Tag:Darren McFadden
Posted on: December 13, 2010 4:34 pm
 

Hot Routes 12.13.10 box score tidbits Week 14

Hot Routes

Posted by Andy Benoit

Ryan Torain ripped off 172 yards against a Bucs front seven that had major problems getting off blocks early on.

Thanks to a 64-yard reception, Bucs rookie wideout Arrelious Benn had his first 100-yard game as a pro (122, to be exact). In fact, Benn’s previous high was 53 yards.

The Browns ran nine plays on their opening field goal drive against the Bills but just 37 plays the rest of the game.

The Packers were 2/12 on third down and 0/1 in the red zone at Detroit.

Though no player had more than 51 yards rushing for Detroit, the Lions still racked up 190 yards on the ground.

Hines Ward had his best outing since Week 7, catching eight passes for 115 yards against Cincinnati.

In addition to an interception returned for a touchdown, LaMarr Woodley had two sacks and two tackles for a loss.

Michael Turner rushed for over 100 yards for the third time in four weeks. The Falcons running back is getting stronger as the season wears on.

Kroy Biermann and John Abraham both had two sacks against the Panthers.

The Raiders and Jaguars combined for 387 yards rushing. Three players – Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Rashad Jennings – went over the century mark.

Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis had four catches for an important 57 yards. He also scored his career-high ninth touchdown.

The Rams were just 1/4 in the red zone against the Saints. (Unless you count Sam Bradford’s pick-six to Malcom Jenkins as a score.)

Pretty simple what happened in San Francisco: Niners zero turnovers, Seahawks five.

Brian Westbrook had 87 yards on six receptions.

The Patriots recorded 27 first downs at Chicago.

Perhaps the only Bears defender who played well was Brian Urlacher. He had 11 tackles (three for a loss), a sack and three pass breakups.

Chad Henne’s 5/18 performance was the lowest completion percentage that a winning Dolphins quarterback has had since 1980.

Dolphins punter Brandon Fields had 10 punts for 564 yards.

More special teams notes: Cardinals kicker Jay Feely was 5/6 on field goals.

Part of the reason the Cardinals-Broncos game took forever to end: Kyle Orton 19/41; John Skelton 15/37.

The Chargers had 25 first downs, which was 20 more than the Chiefs had.

Brodie Croyle probably isn’t the answer: Kansas City finished the game with 19 total yards passing.

Antoine Cason took over as the punt returner for San Diego. He averaged 15.2 yards per return with a long of 42.

The Eagles held Miles Austin and Roy Williams to a combined four catches for 45 yards.


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Posted on: December 6, 2010 4:19 am
 

10 stories worth your attention Week 13

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) Panic in IndyP. Manning (US Presswire)

The story here is that this was the top story last week. The Colts lost at home because they couldn’t run the ball against a 3-4 defense (San Diego’s) and Peyton Manning threw four picks, two of them for touchdowns, thanks to a handful of uncharacteristic misreads. No one expected to see a rerun of this disaster, but that’s exactly what Indy produced Sunday.
And so now the Colts, having lost four of five, are 6-6 and on pace to miss the playoffs for the first time since Jim Mora’s famous rant. Panic time? Not really.

The Colts still controls their own destiny. Their remaining four games are: @ Tennessee (Thursday night), vs. Jacksonville, @ Oakland and vs. Tennessee. If the Colts win out, they’ll finish 10-6. Even if the currently-first place Jaguars finish 10-6, the Colts would win the tiebreaker because they’d be 4-2 in division games (like Jacksonville) and one game better than the Jags against common opponents.

The Colts are losing primarily because of Manning’s mistakes (both pick-six’s against the Cowboys were his fault). Eleven interceptions have the active legend coming off arguably the worst three-game stretch of his career. But to bet against the Colts would be to bet that Manning continues to blow it. Is that a bet you really want to make?



2.) The AFC’s new best running back

We can thank one guy for giving us a great divisional race in the AFC South this year: Maurice Jones-Drew. On Sunday, not only did Jones-Drew’s Jaguars put away the now also-ran Titans (aka The Team That Allegedly Signed Randy Moss), but Jones-Drew officially catapulted himself ahead of Chris Johnson in running back pecking order of the AFC. M. Jones-Drew (US Presswire)

Jacksonville’s 5’7” bowling ball outrushed Johnson 186-53. The 186 marked a career-high and extended Jones-Drew’s 100-yard streak to five games (another career high). If not for our understandable infatuation with quarterbacks, Jones-Drew would garner serious MVP consideration. It is not a hyperbole to say he has Michael Turner’s tackle-breaking ability, Darren McFadden’s acceleration, Steven Jackson’s vision, Ray Rice’s hands, Frank Gore’s heart and Clinton Portis’ pass-blocking prowess. Because of his often unheralded contributions on third down (blocking, decoy routes, etc.), Jones-Drew means more to the Jaguars offense than any non-quarterback means to any other offense in football.

This has actually been the case the past few years. The difference this season is that Jones-Drew is not doing it utterly alone (at least not lately). Experience has afforded backup running back Rashad Jennings a much better feel for the speed and angles of the pro game, and the youngster is now good for about 40 yards a week off the bench. Tight end Marcedes Lewis has sprouted into a consistent intermediate receiving weapon, which has forced linebackers to worry about more than just Jacksonville’s backfield. And finally, the Jaguars offensive line has gelled as a run-blocking unit, despite a few personnel changes (namely Ebon Britton being out at right tackle and Vince Manuwai moving back to left guard and replacing Justin Smiley).

