Tag:Kansas City Chiefs
Posted on: October 18, 2010 3:57 am
Edited on: October 18, 2010 11:06 am
 

10 stories that deserve your attention Week 6

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Getting our money’s worth

After two weeks of mediocre schedules, we were rewarded with a shimmering slate of games heading into WP. Manning (US Presswire)eek 6. Remarkably, the games turned out to be even better than anticipated. In the early window, the Ravens-Patriots went to overtime. So did the Dolphins-Packers. An electrifying Devin Hester punt return made the Bears-Seahawks contest close. The Rams upset of the Chargers was also close in the end. And in perhaps the best finish of all, the Texans scored two touchdowns in the final four minutes to come back from 10 down against the Chiefs (more on this one in a moment).

In the late window, the Cowboys-Vikings was a thrill despite the fact that it was played in the Metrodome (there is something profoundly depressing about watching a day game being played in that dreary indoor venue). The Jets-Broncos went down to the wire. And, not that anyone cared, but the Raiders-49ers contest was close (thanks to the fact that neither quarterback could complete a pass). If the day action wasn’t enough (though we all know it was), the Colts-Redskins turned in one of the most entertaining Sunday nighters on the season.

Not to open up a tangential debate, but Sunday’s action symbolized yet another reason why the NFL is 10,000 times better than college football. At this high of level, close games are the norm and cupcakes don’t exist.

2.) Houston, we have a cliché

Sorry, can’t stand the “Houston, we have a problem” line anymore. I refused to utter it. But things are not all swell in H-Town. Yes, the Texans can rejoice after a remarkable come-from-behind victory against the Chiefs. Matt Schaub was poised under pressure. Andre Johnson (eight catches, 138 yards and the game-winning touchdown) proved why he’s the best wide receiver in the NFL. And Arian Foster, with a hearty 71 yards and two scores, reiterated that this is indeed one of the league’s best rushing attacks.

But notice these are all offensive stories? It’s become apparent that, in order to win, the Texans are going to have to keep doing what they did Sunday: outscore opponents. That’s fine in a literal sense (hell, you obviously have to outscore an opponent in order to win). But figuratively, outscoring opponents (i.e. winning shootouts) is the same formula that has earned the Texans a boatload of seven, eight or nine-win seasons. If this team is going to take that next step, the defense must get better.

On Sunday, the Texans gave up 31 points to a Chiefs offense that, in the first four games of the season, could barely score more than a Jonas Brother. The secondary allowed three Matt Cassel touchdowns (two to Dwayne Bowe, one of which he celebrated with the always-amusing ball-stuck-to-hands routine). On the season, Houston has allowed a league-worst 14 touchdown passes. Inconsistent technique from the corners and safety Bernard Pollard’s propensity to take missteps in coverage has resulted in a pass defense that ranks dead last. The Chiefs would have exploited this pass defense even more if they weren’t so busy running down the front seven’s throat. That front seven looked alarmingly feeble once DeMeco Ryans blew out his Achilles. Thomas Jones racked up 100 yards on 19 carries; Jamaal Charles gained 93 yards on 16 carries.

Let’s not forget, Houston did win this game. But that doesn’t mean you should climb aboard when the driver of the bandwagon pulls over and tells you that Gary Kubiak’s 4-2 club is the breakout team of 2010. The same old weaknesses are still present…

3.) Mea Culpa

Gotta come clean: I was wrong about the Ravens-Patriots game. Anyone who read my Key Matchup breakdown last Thursday or Friday knows that I didn’t think the Patriots defense could stop Ray Rice or Joe Flacco. Obviously, it did.
D. Branch (US Presswire)
I don't regret my analysis -- the Patriots simply played better than I thought they would. So how was I proven wrong? For starters, the Patriots secondary stepped up. (Rookie corner Devin McCourty’s pass breakup against Todd Heap late in the game is a particularly nice play that I find myself still thinking about.) Two rookie linebackers – Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham – showed good physicality against the run. (Spikes had 16 tackles, which was actually two less than Jerod Mayo.)

More impressive than the defense, however, was the New England offense. Turns out, the key to Deion Branch is having him play in the Eastern Time Zone. Though it was a bit confusing seeing him wear number 84, Branch looked like the same old reliable star. The ninth-year pro led the Patriots with nine catches for 98 yards and a score. About half of those catches came in crucial moments down the stretch.

And how about Danny Woodhead? The former Jet had five catches for 52 yards and 11 carries for 63 yards, filling the invaluable scatback shoes of injured veteran Kevin Faulk. With Woodhead, Wes Welker and Julian Edelman all contributing, the Patriots are the scrappiest (cough…cough…whitest) offense in the NFL. Scrappy works when you have one of the best game-managing quarterbacks and the best game-managing head coach in the league. The Patriots offense is like football’s version of the good ‘ol boy who got caught up living the fast life in the big city but has now returned to the farm. There’s something reassuring about seeing this team win games with a dink-and-dunk offense again.

4.) On the other side…

Let’s flip the script and look at what’s wrong with the Chargers and Cowboys. If you’d have told me last week that the Chargers would be 2-4 after leaving St. Louis, I would have said, “That just means they won’t win the AFC West until at least after Thanksgiving”. But if you’d have told me the Chargers would be 2-4 and that Antonio Gates would suffer what appears to be another serious ankle injury? Well, I’d have at least paused for a few seconds.

