Tag:Chris Ivory
Posted on: September 3, 2011 10:47 am
Edited on: September 3, 2011 10:15 pm
 

NFL cuts: Teams down to 53 by Saturday evening

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Getting to 53
On Tuesday, teams had to cut their roster size from 90 to 80, and while some interesting names were axed.

Included among them werelong-time San Diego long snapper David Binn, Cowboys center Andre Gurode and draft bust Vernon Gholston), and more are sure to come today.

So keep an eye on this post, where we’ll highlight the biggest names who get pink-slipped; at some point, somebody surprising is going to lose his job.

  • Though we're unsure what he did, ESPN.com is reporting that free agent running back Dominic Rhodes has been suspended by the commissioner for at least one year.
  • Browns running back Brandon Jackson has been placed on the IR list and will miss the season.
  • Receiver Donnie Avery has announced, via his Twitter page, that he's been released by the Rams. Wrote Avery: "Its been real St.Louis. I had a good 3 years. The feelings were mutual. We both thought I need a fresh start somewhere else. #NoHardFeelings"
  • The Titans have traded an undisclosed draft pick to the Packers for Quinn Johnson. The move is likely in response to the four-game suspension of Tennessee fullback Ahmard Hall.
  • The Jets announce they've traded defensive back Dwight Lowery to the Jaguars for an unconditional draft pick. The Jets also have received guard Caleb Schlauderaff from the Packers for an unconditional draft pick.
  • Apparently, the Texans are planning on scoring a lot this year. They've released Brad Maynard, the only punter on the roster.
  • With the Cowboys shaving their roster to 53, kicker Shayne Graham has had the pleasure of being cut twice this preseason.
  • The Jaguars have placed backup running back Rashad Jennings on the IR list with a knee injury.
  • The Dolphins have cut cornerback Will Allen and running back Larry Johnson, according to the Miami Herald. Allen had restructured his contract and took about a $4 million paycut in base pay for 2010, but still, that wasn't enough to save him a spot on the squad. Miami could bring him back at another reduced rate.
  • According to scout.com, the Raiders have parted ways with cornerbacks Lito Sheppard and Walter McFadden.
  • Though numerous reports said the Patriots were trying to trade defensive back Brandon Meriweather, he has been cut by the team. Also, in a bit of a surprise, New England has released receiver Brandon Tate.
  • Bears tight end Desmond Clark has confirmed that he's been released. Writes Clark on his Twitter page: "I played my butt off but sometimes it's more about the business. That's what it boiled down to."
  • The Broncos have announced they've also released receiver David Anderson and defensive tackle Jeremy Jarmon.
  • According to his agent, the Patriots have released veteran running back Sammy Morris.
  • Dan Orlovsky, in contention with Curtis Painter and Kerry Collins, to back up Peyton Manning, has been cut by the Colts.
  • The 49ers have cut quarterback Josh McCown. Here's what he'll do next, according to CSN Bay Area. "I'd love to come back," McCown said. "As for right now, I'm headed home to coach (high school football in North Carolina) and will continue to stay ready."
  • With plenty of personal baggage and a terrible end to the preseason, the Broncos have cut cornerback Perrish Cox, writes Rapid Reporter Lee Rasizer.
  • Rapid Reporter Paul Dehner reports that Cincinnati has cut Max Jean-Gilles. A bit of a surprise considering Jean-Gilles was reportedly competing for a starting job. He simply didn't have a great camp.
  • The Colts have released Tommie Harris. You'll recall the Colts gave him a one-year deal after the Bears cut him in February. Though Harris is a three-time Pro Bowler, his projection has been hurt by numerous injuries in the past few seasons.
  • The Eagles have released receiver Sinorice Moss.
  • A bum hamstring has done in Titans defensive lineman Jacob Ford. He has been waived/injured.
  • New England has released defensive lineman Eric Moore -- who, at one point, seemed a pretty safe bet to make the squad.
  • The San Diego Union Tribune writes that Chargers receivers Laurent Robinson and Kelley Washington are gone.
  • The Newark Star Ledger has declared Steve Weatherford the winner in the Giants punting competition. That means Matt Dodge will be released, despite a solid preseason.
  • According to his agent, Brandon Ghee, a 2010 third-round pick for the Bengals in 2010, has been cut by Cincinnati.
  • The Broncos have released tight end Dante Rosario. He's probably surprised, considering he played the last four years for John Fox in Carolina.
  • The Gronkowski family suffered a double-whammy, as PFT reports that Dan and Chris will be released from the Lions and Cowboys, respectively.
  • Two years ago, the Cowboys gave Igor Olshansky a four-year deal worth $18 million (with $8 million in guarantees). Today, according to ESPN, the Cowboys have released him.
  • According to the Carroll County Times, the Ravens will release linebacker Tavares Gooden, despite holding trade talks with the 49ers at one point.
  • According to the Chicago Tribune, Bears running back Chester Taylor has been informed he’s been cut. Again. For real, this time. We think.
  • With the Saints maintaining a good depth of running backs (Mark Ingram, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas), the team has placed Chris Ivory on the physically unable to perform list. After six weeks, when he’s eligible to return, New Orleans will have to make a decision about which running back is most expendable.
  • The Rams have cut 2010 fourth-round pick wide receiver Mardy Gilyard. He obviously wasn’t stellar in St. Louis, but the scribes will miss him because of his immense interview skills. As an example, this is what he tweeted when he found out the news: “Jus got released isshhh is getting real na ugh!!!!”