But take MJD out of the equation and none of the players mentioned above would be thriving. And, thus, neither would the first-place Jaguars.



3.) Running Power

While we’re slurping the ground game, have you noticed the number of lopsided rushing performances we’ve had lately? Take a look at what has transpired the past two weeks.

Week 14:

Jaguars outrush Titans 258-57 and win

Vikings outrush Bills 210-84 and win

Giants outrush Redskins 197-74 and win

Raiders outrush Chargers 251-21 and win

Cowboys outrush Colts 217-40 and win (by the way, it probably would have been fair to Manning if these 217 yards had been mentioned in the opening section about the Colts’ struggles…)

Week 13

Steelers outrush Bills 206-74 and win

Jaguars outrush Giants 207-135 but lose (only 61 yards in second half for Jags)

Vikings outrush Redskins 137-29 and win

Texans outrush Titans 188-24 and win

Dolphins outrush Raiders 186-16 and win

Chiefs outrush Seahawks 270-20 and win

Chargers outrush Colts 129-24 and win

49ers outrush Cardinals 261-13

Jets outrush Bengals 170-46

Don’t mean to pull a Stevie Johnson and go all caps on you here, but LOOK AT THOSE NUMBERS!!! Look how many games these past two weeks have been decided by teams that have utterly DOMINATED on the ground. We’re not talking about teams merely establishing the run and controlling tempo – we’re talking about teams outrushing opponents by 125, 180, even 200-plus yards!

Look, it could just be an aberration. Seriously, it could. If we’ve learned anything over the past five seasons or so, it’s that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and that the teams that win are the teams that make plays through the air. Two weeks of startling run statistics don’t overturn five years of rock-solid passing evidence. But these running numbers are certainly something to keep an eye on. We’ll check back on it next week.



4.) The secret favorites of the NFC…?

Sorry Bears fans, this bit isn’t about your team (though for the record, I’ll admit that your team’s offense has figured out its pass protection issues and all the individual offensive players seem to have found their niche in Mike Martz’s system). This bit is about the New York Giants.
B. Jacobs (US Presswire)
The Giants were able to run at will against a Redskins defense that seemed to a.) Have 11 Albert Haynesworths on the field Sunday and b.) Probably missed the services of their actual Albert Haynesworth

The Giants hope to get wideouts Steve Smith (pec) and Hakeem Nicks (lower leg procedure) back in Week 14. Left tackle David Diehl (hamstring) is also nearing a return. All three will be joining a team that is 8-4 and running the ball with tremendous effectiveness. Ahmad Bradshaw got 25 carries Sunday and went over 1,000 yards on the season. And though Brandon Jacobs’ return to a starting role appears to be only titular – Jacobs carried the ball just eight times Sunday – the 265-pound freight train looks reinvigorated. Jacobs produced 103 yards and two scores against Washington; last week he gained 87 yards in a win over Jacksonville.

Jacobs evokes memories of another running back from New York: Shonn Greene in ’09. The Jets elevated the role of their bruising runner late last season and watched the rookie punish defenses that simply couldn’t match his freshness. The Giants appear to be in a position for similar results with Jacobs.

On the other side of the ball, New York’s four-man pass-rush is clicking. Justin Tuck continues to play like an All-World force. Osi Umenyiora has cooled from his torrid early-season pace (Umenyiora’s sack against Washington was his first since Week 6) but rookie Jason Pierre-Paul now fills almost any void. The über-athletic long-armed first-rounder has posted two sacks in back-to-back games.
We know better than to hang our hats on the Giants when expectations are high (Tom Coughlin is never more than two weeks away from a hot seat), but all evidence suggests that this soon-to-be-healthy team is peeking.



5.) Slugfest!

On Saturday night, I was explaining to a friend why American Gangster is my favorite movie of all time. Because of the star-studded cast of characters (Denzel, Russell Crowe, directed by Ridley Scott), R rating (which, let’s face it, is a MUST if you’re going to make a veritable gangster movie) and naturally compelling storyline (a true story about innovative Harlem drug dealerB. Roethlisberger (US Presswire) Frank Lucas) I went into that movie with dangerously high expectations. The type of expectations that can only be fulfilled by being surpassed. Remarkably, American Gangster did just that. (How it wasn’t even nominated for Best Picture in ’07 is still a mystery.)

The Ravens-Steelers game Sunday night was the American Gangster of NFL games. It was a primetime game that more than lived up. We got the fist fighting chess match we all expected. We got the tight finish driven by big plays. And, like with Denzel and Crowe, the stars showed up.

Ben Roethlisberger’s foot seemed to get healthier as the night unfolded (which is odd because, from what I hear about painkilling shots, they tend to wear off over time). How great was Roethlisberger’s throwaway on first-and-10 late in the fourth quarter when Terrell Suggs had him in the grasp? Almost as great as Cris Collinsworth said it was (which means it was a 9.9/10). Suggs was phenomenal the entire night, once again proving he’s the best playside run-defending OLB in football and impossible for guys like Steelers backup-turned-starting left tackle Jonathan Scott to contain on passing downs.

The Roethlisberger throwaway play was originally made possible by Troy Polamalu’s forced fumble on Joe Flacco. It was Polamalu’s second individual play in the backfield that night (he had an impressive stop on Willie McGahee in the first half) and second consecutive game-changing performance in the closing minutes of a close contest. Polamalu’s late-game brilliance at Buffalo and Baltimore highlight the difference between star and superstar.