Fortunately for San Diego, the usual disclaimer about the shabbiness of the AFC West Division still applies. The Raiders are 2-4. And, though on the surface they look like a wild-card contender, the Broncos are 2-4, as well. The Chiefs are 3-2 and in the process of taking that “next step” as a franchise. Part of that process is losing tough games (like the one at Houston).
P. Rivers (US Presswire)
The Chargers are still the favorites in their division. But they’re certainly no longer favorites in the entire AFC. Perhaps that makes perfect sense. Instead of looking around and asking what’s wrong with San Diego, maybe we should be looking within and asking why we keep thinking this team should be as good as it was a few years ago. Back then it had a Hall of Fame running back (L.T.), a blossoming big-play wide receiver (V-Jax), a first-class pass-rusher (Lights Out), a playmaking star corner (Cro) and, now that I think about it, a bunch of players with cool nicknames. The Chargers have lost a lot of talent the past few years (don’t forget about the departure of two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Jamal Williams and retirement of fullback Lorenzo Neal).

Of course, the Chargers have always been good at replenishing their own talent. And Philip Rivers is a constantly-improving top 10 quarterback. So maybe special teams gaffes, untimely turnovers and a long-held propensity for losing early in the season – especially on the road – are to blame for San Diego’s slow start. But with Gates now out of the lineup, don’t be surprised if people start questioning the sheer talent of this 2-4 club.

It’s possible that the reactionary radio call-in listeners and message board mavens – who, as we all know, understand football better than everyone – won’t sing their usual Fire Norv Turner song this week. Reason being, they might be too preoccupied with Wade Phillips.

Unlike Turner’s Chargers, there is absolutely no questioning the talent of Phillips’ Cowboys. So why 1-4? For starters, penalties have been a major problem. The Cowboys were flagged 11 times for 91 yards at Minnesota. Last week, they were flagged 12 times for 133 yards. Included in the latest collection of penalties was a 15-yard excessive celebration that came just one week after the highly-publicized and costly excessive celebration flag late in the fourth quarter against the Titans. These days, saying the Cowboys lack discipline is not unlike saying the sky is blue, water is wet and Justin Bieber thinks he’s black.

But penalties aren’t Dallas’ only problem. (In fact, defensively, they’re not a problem at all. The Cowboys have the least-penalized defense in the NFL. Cornerback Mike Jenkins, who has four P.I.’s in two weeks, is pretty much the only defender who draws flags.) Offensively, the engine seems to sputter at inopportune times. Even though left tackle Doug Free has overachieved in replacing Flozell Adams, the front five as a whole has taken a step back. Kyle Kosier’s health problems (he got hurt again Sunday) and Leonard Davis’ baffling inconsistency have weakened the interior blocking.

Jason Garrett also deserves skepticism. The Cowboys execute one of the league’s simplest offenses, and they still don’t have an identity in the run game or a clearly-defined role for Dez Bryant. Factor in Tony Romo’s occasional mistakes (the failure to read E.J. Henderson’s fake A-gap blitz on his second interception is the latest example) and you have the makings of an inconsistent group.

5.) Time to make pass interference reviewable

The Vikings’ victory over the Cowboys was essentially sealed on a pass interference flag against Mike Jenkins. The Texans’ final drive was aided by a deplorable pass interference call against Chiefs budding star corner Brandon Flowers. (Flowers is STILL in that official’s ear and fighting back tears of frustration.) The Jets’ go-ahead score over the Broncos late in the fourth quarter was set up by a Renaldo Hill pass interference against Santonio Holmes. If that flag wasn’t thrown, the Broncos would have won the game.
R. Hill (US Presswire)
To be clear, that flag on Hill needed to have been thrown. It is illegal to grab an opponent’s facemask. It’s especially illegal to grab an opponent’s facemask while he’s trying to catch a ball in the air.

But nevertheless, that call was crucial in deciding the outcome of the game. Why wouldn’t the NFL want to give its players, coaches and fans full assurance that it was indeed the right call? Making pass interference reviewable would do that.  Oh, and not to mention, reviewing P.I. would give officials a chance to rectify the occasional awful call (like, say, Flowers’).

I know, I know – pass interference can’t be reviewed because it is a judgment call. But at the end of the day, every call is a judgment call. When a ref is reviewing whether a quarterback’s arm is moving forward, he’s making a judgment. When he’s seeing if feet were in bounds, he’s making a judgment. That’s what referees do – they judge.

Granted, P.I. is a purer judgment call than most calls. But isn’t that all the more reason to make it reviewable? The league doesn’t like judgment calls. So, to lessen the impact of judgment calls, the league mandates that they can only be a split-second decision made during live action? That doesn’t make sense. If that’s how the NFL wants to run its sport, it might as well call itself Major League Baseball. P.I. is too big of a momentum swing to put strictly in the hands of one official.

6.) A despicable but brilliant idea

On a similar note, something very interesting happened late in the Packers-Dolphins game. The Dolphins had first-and-10 on its own 43 with 10 seconds left in regulation. They ran a play from shotgun. Chad Henne’s pass to Brian Hartline fell incomplete. But on that play, Charles Woodson was whistled for illegal contact. (By the way, did you know Woodson is the most-penalized player in the league this season?) The Lambeau crowd booed, but announcer Dan Fouts pointed out that Woodson’s penalty prevented a completion on the play, and that play still ran seven seconds off the clock. Thus, the Dolphins were forced to sacrifice seven seconds for a measly five yards.