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Posted on: May 8, 2011 11:37 am
 

Bush isn't necessarily done in New Orleans

Bush Posted by Josh Katzowitz

After the Saints drafted RB Mark Ingram in the first round, Reggie Bush almost immediately tapped out a farewell tweet that read, “It’s been fun New Orleans.” QB Drew Brees, though, is urging Bush to remember the situation five years ago when the Saints drafted Bush and how then-starter Deuce McAllister handled himself.

"Deuce handled that situation better than anybody ever could have and he had one of his best seasons in 2006," Brees told Towntalk.com (H/T Pro Football Talk). "He was a huge part of our success. I think Reggie has that same potential to be that big a part of our success this year despite the fact that we've got three other guys."

That also is a hindrance for Bush, because it’s not only Ingram he must worry about. There’s also Chris Ivory and Pierre Thomas – who just landed a four-year contract before the lockout. So, after Bush tweeted his response to Ingram’s signing, Brees texted him some words of encouragement, basically writing not to take the draft as a sign that the Saints don’t want him.

But would the Saints actually want him back? Certainly not at the $11.8 million he’s supposed to make in 2011, so Bush would have to restructure his contract. But, after the draft, coach Sean Payton also said he would be surprised if Bush DIDN’T return to the team next season, so it’s hard to know what to think at this point.

"(Bush is) a young guy, he's very prideful and wants to be great. He wants as many opportunities as he can get," Brees said." I think you immediately see (the drafting of Ingram) as, 'Oh, well, that's taking opportunities away from me.’ But in reality, I think you've got to find the positive in it."

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Posted on: May 3, 2011 11:02 pm
 

NFC South draft truths revealed

Posted by Andy Benoit

One of the best things about the draft is that from it we can find out what teams really think about their current players. Excluding examples of teams filling obvious needs, here are some of the more revealing draft picks from 2011, with a quick blurb of what the team was really saying by making this pick.

Atlanta FalconsJ. Jones (US Presswire)

1st round, Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
We’re one playmaker away from being Super Bowl-bound. (And if you couldn’t figure for yourself that this was our reason, you might as well stop following pro football right now.)
 
5th round, Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Oregon State
We wish Jerious Norwood could stay healthy, but we’ve been disappointed too many times.
 
Carolina Panthers


3rd round, Terrell McClain, DT, South Florida
Derek Landri and Nick Hayden played hard for us last year, and both were decent against the run, but we’re looking for a little more dynamite inside.
 
3rd round, Sione Fua, DT, Stanford
Again, more dynamite.
 
New Orleans Saints

1st round, Cameron Jordan, DE, California
Yeah, we didn’t hardly notice Alex Brown last year either.
 
1st round, Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
He may have been productive as a rookie, but we’re not buying into Chris Ivory (there’s a reason the guy was undrafted). Also, no way in hell we’re going to pay Reggie Bush a single dime more than he’s worth to us. If Bush is looking to roll major bank, he’d better call his realtor.
 
3rd round, Johnny Patrick, CB, Louisville
We aren’t disappointed with Randall Gay per se, but we’re not exactly thrilled with him.
 