Of course, if Joe Flacco doesn’t short-arm the final fourth-and-two pass to Ed Dickson, we might be talking about how Baltimore’s third-year quarterback has orchestrated two game-winning touchdown drives against the vaunted Steeler defense this season. (Think that might have accelerated Flacco’s rise to the top quarterbacking echelon in the court of public opinion?)

Tough loss for the Ravens, though in a game like this, you have to first say “great win for the Steelers.” Before we move on, a few more quick notes from this one:

**Fans can be quick to criticize Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden. On Sunday night he was, in a word, awful. But don’t rush to the conclusion that the sixth-year pro can’t play. Overall, McFadden is one of the soundest No. 2 corners in the game. He’s always had trouble regaining his traction when things start to slip – that’s why the Cardinals gladly let him return to Pittsburgh – but that doesn’t mean he slips very often.

**Rashard Mendenhall has been fantastic this season (in this game he became the eighth rusher this season to surpass the 1,000-yard mark) but he needs to be called out for his alligator arms on the pass in the flats where Terrell Suggs was bearing down on him. Those weren’t even alligator arms – they were snake arms. Hard to blame a guy for not wanting to take a shot from Suggs (especially when Suggs, at the time, was bleeding profusely from the mouth and almost literally looking rabid). But Mendenhall will be blamed – did you see Roethlisberger’s reaction to Mendenhall’s snake arms?

**You have to believe that Haloti Ngata is the best defensive lineman in the NFL simply because that’s what every single announcer says every single week.

**The Ravens were just 4/13 on third down, but two of those four conversions were on 10-plus-yards-to-go situations on their first half touchdown drive.



6.) Bengals-Saints

Say what you will about Marvin Lewis’ club, but that’s a group that knows how to give. And that group hasn’t just started giving because of the holidays. No, that’s a group that has been giving all season long. Did you see the way they gave the Saints a ninth win on the season Sunday? (By the way, that’s two weeks in a row now that Drew Brees has led a game-winning last second comeback drive on the road. He’s not exactly beating teams known for their mettle and heart, but in the NFL, a win is a win – especially on the road.)
C. Palmer (US Presswire)
One play from this game in particular stood out (think you can probably guess which one). The Saints, trailing by three, had fourth-and-two on Cincy’s seven-yard line with 34 seconds left. They lined up for one of those “try to get the defense to jump offsides” plays in which the defense never jumps offsides. Except this time Bengals defensive tackle Pat Sims DID jump offsides. Saints defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, apparently unaware of the federal law prohibiting all players from saying anything real or the least bit honest about an opponent after a game, couldn’t help but talk about the gaffe. "What is that guy doing”, Ellis asked rhetorically. “You have to be smarter than that."

Yup, you do. Otherwise, you put your team behind in a position to fall behind (the Saints followed through on the inevitable by scoring a go-ahead touchdown immediately after Sims’ mistake) and you give your quarterback a chance to make a major error in clock management.

That’s the part of this equation that might get overlooked. After the Saints pulled ahead, Bernard Scott put the Bengals in good field position with a solid kick return. Carson Palmer completed a short pass to fullback Brian Leonard for 14 yards, leaving the ball at New Orleans’ 37. That’s where the Bengals needed to use their final timeout with 13 seconds left (and note to broadcasters worldwide: that would not have been the Bengals “burning” their final timeout; it’s not “burning” a timeout if you’re using it to preserve precious seconds on a final drive). But instead of calling timeout, Palmer tried to line the offense up to spike the ball. It took five seconds before he realized that was a terrible idea.

So the Bengals burned not their final timeout, but rather, five crucial seconds before using their final timeout. Then during the timeout they set up the perfect play to allow Saints safety Roman Harper to blitz clean and end the game with a sack.

All in all, this game was a classic case of one team knowing how to win and another knowing how to lose. And, afterwards, we finally got some postgame gripes from the league’s most targeted wide receiver: “Dude, it doesn’t matter if I’m 46 (years old) or 47, I ball when I’m out there,” Terrell Owens said in a tone that seemed to say don't you understand??? “(Me saying this) is not a distraction. All I want is opportunities…The film don’t lie. The film don’t lie. Watch it. Watch it.”



7.) The story we just can’t shake

It’s not fair – by virtue of them playing the Bills, we were supposed to get a break from all Vikings stories (and thus all Brett Favre stories) this week. Instead, Favre took a nasty blow on the third play of the game, injured his shoulder and didn’t return. There’s probably some complicated-sounding name for whatever injury Favre has. And he’ll probably be questionable for the upcoming Giants game. And now we’ll probably be forced to talk about the streak and the concept of the Vikings building for the future, etc.

What makes this week’s story particularly irritating is that we got to see Tarvaris Jackson play. Whether you like Jackson or not is irrelevant. The problem is that by Jackson playing, we now have actual footage of the young quarterback (who, in his fifth season is not actually young) taking snaps for the 2010 Vikings. This means there is actually something to talk about with Jackson. Which means we’re going to have “Favre or Jackson” debates all week.

We can debate whether Jackson’s three interceptions (including that ugly pick-six to Drayton Florence) are a sign that he’s nowhere near ready to replace Favre or a sign that he’s so ready to replace Favre that, look!, he practically IS Favre. We can hold the same debate about the athleticism Jackson flashed in making sandlot plays to Sidney Rice (two touchdowns).

In the end, we’re still talking about an over-covered 5-7 team that’s all but out of playoff contention. Except now, that 5-7 team is 2-0 under interim head coach Leslie Frazier and is technically NOT out of playoff contention. So we might get to talk about Minnesota’s playoff chances, as well. Can’t wait.