This presents the despicable but brilliant idea: in tight last second situations, teams should instruct their defensive backs to mug the receivers. It’s a shrewd clock-draining maneuver. Even if an offense gets the ball on its own 40 with 15 seconds to go, you could commit two very thorough illegal contact penalties and leave the opponent at the 50-yard line with time for just one play.

When the penalty doesn’t fit the crime, then commit the crime. Is that good sportsmanship? Who cares? This isn’t high school.

7.) Another tough decision in Philly?

Deep down, Andy Reid probably wouldn’t mind seeing his team win in spite of its backup quarterback, rather than because of its backup quarterback. A month after Michael Vick played so well in a fill-in role that Reid had to unhitch his wagon from Kevin Kolb, Kolb has maybe forced the head coach to do the same thing only inversed. K. Kolb (US Presswire)

Kolb was borderline spectacular against the Falcons on Sunday. He completed 23 of 29 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. Dispelling the notion from smarmy writers who suggested he and Trent Edwards are really the same person, Kolb preyed on a Falcons secondary that, dating back to last season, has struggled to stop big plays through the air. In completing touchdown strikes of 34 and 83 yards to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, Kolb showed he can patiently read the field and pull the trigger on anticipatory throws.

After the game, Andy Reid called having two quality quarterbacks “a beautiful thing”. Asked who’s going to get the ball next week against the Titans, Reid said, “Take Michael Kolb and we go play, baby." Hey, at least Reid’s not feigning honesty or decisiveness on this topic anymore.

P.S. Give credit to the Eagles for getting a great win. They defeated the best team in the NFC (record-wise) despite being without their starting quarterback, starting left tackle Jason Peters, and, for the second half, star wideout DeSean Jackson (concussion). The Eagles secondary was phenomenal, particularly against Tony Gonzalez (he had two touchdowns, but just three catches for 19 yards on the day). That’s important considering the way this D has struggled to defend tight ends at times.

8.) The other Pennsylvania team

Power polls aren’t quite as important in pro football as they are in college (chalk up another point for the pro game) but they’re still fun. When they come out this week, expect to see Pittsburgh at the top of everyone’s list. Ben Roethlisberger was misty eyed upon receiving a rousing ovation in his return to action. He proceeded to do exactly what he’s always done: make plays by extending plays.

Roethlisberger had a few of his usual gunslinger mistakes but he also had more than a few gunslinger plays. (By the way, given Big Ben’s record and all the recent Brett Favre drama, is it possible that a risky gun-slinging quarterbacking style somehow translates off the field to a risky – we’ll keep it P.G. and say, flirting style – off the field?)

Despite having a quarterback they could lean on, the Steelers did not get away from the ground game. Rashard Mendenhall carried the ball 27 times for 84 yards. Backup Isaac Redman added six runs for 31 yards.

Browns third-round pick Colt McCoy wound up posting decent numbers against the Steelers defense (23/33, 281 yards, a touchdown and, in honor of mentor Jake Delhomme, two interceptions), but in reality, he looked very much like a rookie facing a Super Bowl unit. James Harrison was nastier than usual, sending receivers Joshua Cribbs and Mohammad Massaquoi to the locker room with concussions. (The hit on Cribbs was a clean shot to the ear-hole; the hit on Massaquoi was not dirty, though it should have been a personal foul).
At 4-1, the Steelers sit atop the AFC North, fully loaded on both sides of the ball.

9.) Bucs are for real*J. Freeman (US Presswire)

* “Real” meaning “developing and making strides”. Bucs fans should be extremely encouraged by quarterback Josh Freeman. Yes, Freeman failed to get his offense into the end zone Sunday. And yes, considering how sharp Drew Brees was (21/32, 263 yards, three touchdowns and just one pick) and how effective Chris Ivory was (15 carries, 158 yards), we probably should be talking about how the defending Super Bowl Champion Saints are on track after all.

But we have all season to talk about the Saints. And, since I happened to make this my feature game in the early window, I feel compelled to put my observations to good use. Freeman shows decent poise in the pocket. When he’s decisive – which, unlike last season, is more often than not – he has a rifle for an arm. Freeman has good rapport with rookie wide receiver Mike Williams (who is similar in style to Mike Sims-Walker) and he’s willing to take healthy risks with the football. Does he have room to improve? Of course -- if he didn't, the Bucs would be scoring far more than six points in big divisional games. The point is, Freeman has the foundation.

Overall, the Bucs, though 3-2, are probably a 6-10 caliber team. The offense can’t run (working behind an inconsistent front line, Cadillac Williams looks OK, but nothing more). Defensively, the front four is a treat to run-block against, the linebackers have zero physicality and the secondary can be exploited deep. But these are normal symptoms of a massive rebuilding project. Bucs fans should know, judging by their team’s key components (i.e. Freeman), the front office is telling the truth when it talks about a bright future.

10.) Quick Hits

Cameron Wake should be a lock for AFC Defensive Player of the Week. Against the Packers, Wake recorded three sacks, three tackles for a loss and six hits on the quarterback.

I almost wrote this last week, but figuring no one would know who I was talking about, I refrained. After Sunday night’s game, people should know. Here’s what I was going to write: Why is punt returner Kenneth Moore even in the NFL, let alone actually touching the ball for the Colts? Not to be mean, but Moore is undersized, slow and really, really slow when starting his run from a standstill. He’s also turnover prone.