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

1st round, Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
2nd round, Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
We’ve told you before: we rebuild our roster in bunches. Two years ago we stunk at defensive tackle and wide receiver. This past year, we stunk at defensive end. Problems solved (we hope).
 
3rd round, Mason Foster, OLB, Washington
We’ll move him to the middle and not re-sign Barrett Ruud. Why? Because the biggest secret in football is Ruud is iffy if not terrible. Why do you think we’re always finishing near the bottom of the league in run defense?

Check back throughout the week for other division’s Draft Truths Revealed. To see all Draft Truths Revealed, click the “Draft Truths” tag.

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Posted on: March 27, 2011 2:17 pm
 

Offseason Checkup: New Orleans Saints

Posted by Will Brinson

 

Eye on Football's playing doctor for every NFL team with our Offseason Check-ups. Also, check out our checkup podcast:





The 2010 Saints, by virtue of the way the 2009 Saints ended their season, were a disappointment. Not a disappointment in the way most season-after Super Bowl champs end up, of course, but a disappointment nonetheless. 

Things could have been different had the defending champs been more prepared for a Seahawks team that shocked the world with their postseason upset, the biggest surprise of which was their ability to actually score 41 points. Of course, things would have been different if their division hadn't markedly improved as well -- the Buccaneers nearly made a playoff run and the Atlanta Falcons' success in 2010 has already been well-chronicled. 

That means, too, that the division won't be getting any easier in the future. Fortunately for the Saints, their championship window -- Drew Brees turned 32 shortly after the Saints loss to Seattle -- is wide open for a few more years, with the right additions in the offseason.



Running Game, Defense

It was all but impossible for the Saints to repeat the success they had on defense in 2009, when the team generated a ridiculous 39 turnovers. That's not because Gregg Williams' defense is gimmicky or anything. It's because generating almost 2.5 turnovers per game doesn't involve just good gameplanning and skill; it also involves a little bit of luck. That same luck didn't return for New Orleans in 2010, as they created just 25 turnovers (which is still a respectable, middle-of-the-pack number). 

Some more luck required in having a great season: health. And the Saints didn't stay healthy in 2010, at least with respect to the running game. By the time they were getting bounced by the Seahawks in the postseason, Sean Payton's crew was forced to trot out Julius Jones for 15 carries. That's a clear-cut sign that things aren't going perfectly in your backfield.

There was another sign that some things weren't working right: Marshawn Lynch's (literally) earth-shaking run to the end zone that sealed the deal for Seattle. Give all due credit to Beast Mode for his ability to rumble on, around and through defenders, but it's also a microcosmic example of how the Saints need to find improvement in their run defense if they want to get back to the Super Bowl in 2011.



1. Running Back
It's entirely possible that the Saints could survive with a combination of Pierre Thomas, Reggie Bush and Chris Ivory. In fact, if all of those guys are healthy, and Bush is willing to take a paycut, that's not too terrible a situation. One key thing to remember, though, is that the Saints were an elite rushing team when they won the Super Bowl. In 2010? Not so much. It seems pretty unlikely that New Orleans would burn an early pick on a running back -- unless Mark Ingram happens to slip -- but don't be surprised if they take a look at some depth for the position when the draft rolls around.

2. Outside Linebacker
The Saints don't exactly have the most amazing defensive personnel on the front seven, and even though Jonathan Vilma's a big name, he's not high-caliber enough to warrant giving the Saints a pass on their linebacking corps. Adding a pass-rusher from edge and some speed and pursuit skills from the linebacker position -- think Akeem Ayers possibly? -- could do a lot to improve a defense that's shown significant holes against the run in recent years.

3. Defensive End
Shaun Rogers' presence via free agency could be a HUGE improvement for this defensive line. (Alternately, it could also be a tremendous bust and/or he might not stay healthy.) Either way, expect the Saints, if they don't look linebacker in the first round, to target some help for the defensive line. Will Smith is aging, Rogers isn't going to be a staple, and this team needs some youth on the defensive front. Given that this is one of the deepest defensive line draft classes we've seen in a while, it would make a lot of sense to pick up value late in the first round.



It's a good thing to be a team like the Saints, who face a substantial amount of scrutiny thanks to their success in recent years. Really, the Payton Era for New Orleans has been about as successful as one could hope -- a .613 winning percentage and a Super Bowl win for a team that struggled for many a year is a pretty incredible feat.