8.) How the NFC West will be won

Instead of “how the West will be won”, perhaps a more appropriate headline would be something along the lines of “how one team will technically not lose the West”. Let’s hope the team that doesn’t lose the West is either the Rams or Seahawks. Both of those clubs won on Sunday. The Rams beat Derek Anderson and the hilarious Cardinals (who may now have to hang their hat on rookie quarterback John Skelton moving forward), while the Seahawks swarmed Jimmy Clausen and the putrid Panthers. Both clubs are 6-6.
St. Louis (US Presswire)
The Rams and Seahawks both have a game left against the hapless 49ers (who, by the way, verified in their loss at Green Bay that their quarterback can only throw what he sees and can only make simplified reads like on screen passes or play-action bootlegs). If both teams can beat those Niners, then the worst-case scenario we’d have in the West would be the 7-8 Rams and 7-8 Seahawks squaring off in a “win and you’re in” Week 17 showdown. That would ensure at least a .500 division winner.

But should the Niners beat either the Rams or Seahawks in the next few weeks, we’ll probably get the 7-9, or perhaps even 6-10, division champion that we’re dreading. Then the discussion will be a clash between two sides of common sense. One common sense side will say that a 7-9 team should never be in a tournament in which a 10-6 team is left out. The other common sense side will say that the NFL cannot rewrite its playoff rules on the fly simply because it doesn’t like what those rules produced.

The latter common sense side will win, of course. This entire mess has come about because the league didn’t fix this problem when it had a chance. In 2008, the 8-8 Chargers stole a playoff spot from the 11-5 Patriots by virtue of the Chargers winning the pathetic AFC West. In the ensuing offseason, the league should have decreed that only teams with winning records have their playoff spots guaranteed. (Or, the league could have at least ruled that no .500 or below team gets in the playoffs at the expense of a team that is three games better in the standings).

Instead, the league sat idly by and essentially said, “This scenario doesn’t happen often anyway. And besides, those 8-8 Chargers wound up knocking off the Colts that year, so you can’t say they didn’t deserve it.”

Problem was, those Chargers DIDN’T deserve it. To say they deserved a chance based on their playoff performance is to say that the regular season is basically insignificant. Let’s hope the Rams or Seahawks don’t get a chance to suggest that the regular season is insignificant.



9.) The Chargers may not deserve it now, either

A funny thing happened on San Diego’s way to the postseason Sunday. The Raiders went into Qualcomm Stadium and completed a season sweep of the Chargers. It was a September-esque performance from the Chargers: turnovers early and a few special teams gaffes (Darren Sproles muffed punt, Nate Kaeding missed 50-yard field goal…which probably isn’t a GAFFE, per se, but whatever, it helps the storyline).

If you picked this game corJ. Charles (US Presswire)rectly, then congratulations, you know nothing about pro football. There’s no way anyone could have intelligently predicted the Raiders to win going in. The evidence just wasn’t there. Darren McFadden had rushed for 16 yards on 18 carries the previous two weeks. Facing the league’s top-ranked defense, he gained 97 yards on19 carries. Backup Michael Bush added 95 on 23 carries. Oakland’s unforeseeable rushing success was the difference Sunday.

For San Diego, the loss was their first in 18 December games. They’re now 6-6 and two games back of a Chiefs team that they could have been battling for first place next week.

And say, how about those Chiefs? Three weeks removed from getting tagged for 49 points by the Broncos, Kansas City’s defense holds Josh McDaniels’ men to two field goals. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali renewed his ownership of normally-outstanding offensive tackle Ryan Clady. Unheralded corner Brandon Carr stifled the league’s leading receiver, Brandon Lloyd. (Though he didn’t shut Lloyd out the way Champ Bailey shutout Dwayne Bowe).

On the other side of the ball, Kansas City got more stellar play from Matt Cassel (he’s now up to 23 touchdowns on the season and still has just four picks) and was able to lean on the explosiveness of Jamaal Charles (his 116 yards on 15 carries left him third in the NFL in total rushing on the season leaving Sunday). Worth noting is that a big reason Charles is averaging nearly 95 yards per game on the ground and 6.2 yards per carry (the all-time single season record is 6.4, held by Jim Brown) is because he often enjoys big-play springing edge blocks from wide receivers and tight ends. That fundamental excellence goes a long way towards creating a consistent attack.

We can’t talk about this game without overhyping McDaniels-Todd Haley Handshake II. Haley surprised McDaniels by going in for a full hug after the game. It was the same tactic Bill Belichick pulled on Eric Mangini a few years ago. Annoyed by the media distraction that their icy relationship caused, Belichick used a warm hug to essentially douse cold water on a hot feud. It worked for him and it will probably work for Haley. No one will bring up his relationship with McDaniels again this season. And perhaps not next season, either, as McDaniels, now 5-17 in his last 22 games, may not be around.



10.) Quick Hits

**Falcons kick returner Eric Weems deserves heavy Pro Bowl consideration. His touchdown return against the Bucs was not only spectacular, it changed the tenor of the game. Lat week, Weems had a big return to set up Atlanta’s game-winning drive against the Packers.

**The Bucs-Falcons game was a good one, too. Matt Ryan was his usual cool self late. Josh Freeman continued to flash star potential. And the Bucs as a whole, though once again coming up short against a plus-.500 team, proved that they’re not a fluke. Tampa Bay has improved in the trenches on both sides of the ball.