What in the world was Brandon Meriweather doing hitting Todd Heap with the crown of his helmet like that? Meriweather tried to illegally hit Heap early in the game and missed. He tried again later and connected, earning a 15-yard penalty and sending Heap to the sideline. Never have I seen a player go so far out of his way to deliver an illegal hit on someone. Meriweather is normally an honest, humble and forthright individual. That’s why it was disappointing that he a.) Acted like this and b.) Refused to talk about it afterwards. The whole thing just didn’t make sense.

Defensive tackle Remi Ayodele is playing extremely well for the Saints. He’s a clogger who can also move east and west. Ayodele took advantage of the Bucs playing backup guard Jeremy Zuttah at center in place of the injured Jeff Faine.

Kudos to the Panthers and Bills for coming out of their bye weeks without a loss.

A CBS halftime graphic during the Chiefs-Texans games noted that wideout Dwayne Bowe had three catches, 50 yards, one touchdown and zero drops. Bowe was very stellar against Houston, but you know it hasn’t been a great season when you go two quarters without a drop and have it highlighted in a television graphic.

Anthony Fasano had a clever touchdown celebration against the Packers: the fake Lambeau Leap. Think about how much fun it is to pysch someone on a high five. So how much fun must it be to watch 15-20 opposing fans bracing in vain to catch you?

In one week Rams receiver Danario Alexander went from practice squad member to having four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown.

Alex Smith was booed for most of the afternoon in San Francisco. Fans of decent 21st century football had every right to boo throughout that game. (Though I still don’t understand how booing your own quarterback helps matters.) Two things really stood out in this game: 1.) Smith is drastically more comfortable in a hurry up offense; 2.) The Raider safeties lack discipline and are major liabilities.

Antonio Cromartie won his personal battle against Brandon Lloyd. Also, the Broncos weren’t scared of Darrelle Revis and found out that he’s human.

I still can’t decide if Pierre Garcon’s one-handed catch is the best catch I’ve ever seen. We all need to let it sink in for a few days before making a proclamation. 


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Posted on: October 17, 2010 4:31 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2010 7:12 pm
 

DeMeco Ryans out for season with Achilles tear

Posted by Will Brinson

A tremendous (and potentially questionable, if you're a Chiefs fan or Brandon Flowers) victory by the Houston Texans -- 35-31 over Kansas City -- was marred DeMeco Ryans' ACL injury.

Things got worse following the game when Gary Kubiak announced that the 2006 Defensive Rookie of the Year would miss the remainder of the season.

That's a big blow to the Texans defense -- Ryans had the sixth most tackles in the NFL heading into the game and with Brian Cushing back from suspension, seemed prepared to really allow the Texans defense to gel.

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Posted on: October 16, 2010 4:29 pm
 

NFL Soundoff Week 6

Posted by Andy Benoit

In this week’s NFL Sound Off we kept things open-ended: What has been the biggest surprise in the NFL season thus far? The responses below are either a.) The most clever responses we received or b.) A representation of some of the most common responses we received.

Via Twitter (http://twitter.com/cbssportsnfl" target="_blank">@CBSSportsNFL)


@Tkleckner  A 5'7" Running Back could be starting for the Patriots


@EVLTNssoulbro  The Afc South and the Falcons...


@JohnBakerFSU  The 3-1 start by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


@deronsh  the fact that wade Phillips still has a job...


Via Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/CBSSports" target="_blank">Facebook.com/CBSSports)

Shawn Stovall The Cowboys being 1-3. Oh wait, we are always giving them far to much credit, that isn't a surprise at all. Sorry Mr. Jones, you can't buy chemistry.

Chucko Brozo Lions WIN! self explanatory

Michael McAllister That Mike Singletary's team has now been both literally and figuratively pants'd.

Ronda Delbosque has 2 Brett Favre ,1st he didnt retire again(big surprise),then they only won once (bein he suppose 2 b a gd qb),then he sends inapprtate pics,then hes goin sit out 4 a injured elbow(his cry baby antics).my conculsion is he goin c how many ways he will screw his team this year b4 he is forced into retirement

Michael Senodenos LT,they thought he was washed up, but LQQK at me now!!! I picked him in my fanatsy football league and everybody laughed, who's laughing now!!! Lol

Bradley Kent Phillips Bret Favre and his little friend.

Gordon Bast Kansas City 3-1 and Dallas 1-3 is this a parallel universe league where everything is reversed?
William Haney Dallas, Minnesota, San Diego, and San Francisco floundering. How brutal the AFC South has become and of course, the great start of the Chicago Bears.

Joey Lingebach i was surprised refs didn't call the Ravens for a roughing the passer call that never happened, well they play Tom Brady this week so it'll happen. poor t-sizzle.

Orlando Martinez A lot of teams not selling out in time to lift the blackouts, including my Tampa Bay BUCS, who enjoyed 10+ years of sellouts! NFL would be smart to reassess this before losing many fans.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow  @cbssportsnfl">http://twitter.com/CBSSportsNFL">@cbssportsnflon Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .

Posted on: October 16, 2010 2:33 pm
 

Week 6 injury news and analysis, part II

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Chiefs at Texans

Houston has a huge injury report (a cool 18 players are on it today), though exactly half of them are listed as questionable. After missing last week’s game, WR Jacoby Jones (calf) practiced Friday on a limited basis, and it’s expected that he’ll play. DE Mario Williams missed Wednesday and Thursday as well, and he’s also listed as questionable with a shoulder.