It's also a good thing to look at a roster -- in the case of the Saints -- and be able to identify two very specific problems on the roster, both of which can be tweaked, in order to get right back to a championship run. In the Saints case, they have that non-problem problem, and you can expect them to address it during the offseason and get right back to winning games in 2011. 

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Posted on: March 3, 2011 4:54 pm
 

Saints sign Pierre Thomas to 4-year deal

P. Thomas received a four-year deal, potentially worth about $12 million. Posted by Josh Katzowitz

RB Pierre Thomas has agreed to a four-year deal with the Saints, the team announced today.

It’s a little surprising that the Saints had such interest because Thomas missed 10 games last season, and when he did play, he only averaged 44.8 yards per contest on about 14 carries. So, yeah, not a great season for Thomas. Plus, the team and Thomas didn’t get along too well, and there were questions about why it was taking so long for him to return from an ankle injury.

When he’s healthy, though, Thomas probably is the best RB for the Saints. Reggie Bush is up and down with his health, and though Chris Ivory showed some good attributes last year, Thomas is probably a better option for now.

After all, Thomas is a guy who averaged between 4.8 and 5.2 yards per carry his first three seasons in the league.

According to the New Orleans Times Picayune, the deal is worth about $12 million.

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Posted on: January 5, 2011 3:57 pm
 

Pierre Thomas sent to IR

P. Thomas was placed on IR today. Posted by Josh Katzowitz

With a rushing game that ranked 28th in the NFL this year, the Saints have had to count on QB Drew Brees and a solid corps of WRs, including Marques Colston, Lance Moore and Robert Meachem, to jumpstart an offense that overall was the sixth-most prolific in the NFL this season.

And while it’s disappointing that New Orleans announced today it was placing RB Pierre Thomas on Injured Reserve with the same left ankle injury that limited him to just six games this season, the Saints have proven they can win without him.

But can they win without any running game at all?

Considering Chris Ivory already is on the IR list, New Orleans basically is left with Reggie Bush and Julius Jones to handle most of the carries. Bush has rushed only 36 times this season for 150 yards, and Jones averages 2.6 yards per carry.

This week, it probably won’t matter, because the Seahaws rank 27th in the league in pass defense.

But without an effective running game – or a running game that can top, say, 50 yards a game – it’s going to be awfully tough to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

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Posted on: January 3, 2011 2:05 am
Edited on: January 4, 2011 10:19 am
 

10 Wild Card stories worth your attention

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Momentum schmo-mentum

When a columnist or analyst starts talking about the momentum a team has or doesn’t have heading into the playoffs, really what they’re telling you is they don’t have anything to say about that particular team. Citing a team’s momentum is like citing a quarterback’s moxie or a head coach’s energy: it’s meaningless drivel.

The 2007 New York Giants lost two of their final three regular seasons games. How did momentum work out for them? Or what about the 2008 Arizona  Cardinals? They lost four of their last six regular season games, with three of those four losses by 21 points or more. They lacked momentum…heading into their Super Bowl run. Or there’s always the 2009 New Orleans Saints, who entered the playoffs on a three-game losing streak. If only they’d had momentum…they could have blown out the Colts in Super Bowl XLIV, rather than beat them by a mere two touchdowns.

Momentum is relevant DURING games (we saw that early at rowdy Qwest Field in the Seahawks-Rams contest). But it’s not relevant week-to-week. It’s only logical that “momentum” would disappear after the game. After all, there are six days between games. And – just a guess – but the do-or-die scenario of an NFL playoff game changes the mood in the locker room over the course of those six days.

So here’s a promise: these next eight stories about the eight Wild Card teams will have nothing to do with “momentum”. The only references to what’s happened in recent weeks will pertain to actual events and tangible data – not that mythical force that lazy sportswriters have been allowed to pretend is real.



New Orleans Saints (No. 5 seed; 11-5) @ Seattle Seahawks (No. 4 seed; 7-9)   Saturday, 4:30, NBC


2.) Seahawks: undeserving

On Sunday night, many people saw the Seahawks play for the first time this season. Give them credit – thP. Carroll (US Presswire)ey deserved that win more than the Rams. The Seahawks got a solid game out of backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst. In the second half they discovered their long-missing rushing attack, registering 141 yards (their third highest total on the season) They stifled the fruitless St. Louis passing attack and used the famous Qwest Field buzz to their advantage.