**The early window games were slim pickings. It was the kind of schedule where I chose what game to watch on my main TV based on what uniforms I thought would look best on the field together. I picked Packers-Niners….only to discover that Green Bay was busting out some hideous blue and brown throwbacks.

**Would you believe that Jeff Fisher’s Titans led the league in presnap penalties coming into Sunday?

**And would you believe that the Saints’ stud right guard, Jahri Evans, leads the league with eight holding penalties?

**Didn’t mention Knowshon Moreno in the Broncos-Chiefs write up above. The second-year running back had by far his best game as a pro (161 yards on 23 carries). His juke moves had the exaggerated effectiveness of the juke moves on the Madden video game from about six or seven years ago.

**I didn’t like Drew Stanton’s touchdown dance. I didn’t like the dance itself (hope it’s okay to say this: it wasn’t a dance designed for white guys) and I didn’t like that he even did it. Quarterbacks pump their fist or spike the ball out of raw emotion all the time (see Brady, Rodgers, Roethlisberger). But none of them dance. It’s just not kosher – especially when you’re a second-round bust who is serving as a third-stringer on a two-win team.

**Cameron Wake had a big sack on Jake Delhomme late in Miami’s heartbreaking loss against Cleveland. Unfortunately for Wake and the Dolphins, the problem with sacking Delhomme is that it’s the only way to ensure that he doesn’t throw an interception.

**Going back to the Falcons-Bucs game real quick: hopefully for Brent Grimes people were watching this one, because if they were, the athletic and highly underrated Falcons cornerback probably punched his ticket to Hawaii.

**How’s this for salt in the Cardinals fans’ wound: Kurt Warner was in the broadcast booth for the St. Louis-Arizona game.

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

Posted on: December 6, 2010 4:16 am
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Posted on: November 21, 2010 11:47 am
Edited on: November 21, 2010 12:01 pm
 

AFC Inactives, Week 11

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

First, those who ARE active: Steelers TE Zach Miller, Bengals RB Cedric Benson, Texans QB Matt Schaub.

And here are those who are NOT active:

Dexter McCluster, Chiefs, WR/KR: With his bad ankle, this will be the fourth-straight game the explosive McCluster will miss. It won’t help Kansas City that TE Tony Moeaki won’t be in action either.

Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars, WR:
He hurt his ankle in the second quarter of last week’s game, but he returned to the game. Despite practicing Friday, he’s just not ready to go today. Tiquan Underwood will take Sims-Walker’s place.

C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills:
Luckily for Buffalo, RB Fred Jackson is coming off a 25-carry, 133-yard, one TD performance vs. the Lions.

Shawne Merriman, LB, Bills:
Well, this signing has worked out quite well so far, eh?

Joshua Cribbs, WR, Browns:
You know how Cribbs broke all the toes on his right foot except for the big one? Yeah, that will keep him out this week.

Nnamdi Asomugha, CB, Raiders: You think this is good news for Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger? I bet Roethlisberger would emphatically say yes.

Brett Keisel, DE, Steelers:
You think this is good news for Raiders RB Darren McFadden? I bet McFadden would emphatically say yes.

Chris Chester, G, Ravens: Baltimore's starter still is being bothered by a skin condition. Tony Moll will take his place at right guard.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnfl on Twitter and subscribe to our RSS Feed .
Posted on: November 19, 2010 10:49 am
Edited on: November 19, 2010 10:58 am
 

Week 11 Key Matchup: Raiders-Steelers on ground

Posted by Andy Benoit

If you’re a fan of smashmouth football, you’re salivating at this Sunday’s showdown between the second-ranked Raiders run offense and the first-ranked Steelers run defense. Oakland’s suddenly effective ground game has been one of the biggest surprises in the NFL this season. Darren McFadden, once a raw, oft-injured first-round bust has blossomed into a bona fide feature back. McFadden leads the league with 108.1 yards per game on the ground, and he’s amongst the league leaders in yards after contact. Bruising backup Michael Bush is also chipping in 46.3 yards per game. D. McFadden (US Presswire)Pittsburgh D (US Presswire)

McFadden’s success on the ground has come primarily on tosses and off-tackle runs (i.e. outside). The Raiders have utilized more six-man lines this season, and the athleticism of rookie left tackle Jared Veldheer has allowed for more movement-based concepts to be incorporated into the run-blocking scheme.

This is particularly noteworthy for Sunday because, as important as nose tackle Casey Hampton and strong safety Troy Polamalu are, the key to Pittsburgh’s run defense has always been the defensive ends. (This is one of the best kept secrets in football, by the way.)

While most 3-4 defenses prefer space-eating anchors at end, the Steelers have always relied on undersized but athletic chaos creators. Instead of commanding double teams on the edge through sheer power, the Steelers aim to command doubles through lateral movement. Essentially, if an end can be disruptive going east and west, he’s going to force the offensive tackle AND either the guard or tight end to engage.

This uncommon approach naturally breaks down a blocking scheme. When a 3-4 end simply holds ground, he’s reacting to an offense. By getting movement on the outside, the Steeler ends force offenses to react to THEM. Thus, the three Steeler defensive linemen dictate the terms of engagement against the five offensive linemen. Three on five? If that battle simply results in a draw, the Steelers win, as the numbers mismatch frees up the linebackers and safeties to play in downhill attack mode.

Of course, getting movement as a 3-4 end is not easy to do – if it were, every team would follow Pittsburgh’s blueprint. The Steelers have been fortunate to have two perfect veteran ends for their scheme: Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith (it’s not just lip service when Steelers coaches and players claim Smith is the defense’s most valuable player).