Kansas City WR Chris Chambers (finger) was added to the list Friday, and he’s questionable to play. S Kendrick Lewis (hamstring), OT Ryan O’Callaghan (groin) and DE Tyson Jackson (knee) also are questionable, though all had full participation in Friday’s practice.

Lions at Giants

Two big question marks in this game. The first is whether Detroit WR Calvin Johnson will play. You’ll recall that Johnson hurt himself late in the Lions blowout last week of the Rams, and coach Jim Schwartz has taken some criticism this week about why Johnson was even in the game at the time.

Johnson practiced Friday and he appears to be getting close to health. He’s a gametime decision, but it seems likely that he’ll play.

The second big question mark is whether starting QB Matthew Stafford will return from his right shoulder injury and play for the first time since Week 1. He’s listed as questionable, but it sounds like Schwartz will continue to use backup Shaun Hill for at least another week.

For the Giants, C Shaun O’Hara (ankle), LB Keith Bulluck (toe) and K Lawrence Tynes (ankle) are questionable. But the Giants signed free agent K Shayne Graham today, so it doesn’t sound like Tynes will play, especially after a fruitless Saturday morning at practice.

Falcons at Eagles

Two of Atlanta’s more important defensive players are questionable for Sunday. DE John Abraham, who has been having a standout year thus far, is 50-50 to play with a back injury. He was limited in practice all week. Meanwhile, rookie LB Sean Weatherspoon didn’t practice all week with a sprained right knee.

LT Jason Peters will be out this week after his left knee sprain. Which is unfortunate for Philadelphia, because, as the 49ers showed last week, Peters’ backup, King Dunlap, is easily overwhelmed. Dunlap looked absolutely terrible, and the Eagles have to hope they can get something out of Peters.

Eagles WR Riley Cooper missed last week’s game after suffering a concussion, but he was cleared to practice last Wednesday. He was limited Wednesday, sat out Thursday and was a full participant Friday. He’s questionable, as is QB Michael Vick. But Kevin Kolb will start at QB, so unless he’s injured, don’t expect to see Vick. 

Seahawks at Bears

The biggest loss for the Bears would be LB Lance Briggs – who’s questionable because of an ankle injury. He didn’t practice all week, and coach Lovie Smith, during his Friday news conference, didn’t sound optimistic that Briggs could play.

LG Roberto Garza is out because of a knee injury, and because of that, Chicago will shift T Chris Williams to his spot. S Major Wright is also out with a hamstring injury.

Seattle G Chester Pitts is listed as questionable, but he won’t play. He’s still recovering from microfracture surgery. Obviously, the Seahawks still think Pitts will help them; otherwise they wouldn’t have kept him on their 53-man roster for this long.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .

Posted on: October 11, 2010 5:06 pm
 

F&R NFL Approval Matrix Week 5

Posted by Will Brinson

Our affinity for graphs and charts and purty pictures knows no bounds, so (with a nod to the smartypants at NY Mag), we present our first-ever NFL approval matrix. Suggestions, complaints and intellecutual property lawsuits may be directed to us on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).

Click to embiggen.
Posted on: October 11, 2010 3:44 pm
 

Week 5 NFL Podcast Review & MNF Preview

Posted by Will Brinson

Five weeks of NFL football is in the books, folks, and do we know anything? Maybe not -- we do know some things, like the fact that the Bills and Panthers stink.

But there are plenty of questions to be answered, so Andy and I hopped on the old podcast machine to find some answers.

First of all, is it time for the Packers and Cowboys to hit the panic button? Who's the favorite to win the NFC East with the Cowboys struggling, Kevin Kolb looking decent and the Redskins just finding ways to win? Should the Chiefs be willing to take a moral victory from their loss to the Colts? Are Peyton Manning, Kyle Orton and Philip Rivers producing numbers that are sustainable over the course of the year?

All that and more answered below when you hit the play button. Or, make it easy on yourself and  Subscribe via iTunes .

If you can't view the podcast, click here to download .


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Posted on: October 11, 2010 4:36 am
Edited on: October 11, 2010 2:18 pm
 

10 Sunday stories that deserve attention Week 5

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) The Almost Legend

The Alex Smith Story on Sunday night was like a Greek tragedy. The much-maligned quarterback of the disappointing 0-4 Niners makes one of the great blunders of the 2010 season when he reads blitz from the Eagles, eschews his hot receiver (Vernon Davis) and instead fumbles, resulting in an easy Quintin Mikell touchdown return. Smith endures the wrath of a Candlestick crowd that showed up at the stadium seemingly determined to boo their own team until the visiting Eagles could feel right at home. A. Smith (US Presswire)

Mike Singletary hears the boos, hears the We Want Carr! chants (which, by the way, surely sparked a few wry smiles from Houstonites watching the game) and, from the looks of it, tells his quarterback he’s making a change. His quarterback appears to respond with something along the lines of, Like hell you are! Singletary, to his credit, sticks with Smith – which is important because not only did Smith practice all week and clearly beat out Carr when the two were competing for the job this summer, but also because Al Michaels, during one of his rare breaks from gushing about the paradise that is the Bay Area, had told the NBC audience that Singletary deeply values loyalty.

Smith, backed by the support of no one but himself, goes back out and goes 5/5 with a touchdown on a drive that was crisper than a dry Cornflake. No one could have blamed Smith if he’d celebrated that touchdown by giving the Candlestick crowd the Chuck Cecil treatment. Instead, he goes back to the sideline, watches the game through a fierce stare, and then goes back out and does it all again.

