybe the Rams would have won that game with CB Janoris Jenkins and wide receiver Chris Givens, but Fisher was looking at a much bigger picture. I couldn't help but think of the positive effect that discipline had on his two young players two weeks later as the Rams beat the Cardinals in a division matchup. Givens led the Rams with five receptions, 115 yards and a touchdown, and Jenkins returned two interceptions for touchdowns. The two young men combined for 21 of the 31 points the Rams scored.

Maybe, just maybe, while the two very talented players stood on the sideline in street clothes a few weeks ago they realized that pro football is a privilege not a right.

1989 was a very good year

In the wine industry people classify the quality of wines by the year. It may be time to start doing that in the NFL, especially when it comes to pass rushers.

Back in 1989, when 28-year-old Chris Doleman led the NFL in sacks with 21 it would be the impetus for his entry into the Hall of Fame. While he was putting quarterbacks on the ground, three babies were born into this world, and 23 years later we have three of the finest pass rushers to ever come along.

Aldon Smith (San Francisco), J.J. Watt (Houston) and Von Miller (Denver) all were born and now are in a heated three-man race for the NFL sack title, and I don't think it's going to stop at 21 sacks or even at the NFL record 22 1/2 held by Michael Strahan. Three young guys all born in the same year, all with the same amount of games played in their careers and all with five games left this season.

In the past two weeks these three pass-rush experts have 15 sacks between them. Last winter Jared Allen told me he was convinced the sack record was quickly headed to 25, and 30 was attainable in the near future. It sounded reasonable to me at the time but I didn't figure three guys would be pursuing it and at their age could be doing it for a decade.

Extra points

 Why fire Pat Shurmur of the Browns at the end of the season when you consider what he is building in Cleveland? Granted Ben Roethlisberger didn't play in the game but it is clear the very young Brown team is developing nicely and playing hard for their coach. The Browns fired Bill Belichick once and look where that got them.

 The rookie quarterbacks went 4-2 this weekend and now have 26 wins this season against 30 loses, which is very good. If you told me the rookie quarterbacks would win 35 games this season, I would have told you no way, but they might crack the 40 mark with close to 30 games to play barring injury. There's still a chance three rookies could lead their team into the playoffs.

 Nothing bad happened to the Saints drive for the playoffs this weekend, even though they lost to San Francisco. Seattle, Minnesota, Dallas and Tampa Bay all lost as well, so no team fighting for the sixth spot really changed positions.

 A.J. Green may not have scored a touchdown this week in the Bengals win over the Raiders, but he did catch three more passes for 111 yards. As I track the first 30 games of his career as compared to Jerry Rice's first thirty, Rice had 135 receptions and 18 touchdowns. Green has four games left to get to 30 and he has 132 receptions and 17 touchdowns.

 The Browns passing game outside the numbers and to the sideline was a very effective way for the Browns to move the ball against the Steelers defense. Expect more teams to do the same.

 It's clear the 49ers are being turned over to QB Colin Kaepernick. Alex Smith is a solid player with two years left on his contract for a total of $16 million, which should make him attractive to a number of teams. Only the $1 million roster bonus due in March is guaranteed, which makes it easy to keep him on the roster. I would think a guy with a 20-6-1 record over the last two years could help some team win. I hope Smith gets a chance to start for someone next year.

 I think it's time the league talks about opening up the active game day roster to 48 on Dec. 1 every season. There are too many players getting injured or playing at less than 100 percent. Players who could help are standing on the sidelines in street clothes deactivated for games. It makes no sense to me at this point, especially with all the Thursday games.


Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.
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