Problem is, Keisel and Smith are both out Sunday (Keisel is not yet ready to return from a bad hamstring; Smith is doubtful for the remainder of the season with a torn triceps). Recent first-round pick Ziggy Hood has shown flashes, but he’s an inconsistent starter at this point. And, by most accounts, journeyman Nick Eason was been ho-hum filling in at the other end position.

As effective as McFadden and Bush have been, a full-strength Steelers D-line would have little problem stifling Oakland’s rushing attack. But a depleted Steelers D-line levels the playing field. This is what makes Sunday’s matchup so intriguing.

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Posted on: November 1, 2010 11:09 pm
Edited on: November 1, 2010 11:44 pm
 

F&R NFL Approval Matrix, Week 8

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 the NFL Approval Matrix. Suggestions, complaints and intellecutual property lawsuits may be directed to us on Twitter (@CBSSportsNFL).

Click to embiggen.

Posted on: November 1, 2010 10:59 pm
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Posted on: November 1, 2010 3:21 am
Edited on: November 1, 2010 10:53 am
 

10 stories that deserve your attention Week 8

Posted by Andy Benoit

1.) D.C. Drama

It was one of those scenarios that make you question yourself. You see Donovan McNabb standing on the sidD. McNabb (US Presswire)eline with 1:45 left in the fourth and the Redskins trailing the Lions 30-25. You see Rex Grossman taking the field. You pause a second. Once you’re sure it’s really happening, you say, Wait, what’d I miss here?

Benching McNabb for Grossman is a decision that’s somehow as downright stupid as it sounds. Most baffling is that this stupid decision was made by Mike Shanahan. It’s one thing to bench a veteran star quarterback. It’s another to bench him when he’s managed to lead your team to a decent 4-4 record despite having a fourth-string running back and a slew of fourth-string receivers playing prominent roles. And it’s another when he had been playing well in the very game you sat him down.

Behind a banged-up Washington offensive line that was overmatched by Detroit’s suddenly vibrant front four (Ndamukong Suh is the early favorite for Defensive Rookie of the Year), McNabb endured five sacks, 10 hurries and 11 hits Sunday. Yet still, he was 17/30 for 210 yards passing, plus he ran for 45 yards on four scrambles. OK, sure there was the interception to Alphonso Smith and, before that, another bad ball that Smith should have picked and taken to the house. But fine, let’s say McNabb’s performance Sunday was only mediocre. There’s still the unforgivable factor in Shanahan’s stupid decision, which is that the guy he replaced McNabb with was Grossman.

That’d be the same Grossman who could barely find a team last season; the same Grossman who actually invented new ways to turn the ball over as a Bear. When you flip karma the bird like Shanahan did, karma tends to respond quickly. Sure enough, on his first snap, Grossman made a play that only Grossman could make, fumbling the ball on a nasty blindside sack. Karma was so ticked off at Shanahan that not even Suh’s foolish Leon Lett impersonation while returning the recovered fumble could prevent a Lions victory at that point.

Thanks to a bye, the Redskins now have two weeks to deal with the ensuing storm of controversy that is about to unload on D.C. And karma is not likely to throw them any breaks. The next time McNabb and the Redskins take the field will be Monday, November 15, when they host…the Eagles.



2.) NFC powers tighten gap on AFC powers

You had to know it wouldn’t last. Yes, the AFC is better than the NFC this year, but not by the ridiculous margin that September and October gave us. Outstanding defense brought us closer to equilibrium Sunday, as the Packers stifled the Jets and the Saints swarmed the Steelers. Both NFC teams dominated behind their defensive pass rush.

The Jets had no answer for Clay Matthews’ speed off the edge. It helped that Brandon Chillar had his best game of the season, and Green Bay’s young defensive linemen, B.J. Raji and C.J. Wilson, controlled the trenches.

The Steelers could not get ahead of the Saints’ über-aggressive blitzes. It was remarkable that Gregg Williams dialed up the attacks, considering he was without top three corners Jabari Greer, Tracy Porter and Patrick Robinson (who left early with a right ankle injury). The two most popular preseason Super Bowl picks from the NFC are now both 5-3.



3.) New York’s Gamble
S. Weatherford (US Presswire)
Sticking with the Jets-Packers game…

When Jets punter Steve Weatherford took off and ran from inside his own 20-yard line late in the first quarter Sunday, you could have sworn you were watching your idiot roommate playing Madden on the X-Box. The Jets actually fake punted from their own 20-yard line! And on fourth and 18! After replay, it was determined that Weatherford stepped out of bounds a yard-and-a-half short of the first down. Green Bay wound up getting three points out of the splendid field position – the only points the Jets D has allowed in any first quarter this season – and Rex Ryan left himself open to easy second-guessing.

Except, it wasn’t Ryan’s decision. Turns out, Weatherford made the call. That’s right, the punter – the punter! – called his own number. Whoa, talk about gall. Take any receiver willing to go over the middle, any quarterback willing to step into a blitz and any linebacker willing to shoot the gap against a steamrolling running back and, chances are, none of them have the stones Weatherford must have. Afterward, he explained himself:

"It would have been a good decision had it been fourth-and-nine, but that’s my fault. I made the decision to try to make the play, but it didn’t work out for the team. We’re a team that’s willing to go out there and lay it on the line, but it just didn’t work out today. It’s a situation where I don’t have the green light, but if I do it, he’s not going to be mad if I get it. It has worked out in the past. It worked out in Oakland, it worked out in Miami, (but) today, it didn’t. It could have been a huge swing for us in the game, but obviously we came up about a half-yard short."