Now, let’s hope America doesn’t get short-sighted and say, “Sure, the Seahawks are only 7-9, but they actually looked pretty good Sunday night; maybe they deserve to be in the playoffs after all.”

Make no mistake: it is an embarrassment that this club is in the postseason tournament. The Bucs and Giants were both three games better than Seattle. Yes, it is an honor to win your division…but the old-timers who say winning a division warrants an automatic playoff spot are just plain wrong. Division titles meant more back in the five-team division format. But since realignment in 2002, a team now just has to beat out three other teams to win a division. The problem is, the NFL’s current playoff format was in place long before the 2002 realignment. A division title should warrant an automatic playoff bid…just as long as the division winner is ABOVE .500. Yes, there have only been three instances where a team with a .500 record or worse reached the postseason. But two of those instances have come since realignment. And in both of those instances, the outdated playoff system screwed over playoff caliber teams.

This time, it’s also screwing over NBC. The network pays the NFL $1.1 billion a year to cover the NFL. You think Dick Ebersol likes getting stuck with a losing team on the Sunday Night Football regular season finale? How about having to broadcast that losing team again the next week in the Wild Card opener?

If you’re wondering why the NFL would stick the Seahawks on NBC for a second consecutive week (not to mention give the Seahawks a short week after making them play late on Sunday), it’s because of the way the playoff television format shakes out. Here’s how it works (based on observation): the NFL views the Saturday night late game as the premier television slot and alternates between using an AFC and NFC game in that slot. Last year the league took the Philly-Dallas matchup from FOX and put it in NBC’s Saturday night slot. This year, it was CBS’s turn to give up its premium game. Thus, you get Colts-Jets (the NFL’s most marketable player against the biggest market team). Because the Colts-Jets is a 3 seed vs. 6 seed, the NFL chose the NFC’s 4 seed vs. 5 seed matchup to fill the other Saturday slot. D. Brees (US Presswire)

Why are we discussing the logistics of the broadcasting schedule rather than the Seahawks themselves here? Because this article is designated for true playoff teams.


3.) Saints: Unable to march in?

Last season the New Orleans Saints ranked sixth in the league in rushing. This season they ranked 28th. The Saints come into the postseason averaging just 68.3 yards per game on the ground over their last three outings. They have barely even bothered with establishing the run in any of those outings.

Injuries have likely factored into Sean Payton’s thinking here. Until this past Sunday, leading rusher Chris Ivory had been out with a bum hamstring. No. 1 running back Pierre Thomas has battled a bad ankle all season. Veteran midseason pickup Julius Jones is too inconsistent to feature, while Reggie Bush has stolen about $8 million from the team this season (Bush has often looked sluggish because he hasn’t been processing information well).

The lack of a run game is part of the reason Drew Brees threw 22 interceptions this year (Brees finished the season with a 12-game interception streak, the longest the NFL has seen since Jon Kitna in 2006).

Is this play-calling unbalance a major problem? Meh; there are worse things than relying heavily on the reigning Super Bowl MVP and his litany of receiving targets. But make no mistake: this is NOT the formula New Orleans used in its Super Bowl run last postseason.



New York Jets (No. 6 seed; 11-5) @ Indianapolis Colts (No. 3 seed; 10-6)   Saturday, 8:00, NBC

4.) Jets: Surprisingly under-hyped?

At least the New York Jets didn’t sneak into the postseason through the backdoor like last year. Though the 11-5 Jets are two games better than they were in ’09, and though the offense has opened up considerably in Mark Sanchez’s second season, no one seems to consider this club on the verge of taking that next step. Except their head coach, of course. “I think we’re going to win it [all] this year,” Rex Ryan said after his team’s easy Week 17 victory over the Bills.

Because the Jets gave up 45 points in primetime to the Patriots and 38 points on a widely-watched Sunday afternoon game against the Bears, there is the perception that Ryan’s defense has dropped off from a year ago. But look at the numbers:

2009 Jets
98.6 rush yards allowed per game (8th in the NFL)
153.7 pass yards allowed per game (1st)D. Revis (US Presswire)
51.7 percent completion given up (1st)
32 total sacks (tied 18th)

2010 Jets:
90.9 rush yards allowed per game (3rd in the NFL)
200.6 pass yards allowed per game (6th)
50.7 percent completion given up (1st)
40 total sacks (8th)

All in all, the numbers between the two years are nearly identical. And the ’09 Jets forced just one more turnover than the ’10 Jets. The major difference between the ’09 Jets and ’10 Jets is that the ’09 Jets were not on Hard Knocks, were not playing on national television every other week and were not filling the tabloids with stories about harassment of a female supermodel reporter or foot fetishes.