The 49ers get the ball back trailing 27-24 with 1:28 to play. When Smith completes a 27-yard pass to Vernon Davis (who finally got to do what he does best, which is run seam routes), we think we might be seeing a modern comic book hero unfold before our very eyes. But three plays later, Smith’s arm gets hit by a penetrating Trevor Laws, resulting in an interception and gut-wrenching 0-5 start for the preseason NFC West favorites.

Now, Singletary’s job could come into question. (You know, because it’s his fault Frank Gore fumbled twice. And because it’s his fault Smith gave up the ball to Mikell before all the fireworks. And because it’s his fault Joe Nedney missed a 40-yard field goal. And because it’s his fault offensive tackles Joe Staley and Anthony Davis played poorly at times.) Smith’s starting status should be secure, but a winless record has a way of tricking decision-makers into hasty moves. So we’ll see.

Overall, at least this sure-to-be-boring game that yours truly openly dreaded all week turned out to be one of the best dramas thus far of this young 2010 season.

2.) Rethinking the NFC?

The Green Bay Packers were supposed to run away with the NFC North. Instead, they’re a game and a half behind the 4-1 Bears and, after Monday night, could be only a half-game up on a Vikings team that just acquired the greatest deep threat in NFL history. If Sunday’s loss at Washington alone isn’t bad enough, how about the fact that quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tight ends Donald Lee and Jermichael Finley, outside linebacker Clay Matthews and defensive lineman Ryan Pickett all came away with injuries that could put their status for Week 6 in jeopardy?

Rodgers has a concussion. Lee has a shoulder (he hurt it on a play in which he caught a touchdown…and celebrated). Finley, according to reports, has a displaced hamstring (don’t worry, no one knew you could displace your hamstring). Matthews has the more traditional pulled hamstring. Pickett has a knee. This for a team that has already lost for the season running back Ryan Grant, safety Morgan Burnett and inside linebacker Nick Barnett.

Packer fans should actually be breathing a sigh of relief, though. Finley initially appeared to have some sort of serious knee injury (he was doing the whole “towel over the head thing” while riding a cart to the locker room, and he came back to the sideline on crutches).
A. Rodgers (US Presswire)
From a Super Bowl standpoint, the Packers are not good enough to survive the loss of Finley. If he is out for an extended period of time, the Packers will discover that Greg Jennings and Donald Driver aren’t actually impossible to defend. The outside wideouts benefit greatly from the attention Finley commands from opposing safeties. Not to mention, Finley himself is good for at least 80 yards a game. Green Bay still has enough talent at wide receiver to compete, but an offense can’t disguise its intentions with a wide receiver the way you can with a tight end.

Regarding the other two injured superstars: Rodgers will presumably be back soon (not to put any pressure on the guy, but quarterbacks in Green Bay don’t really miss games); Matthews has successfully come back from a hamstring injury once already (he missed virtually the entire preseason, and then recorded three sacks in each of the first two regular season games). It’s important he get healthy ASAP. There was a noticeable decline – perhaps even disappearance – of Green Bay’s front seven prowess after Matthews went out Sunday (the Redskins punted on seven of their first eight possessions but exploded in the second half to finish with over 350 yards through the air).

Note: The original diagnosis of a "displaced hamstring" for Finley was accurate (Finley says he's had the issue before), but his knee was actually the bigger deal. On Monday we learned that Finley will undergo arthroscopic surgery and miss around three weeks. 

Note II: For a full rundown of Green Bay's substantial list of injuries -- updated Monday afternooon -- click here.  

3.) Taking the Pack to task

Now that we’ve (sort of) played the sympathy card for the banged-up Packers, how about censuring them for bungling the field goal at the end of regulation? Mason Crosby missed a 53-yarder that would have won the game. But he’s not to blame.

Instead, blame the head coach and quarterback. Why – WHY !? – did Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers settle for a 53-yarder in that situation? Two plays before Crosby’s kick, Rodgers made a masterful presnap read against a Redskins blitz from his right side. He lasered a ball to rookie tight end Andrew Quarless for a 21-yard completion. There were 26 seconds on the game clock when that play commenced. After Quarles’ catch, the Packers sauntered to the line of scrimmage and got around to spiking the ball with seven seconds left.

Seven seconds is enough time to take two stabs at a quick-out pass that could pick up around five yards. That’s the type of play Green Bay’s offense does better than any offense. Instead, the Packers settled for a 53-yard attempt. Thinking you can make a 53-yarder to end a game is almost as bad as thinking you can block Chicago’s 21-yarder to end a game.

4.) You play to win the game. Hello ?!

If only Herm Edwards had said this when he was with the Chiefs, instead of when he was with the Jets. Oh, that would have been the perfect introduction here. Instead, we’ll settle for a somewhat flimsy angle of “Play to win the game – that’s what Edwards’ replacement in Kansas City, Todd Haley, did Sunday at Indianapolis.”T. Haley (US Presswire)

Of course, Haley’s Chiefs did not win the game. Their loss allowed the 1972 Miami Dolphins to schedule their annual champagne celebration unusually early (first time since 1970 that no NFL team started 4-0). But Haley sure played to win. Figuring he probably couldn’t outscore Peyton Manning with Matt Cassel straight-up (indeed, Cassel was a modest 16/29 for 156 yards and, like the rest of the Chiefs team, produced zero touchdowns Sunday), Haley looked to manufacture points through calculated (reckless?) gambles. He opened with an onside kick. He went for it on fourth-and-two on the teams’ first possession. Both moves were unsuccessful, putting the Chiefs on the wrong end of a six-point swing. But at least Haley was willing to take the risks.