4.) Little Big Men

Let’s shift to a positive special teams note and go back to the Lions-Redskins game. Did you see the electrifying return artists in that contest? In order to, you may have had to squint in order to. Detroit’s Stefan Logan (5’6”, 180 pounds) and Washington’s Brandon Banks (5’7”, 150 pounds – that’s right, 150) put on a show.

Logan had a dazzling 71-yard punt return in the second quarter to set up one of Calvin Johnson’s three touchdowns. (Johnson, by the way, spent all afternoon taking advantage of the inconsistent safety help on DeAngelo Hall’s soft man coverage.

Banks had a 96-yard kick return for a score. He also had a 46-yard kick return, a punt return that went for 35, and another kick return score that got called back for holding. And before he was aware of that holding penalty, Logan celebrated his score by dunking the ball over the goalposts. That’s a 5’7” man dunking over a 10”-high crossbar while wearing full padding and still catching his breath after running the length of the field.



5.) The bad NFC team we should be talking about

I refuse to discuss the Dallas Tin Men, errrr, Dallas Cowboys this week. We just saw them last week on Monday night. We have to see them next week on Sunday night at Green Bay (apparently, that is “America’s Game of the Week”). We have to see them on Thanksgiving and again a few weeks later on NFL Network. There will be plenty of chances to talk about what’s wrong with America’s team, what changes Jerry Jones will make, how obvious it is that Wade Phillips is a dead man walking, etc. And mind you, the Cowboys will be irrelevant in the playoff hunt this entire time. So, knowing that’s ahead, I’m going to rest upB. Green-Ellis (US Presswire) and save my sanity by pretending the game against the Jaguars never happened (this, by the way, makes me feel like a Jacksonville native).

I will, however, talk about the NFC’s other fallen team, the Vikings. While it’s chic (and easy) to assume that everything is Favre’s fault, the reality is, the Vikings defense has been one of the great underachieving units in football this season. Jared Allen dressed as a ghost for Halloween. Come to think of it, Allen actually busted out that costume a few weeks ago. His teammates haven’t stepped up, either.

For the first time in team history, the Vikings have gone three straight games without a sack.

With a nonexistent pass rush, Minnesota’s ho-hum secondary has been exposed. Madieu Williams put on a clinic Sunday for how not to make plays; Pats receiver Brandon Tate should have given the veteran safety a game ball afterwards. And scouts are finally figuring out what’s wrong with cornerback Asher Allen: he’s not good at playing football. Allen gives up separation in his man coverage technique, he struggles to locate the ball in the air and his open-field tackling is hit or miss.

What’s more, the Vikings’ once-impenetrable run defense is giving up only 3.9 yards per carry, but overall, it ranks 13th in yards per game. That’s as startling drop considering this group ranked second last year and first in each of the three years before that. Late in the fourth quarter Sunday when the Vikings needed a stop on the ground, they plain couldn’t get one. On New England’s final possession, BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran the ball six times for 60 yards to ice the game.



6.) Uh oh

You ever noticed the amount of misbehavior the youngest kids in families with a lot of children can get away with? It’s stunning. While the parents are getting drained dealing with the older kids breaking curfews, fighting amongst each other and bringing home ugly report cards, the younger kid is secretly living a dream that includes watching raunchy movies, stealing bits of cash from around the house and detonating fireworks in the elderly neighbor’s mailbox. It isn’t until something goes really wrong before the parents realize that they’ve been neglecting their biggest handful of all.

Think of Randy Moss as the rebellious youngster in Minnesota. While everyone is focusing on Brad Childress and Brett Favre and, perhaps now, Jared Allen and the defense, the newcomer at wide receiver is subtly stewing about what’s turned out to be a lost season in his contract year. Did you hear what Moss said after the Patriots game? Here are the big pieces:
R. Moss (US Presswire)
On his relationship with the media…

"I got fined $25,000 for not talking to you all, and me personally, I really don't care, but at the same time, I do ask questions, I mean answer questions throughout the week. The league can fine me $25,000. I'm not going to answer any more questions for the rest of this year. If it's going to be an interview, I'm going to conduct it. So I'll answer my own questions. Ask myself the questions, then give you all the answers.”

On his former teammates…

"Man, I miss them guys, man. I miss the team," Moss said. "It was hard for me to come here and play.

"Been an up-and-down roller-coaster emotionally all week. And then to be able to come in here and see those guys running plays that I know what they're doing, and the success they had on the field, the running game -- so, I kind of know what kind of feeling they have in their locker room, man, and I just want to be able to tell the guys that I miss the hell out of them. Every last helmet in that locker room, man."

On his preparation with the Vikings coaching staff for this game…

"The bad part about it -- you have six days to prepare for a team, and on the seventh day, that Sunday, meaning today, I guess they come over to me and say, 'Dag, Moss, you was right about a couple plays and a couple schemes they were going to run.' It hurts as a player that you put a lot of hard work in all week, and toward the end of the week, Sunday, when you get on the field, that's when they acknowledge about the hard work you put in throughout the week. That's actually a disappointment."

His final word…

"I'm definitely down that we lost this game. I didn't expect we'd lose this game. I don't know how many more times I'll be in New England again. But I leave coach Belichick and those guys with a salute: (and yes, Moss actually saluted while saying this). 'I love you guys. I miss you. I'm out.'"