A more important difference between the two is that the ’09 Jets could control games with their rushing attack (which always buttresses a good defense) while the ’10 Jets cannot. Expected breakout running back Shonn Greene has come close to topping his Wild Card performance against the Bengals last season. Thus, the ’10 Jets are still relying heavily on 31-year-old LaDainian Tomlinson, who has not rushed for more than 55 yards in a game since Week 5.



5.) Colts: Peeking at the right time

Okay, so the Titans gave the Colts a tighter Week 17 contest at Lucas Oil Field than anticipated. Defensively, ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were neutralized by the stellar Tennessee tackles (Michael Roos and David Stewart). Offensively, Peyton Manning and company were held to just 23 points.
D. Rhodes (US Presswire)
Fine – go ahead and bet against Indy’s pass-rush and passing attack. A lot of you did earlier in the season (you know, when Manning showed he might be washed up by throwing 11 bad passes over a three-week stretch).

It’s easy to say these 10-6 Colts are not their usual dangerous selves. But the Colts failed to earn a bye in 2006, when they went on to win Super Bowl XLI. The Colts didn’t find momentum in the’06 playoffs – they found their run defense. That was the postseason in which Bob Sanders returned after playing just four regular season games.

Sanders won’t return again this time (IR, biceps), but that doesn’t mean the Indy run defense won’t progress. The progression is already underway, in fact. This past Sunday, the Colts held Chris Johnson to just 39 yards on 20 carries. The Titans as a whole managed just 51 yards on the ground. The week before, Indy held Oakland’s No. 2 ranked rushing attack to just 80 yards. The week before that, they held Jacksonville’s No. 3 ranked rushing attack to 67 yards.

What’s more, the Colts seem to have rediscovered their own rushing attack. Joseph Addai (who also helps tremendously as a pass-blocker) is back after missing eight games with a neck injury. Addai has rushed for 45 and 44 yards the past two weeks. More impressive has been veteran Dominic Rhodes. The soon-to-be-32-year-old locker room favorite was a member of the UFL’s Florida Tuskers just a few months ago. Since resurfacing in Indy, Rhodes has rushed for 172 yards in three games His quickness and veteran savvy give the offense everything it was missing when first-round bust Donald Brown was starting.

And, of course, the Colts still have Manning. And, while they’re without Austin Collie and Dallas Clark, they still have one of the league’s premier one-two punches at wide receiver in Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon.



Baltimore Ravens (No. 5 seed; 12-4) @ Kansas City Chiefs (No. 4 seed; 10-6)   Sunday, 1:00, CBS


6.) Ravens: Joe Flacco to come of age?

Last year in the Wild Card Round, the Ravens went into Foxboro and punched the Patriots in the mouth/nose/throat/gut/groin. They ran the ball 52 times for 234 yards, which is why few people crowed about Joe Flacco’s almost irrelevant performanJ. Flacco (US Presswire)ce. The then-second-year quarterback was 4/10 for 34 yards…on the day. An interception made Flacco’s passer rating an imperfect 10.

We wont’ see another Pop Warner gameplan like this from John Harbaugh’s club. Sure, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will be enticed to attack the Chiefs’ 15th-ranked run defense– especially given that Ray Rice looks fresher than he did early in the season and that Oakland’s Michael Bush gashed the Chiefs for 137 yards in Week 17 (most of those yards came from attacking the undersized defensive ends on off-tackle runs). But the Ravens have been grooming Flacco for this opportunity. His 2010 numbers wound up being nearly identical to his 2009 numbers – just 10 fewer attempts, nine fewer completions and nine more passing yards overall – but the Ravens used less six-man offensive line formations and more spread receiver sets this season. In other words, they put more on Flacco.
This makes sense considering Baltimore traded a small ransom for wideout Anquan Boldin, signed veteran T.J. Houshmandzadeh, signed speedster Donte’ Stallworth and drafted tight end Ed Dickson. The Ravens have more aerial weapons than they’ve ever had, which is why this time they’ll ask their third-year franchise quarterback to be a weapon himself.