Haley maybe would have taken a more traditional approach had he known his defense would be so stifling. Chiefs fans should feel encouraged about Romeo Crennel’s young group. It was the real deal Sunday. Ends Glenn Dorsey and Wallace Gilberry got consistent separation against the Colts front line (both in terms of penetration and shedding blocks in lateral run support).

Outside linebacker Tamba Hali all but locked up a trip to Hawaii with the way he destroyed right tackle Ryan Diem (forget what I said in the Key Matchup feature about Hali being a minimal factor because he tends to wreak havoc late in plays rather than immediately off the snap). 

Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson was a stud in all phases. Formerly a strict open-space player, Johnson is proving his mettle between the tackles in high-traffic areas. He’s one of the fastest-closing tacklers in the game today. (Johnson led the Chiefs with nine stops in this game.) Plus, he can drop into coverage.

Speaking of coverage, the Chiefs have arguably the league’s best young cornerback tandem in third-year gems Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr. Flowers was, once again, barely challenged Sunday. Carr, to the surprise of many, held his own against Reggie Wayne; he has excellent size and strength. Crennel is able to variegate his defensive looks because he has two trustworthy cover corners on the outside.

The Chiefs still have plenty of issues to take care of offensively. Cassel  needs to rely less on his legs and more on his arm. The front five must stay viable for four quarters (the Colts defensive line was the markedly fresher unit late in this one). Jamaal Charles is a sensational home run threat, but he fumbles too often and goes down if a defender so much as breathes on him. And Dwayne Bowe must lose the oven mitts if he is to be the true No. 1 receiver this offense needs (Bowe had a pair of crucial drops late).

There are no moral victories in pro football. And Haley’s team could have won Sunday if it had only executed better in the second half. But at the end of the day, if we were wondering whether Kansas City is a legit contender in the AFC West, the answer is a resounding Yes.

5.) Which brings us to…

Written somewhere in Norv Turner’s contract is a clause that says the Chargers fourth-year head coach only has to win at home. At least it sure seems that way. You would have thought San Diego could win in Oakland given that the empty seats would create a 2010 Qualcomm Stadium feel. Not to mention, the Chargers had defeated the Raiders 13 straight times.

You actually can’t blame Tuner for this one. If you’re into blaming coaches, go ahead and feast on special teams coordinator Steve Crosby. Even if you’re not into blaming coaches, feast on Crosby; the Dolphins last week made criticizing special teams coaches the new chic thing. Crosby’s unit gave up two early blocked punts that resulted in nine Raiders points. In all, the Chargers special teams have allowed three blocked punts and four return touchdowns on the season.

The offense also gave up a return touchdown of its own. Phillip Rivers’ fumble on a hit from Michael Huff was scooped up by Tyvon Branch for what amounted to the game-clinching score. The only thing unusual about that Chargers turnover was that it did not occur in the red zone. (San Diego had two first half turnovers inside the 20.)

Malcolm Floyd had 213 yards receiving. Rivers had 431 passing. Antonio Gates, who had five catches for 92 yards, extended his all-time tight ends record for consecutive games with a touchdown catch to nine. Still, when Rivers kept looking for Patrick Crayton and Craig “No Longer Worthy of a Catchy Nickname Like Buster” Davis late in the fourth quarter, you couldn’t help but think that this team might (would definitely) be better off with Vincent Jackson lining up outside.

On the Raiders side, this win, naturally, came at the hands of a backup quarterback. It seems like Bruce Gradkowski gets knocked out for at least part of every game. This week it was a shoulder that sidelined the Jeff Garcia ersatz. After some Jason Campbell-like jittery passes early on, Jason Campbell did a spectacular job filling in for Gradkowski. Campbell finished 13/18 for 159 yards and a touchdown.
Also, running back Michael Bush, filling in for injured Darren McFadden, rushed for a hard-earned 104 yards on 26 carries. The Raiders, 2-3, may have a few backfield controversies to sort out before facing their winless Bay Area neighbors in Week 6.

6.) That other team with quarterback drama

Before we dispel the notion that Max Hall is going to lead a resurgence in Arizona, let’s dispel the notion that the Saints have serious issues. Yes, the Saints, by their standards, are struggling a bit. They miss Reggie Bush in the passing game and Pierre Thomas in the running game. They’re uncharacteristically turning the ball over at inopportune places on the field. (Heck, even Drew Brees got into the act, with two of his three interceptions being the result of an underthrown ball). Most concerning is, defensively, the Saints are not creating turnovers – at least not like they were last season. They have just four interceptions on the season. Their fortunes hope to change once free safety Darren Sharper (knee) gets off PUP. M. Hall (US Presswire)

Regarding the Cardinals – you have to admire Max Hall’s grit. He seemed determine to break the NFL record for most injuries suffered in a single game (four players currently share the unofficially record – Albert Haynesworth, Jason Peters, Jevon Kearse and, somehow, Vince Carter). Hall took gobs of big hits Sunday.