7.) Chiefs: Can coaches carry them?

For a man known for being difficult to work with, Todd Haley sure showed admirable humility this past offseason. The second-year head coach and respected offensive guru realized that clearing play-calling duties off his ultra crowded head coaching plate would ultimately help the team. So, Haley welcomed Charlie Weiss to his staff, knowing full-well that the former Patriots offensive coordinator would almost certainly get the lion’s share of the credit if, you know, Matt Cassel went from being a hot seat starter to 27 TD-7 INT passer.

Operating in Weiss’ familiar system (a system Cassel learned primarily from Josh McDaniels in New England), the 28-year-old ex-USC backup has been exactly what a team with the league’s best rushing attack needs: a caretaking quarterback capable of making the occasional big play. Much of the credit for Cassel’s success belongs to Weiss.

Weiss isn’t the only coach who has turned in a masterful season for the Chiefs. Offensive line coach Bill Muir has been fantastic with a callow unit that was originally thought to be very vulnerable at the tackle and center positions, while running backs coach Maurice Carthon has helped Jamaal Charles blossom into a 1,467-yard rusher (a 1,467-yard rusher who primarily comes off the T. Haley (US Presswire)bench, no less).

Defensively, coordinator Romeo Crennel’s system has flourished despite an undersized front seven and inexperienced secondary. That secondary, which has often featured dual rookies at the safety spots (first-rounder Eric Berry and fifth-rounder Kendrick Lewis) plus a rookie in the slot (cornerback Javier Arenas) has benefitted from the tutelage of Hall of Fame defensive back Emmitt Thomas. Finally, give credit to linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, who has overseen a unit that successfully transformed nickel inside ‘backers Derrick Johnson and Javon Belcher into starters. The emergence of the young safeties and those speedy linebackers has infused speed into the interior of Kansas City’s defense.

You could argue that no team maximizes its talent through a variety of personnel packages better than the Chiefs. But is the reliance on coaching a good thing? The Chiefs did not look very well coached in their season finale against the Raiders, particularly on offense. Cassel completed 11 of 33 throws and was under immense pressure the entire afternoon. One can’t help but wonder if the news about Weiss heading to Florida isn’t distracting (especially given that the relationship with Haley likely wound up having something to do with Weiss’ decision).



Green Bay Packers (No. 6 seed; 10-6) @ Philadelphia Eagles (No. 3 seed; 10-6)   Sunday, 4:30, FOX


8.) Packers: DE-FENSE! (boom, boom) DE-FENSE! (boom, boom)

Columnists and analysts will be most tempted to fall back on the moment myth when talking about the Green Bay Packers this week. They’re that team that “nobody wants to face heading into the playoffs”. It’s true, Green Bay is hot right now. But the reason isn’t momentum – it’s talent, deception and aggression on the defensive side of the ball.
C. Woodson (US Presswire)
Injuries have ravaged the Packers D, but only in the front seven. Coordinator Dom Capers has still be able to prove what Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams proved last season, and what Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau proved the season before that: you can basically do whatever you want with your front seven as long as you have an elite back four. In the NFL, an elite back four includes: a true cover corner (Tramon Williams, ala Jabari Greer/Ike Taylor), a rangy safety (Nick Collins, ala Darren Sharper/Ryan Clark) and a versatile playmaker (Charles Woodson, ala Roman Harper/Troy Polamalu).

What Capers has that Williams did not have (but that LeBeau certainly had) is a dominant pass-rusher. In fact, Green Bay might suddenly have two. Clay Matthews continues to punish teams with his speed off the edge (by the way, a side note, don’t listen to analysts who simply look at Matthews’ somewhat slender stature and determine he can’t anchor against the run – the guy has been a tremendous playside run defender the past few weeks). In addition to Matthews, undrafted rookie Erik Walden has exploded since filling in for injured Frank Zombo (another undrafted rookie who was filling in for injured Brandon Chillar….who was filling in for injured Brady Poppinga – seriously). Walden led the Packers with 11 tackles and two sacks Sunday against the Bears.

Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback. Or, given that he hasn’t yet won a playoff game, perhaps we have to say he’s a quarterback with great skills. Either way, Rodgers makes Green Bay’s offense capable of greatness. But the absence of an adequate running back also makes Green Bay’s offense vulnerable.

The reason the Packers are in the postseason is because of their defense. It allowed just three points in the make-or-break finale against the Bears, and it forced six turnovers in the make-or-break matchup against the Giants the previous week.



9.) Eagles: A quarterback change?

Hard to believe – maybe even impossible to believe – but according to ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio (via Pro Football Talk), Andy Reid may consider benching Michael Vick in Philly’s Wild Card game against Green Bay. The Eagles coaching staff is extremely alarmed by Vick’s inability to recognize presnap blitzes. As ESPN’s NFL Matchup Show pointed out, M. Vick (US Presswire)recognition problems are what led to most of the sacks Vick took against the Vikings in the Tuesday night loss.

Vick did not practice with the team prior to the meaningless Cowboys game (which he sat out in order to rest his battered 6’0”, 215-pound body). Instead, he spent the week studying Green Bay’s 3-4 defense. Vick torched that defense in his 2010 debut off the bench back in Week 1, but that was only because the Packers had spent the week preparing for quintessential pocket passer Kevin Kolb (whom they destroyed, by the way).

It’d be great to know how much time the Packers spend preparing for Kolb this week. Do they – or anyone – really believe Reid would have the gall to pull the league’s presumed MVP runner up in the playoffs? The backlash Mike Shanahan took for pulling Donovan McNabb in a regular season game at Detroit would be a mere blip compared to the backlash Reid would take for pulling Vick in the City of Brotherly Love.

The Eagles obviously hope it won’t come to this. And it probably won’t. But this Sunday will prove whether Vick has really become a student of the game. No question he’s putting forth the effort to study the film and playbook; the question is whether that effort will pay off.




10.) Quick Hits: The bye week teams

With so much focus on the immediate playoff matchups, it’s always amazing how far off the radar the No. 1 and 2 seed teams drop during Wild Card week. Here’s just a little something to help keep the bye week clubs in the back of your mind.;

**The Patriots finished with an NFL-best 14-2 record. It’s the fourth time in Bill Belichick’s career that he’s reached 14 wins. (Too bad this stat, like virtually all other regular season stats, will be rendered virtually moot in two years when the NFL decides to water down its flourishing product by adding two more games to the regular season).

**The Steelers will be as well rested as a BCS bowl team once they take the field for their Divisional Round matchup. Pittsburgh will have played the hapless Panthers on Thursday night in Week 16, rested for 10 days, played the hapless Browns in Week 17, then rested for another two weeks.

**The Falcons might be the most banal, methodical No. 1 seed in NFL history. Their season has consisted of nothing but 12-play, 77-yard drives capped with a Michael Turner/Tony Gonzalez/Roddy White touchdown.

**Lovie Smith was true to his word: the Bears played to win in Week 17. The Bears didn’t get the win, of course, but no player in that locker room regrets the effort. And doesn’t it just seem like ever since the Giants gave the undefeated Patriots all they could handle on that epic Saturday night contest at the end of the ’07 season, more teams have played to win in their meaningless games?

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Posted on: December 21, 2010 11:19 am
 

Hot Routes 12.21.10: Ryan Leaf's Trilogy???

Posted by Will Brinson



Got a link for the Hot Routes? Hit us up on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).
  • Ryan Leaf, according to the Sporting News, is preparing to write a book about his career. Now, the obvious joke might be "I bet it's a short one!" right? Wrong. It's going to be a trilogy. The first installment will "cover four years" according to Leaf, "from the moment i decided to attend Washington State up through our Rose Bowl appearance in 1998." He also mentions "colorful characters" and "shenanigans," so it's bound to be a bestseller. Unlike the second and third installments, which should probably turn out as well as his NFL career.
  • Pat Bowlen and the beancounters in the Broncos organization may or may not be nudging Eric Studesville and politely screaming "START Tim Tebow SO WE CAN MAKE SOME MONEY!"
  • Devin Hester got a little choked up talking about his NFL record for returns on Monday and as Jerod Morris points out, it's nice to see such a humble and hard-working guy achieve such incredible success.
  • John Ourand makes some bold NFL-related (and other sports too) media predictions for the next 12 months over at Sports Business Journal. Obviously, his prediction about a CBS Sports channel is solely predicated on too-handsome-for-just-radio face. 
 
 
 
 
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