One hit, in particular, stands out. It was on the play in which Hall fumbled and lost his helmet. This was a cool play because we actually had a review to see if Hall lost the football before he lost his helmet (new rule states that a play is immediately dead if a player with the ball loses his lid). Sean Payton challenged the play because not only did Cardinals right tackle Levi Brown recover the fumble, he also scored. (By the way, don’t tell Beanie Wells, but Brown actually doubled Wells’ fantasy output on Sunday. Wells requested more playing time and then spent the entire game running to the right and meeting the Saints safeties.)

Here’s a question for the Competition Committee: is it really fair for a team to score a touchdown recovering its own fumble? Rules prohibit a team from fumbling forward inside the final two minutes of a half (thank you, Dave Casper and the Raiders). Why not just prohibit the offense from fumbling forward or advancing a recovered fumble at all times? The offense should not be rewarded for fumbling.

7.) Another change…

Drew Brees’ first half interception to Paris Lenon came off the hands of running back Ladell Betts (Betts, by the way, had a tough all-around game Sunday). Carson Palmer’s final interception – hauled in by Sabby Piscitelli – resulted from a tipped ball by Chad Ochocinco. Tony Romo’s second pick – courtesy of Michael Griffin – was tipped by tight end Martellus Bennett. In all three of these instances, the receiver was at fault for the turnover. We see this kind of thing every week.

It’s time the NFL do something about it. Obviously I’m not talking about outlawing tipped interceptions. (Come on.) I’m talking about crediting tipped interceptions to a guilty receiver. Much like how a fielder’s error doesn’t count as a hit against a pitcher, a receiver’s error shouldn’t count as an interception against a quarterback.

Of course, maybe it all levels out in the end. Look at Romo, for example. Yes, he had the tipped pick. But his 69-yard touchdown to Miles Austin should have been an interception. Safety Michael Griffin disguised his coverage and baited Romo into throwing into a double team. Romo’s poor quarterbacking on that play was nullified only by Griffin’s poor angle and timing. Perhaps luck swings both ways. Still, that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t make sense to keep better turnover statistics.

8.) NFC East

While we’re on Romo…it’s time for him to lose that little Scottish hats in the postgame interviews. Oh, and it’s time for him and the Cowboys to start winning. (How’s that for analysis?) The Cowboys, at 1-3, are still only 1.5 games out in the NFC East. But that division is looking a lot better as of late. The Giants have rediscovered their pass rush (10 sacks against the Bears last week, three on Sunday against the Texans). They also have one of the brightest young stars in the game in wideout Hakeem Nicks, who has amazing body control and change-of-direction ability to go with long arms, long legs and hands big enough to palm a table for two. Nicks had 130 yards and two scores on 12 receptions Sunday.T. Romo (US Presswire)

The Eagles are 3-2 and have not only a rejuvenated Michael Vick but a freshly-blossomed LeSean McCoy. The second-year running back is averaging over 100 yards per game in total offense.

Finally, the Redskins appear to be rock solid defensively. They too have a second-year sensation in outside linebacker Brain Orakpo, though it’s been the play of rangy safety LaRon Landry that has galvanized Jim Haslett’s new 3-4 defense.

In short, the NFC East has four quality teams. The most polarizing of the bunch can’t have many more games like the one it had against the Titans (12 penalties for 133 yards, minus-three turnovers, six sacks allowed).

9.) Move the fans

The Redskins-Packers broadcast was constantly interrupted by the outstretched arms of fans that repeatedly got into the camera shot celebrating on big plays. These were the fans sitting in the row in front of the camera. This kind of interruption should absolutely never happen. Yet, we see it each week (especially in Redskins games).

The television networks should demand that seats near key cameras be left unoccupied. In fact, go ahead and leave open the first row or two of seats that are closest to the broadcast booth, as well. Nothing is more obnoxious than hearing in the background the cheers of a few individual fans during a telecast.

10.) Quick Hits

***The NFL’s best pass defense (Baltimore) got the better of the NFL’s best pass offense (Denver). But the story of the game was the return to full health of Ray Rice, who showed his familiar lateral explosiveness in rushing for 133 yards on 27 carries. Also, Joe Flacco was effective against the Broncos’ non-existent pass-rush.

***Is Todd Collins the first quarterback in NFL history to get benched late in the third quarter despite his team protecting a 14-point lead? What’s funny is that Collins clearly deserved the hook. If Mike Martz had called just four or five more deep passes outside the numbers, Collins would have found a way to finish with more interceptions than completions. (In the end, he had six completions and four picks.) The only thing shakier than Collins’ accuracy was his decision-making when his pocket trembled.

***Hard to decide who had the better self-tipped interception, Julius Peppers or Kroy Biermann. Obviously, Biermann returned his for six points, while Peppers did not. But Peppers had the wherewithal to shush the Carolina crowd after the play, which was a nice touch.

***Carson Palmer’s first interception – the pick six to Cody Grimm – was inexcusable. But his second was on Terrell Owens for not coming back to the ball. And the third was on Chad Ochocinco for deflecting it up in the air.

***Disappointing to see the Rams not show up in Detroit. Instead of that game giving us the story one of super awful team and one potential Cinderella, it just gave us the story of two really bad teams. The Rams are 2-3; the Lions are 1-4. The Mark Clayton injury is devastating for St. Louis. He had finally blossomed after joining a team in which he was the elder statesman.

***Memo to all announcers: quit saying a team “burned a timeout” when the team is using the timeout to stop the clock late in a game. That’s not burning a timeout – that’s wisely spending it. Burning a timeout is when you call one early in a half because of miscommunication.


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Posted on: October 11, 2010 4:24 am
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