Read into all that what you will. I read into it that this is Moss’ way of telling the Vikings, I hate being on this team.



7.) The NFL’s best team?

According to the standings, it’s the Patriots. They’re the only team that has just one loss on the season. It’s kind of hard to believe, given that New England pairs a ball control offense with a defense that ranks 28th in yards allowed and dead last on third down. But no team manages in-game situations better than the Patriots. (That’s why their games always feel so choppy.)

At least that 28th-ranked defense is improving by the week. Jerod Mayo is a star at inside linebacker. He’s a rock of a run defender and a sterling open-field tackler against the pass. First-round rookie Devin McCourty is blossoming into a bona fide No. 1 corner. The defensive linemen around Pro Bowler Vince Wilfork have elevated their games; Mike Wright has a sack in four-straight contests, and last year’s second-round pick, Ron Brace, showcased his development on the fourth-down goal-line stop in which he blew up Phil Loadholt and stuffed Adrian Peterson. Finally, safety Brandon Meriweather is close to regaining his ’09 form. Overall, this is a young defense that should only get better.



8.) Do we believe the nautical villains?

I’ve been saying all season that the Buccaneers are not good enough in the trenches to make the playoffs, and that the Raiders’ greatness on paper is matched only by their embarrassing ineptitude on the field. I’m not ready to eat crow yet, though I’m fingering my silverware (I’ll assume crow is something you’d eat with a knife and a fork).

The Bucs got their fifth consecutive road victory with a 38-35 win at Arizona Sunday. But Tampa’s MVP that game was Cardinals quarterback Max Hall. When the undrafted rookie threw his first career touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald, the veteran receiver, rushed over and gave Hall the ball (it was a truly classy move by Fitzgerald, considering how justifiably frustrated he’s been with the team’s quarterback play this season). Along these lines, it would have made sense for Bucs corner Aqib Talib to give Hall a souvenir ball on the second quarter pick-six he threw, as that was Hall’s most precise touchdown strike on the afternoon. D. McFadden (US Presswire)

That was also Hall’s second pick-six on the day, which is why Ken Whisenhunt decided that maybe Derek Anderson is the best guy to lead the team after all. (If Anderson and Whisenhunt were dating, all of Anderson’s friends at this point would be pleading with the quarterback to stop letting the head coach just use him like this.)

My point? The Bucs are 5-2, but their most recent win came against a hapless Cardinals club. Obviously, a win is a win in the NFL. But if the Bucs’ head coach wants to talk about his team being the best in the NFC, then the “they haven’t beaten anybody” argument is fair game. The combined records of the teams Tampa Bay has defeated (Cleveland, Carolina, Cincinnati, St. Louis and Arizona): 12-24. The combined record of the teams Tampa Bay has lost to (Pittsburgh, New Orleans): 10-5. So, I’m skeptical. It will be easier to gauge this team after it faces division foe Atlanta next week.

Regarding the 4-4 Raiders, wins over Denver and Seattle don’t exactly merit great acclaim, but the convincing nature of those wins does. After spanking the Broncos 59-14, the Raiders pounded the Seahawks 33-3. Darren McFadden – whom I was shocked to learn, led the league in yards after contact heading into this game – rushed for 121 of the team’s 239 yards. This against a Seattle run defense that ranked second in the league prior to Sunday.

Jason Campbell was a sterling 15/27 for 310 yards and two scores – and those numbers aren’t inflated by one or two Jon Kitna garbage time-like plays. Campbell threaded the needle on both touchdown strikes. The first was to fullback Marcel Reese, a versatile second-year pro who can best be described as “exactly what 49er fans erroneously claim Delanie Walker SHOULD be”. Reese is an effective route runner when lining up as a wide receiver. Campbell’s second touchdown was to Darrius Heyward-Bey, who is inconsistent, but in a good way (given that last season he was consistently dreadful).

Is Oakland a legit contender? In the AFC West, perhaps. But overall...well…at least they can win in the trenches. (The defensive line was every bit as dominant as the offensive line Sunday.) That makes them more stable than Tampa Bay. Still, at the end of the day, a team must be able to throw in order to win. The Bucs at least have an upstart first-round quarterback in Josh Freeman. The Raiders still have a controversy between Campbell (who played well Sunday but, throughout his career, has proved to be a robot programmed for mediocrity) and Bruce Gradkowski (a poor man’s Jeff Garcia).



9.) NFL makes a good impression in Europe

So the Brits wound up seeing a pretty good game between the 49ers and Broncos. Dammit all. The hope to avoid having to share the truest American sport with the rest of the world looks more futile than ever.

On Sunday, after a slow start that probably still had Wembley Stadium’s soccer-acclimated sellout crowd of 83,000-plus on the edge of its seats, the offenses for both teams came to life late in the second half. Thirty of the game’s 40 points were scored in the fourth quarter. Both teams relied on their usual identity. For the Broncos, that meant riding Kyle Orton (28/40, 396 yards). For the Niners, that meant riding Frank Gore (29 carries, 118 yards).

Though a compelling contest it was, and though interesting is the debate over whether it was a mistake for Josh McDaniels to keep the team in the U.S. until Thursday (three days longer than the Niners), the story of this game is the success of the NFL’s British venture. Not only did the game sell out, but approximately 38,000 fans filled Trafalgar Square for an NFL block party Saturday. Earlier in the week, Roger Goodell said the league’s goal is to put a team in London. Maybe that’s just lip service the Commissioner had to pay in the days leading up to this game, but if the world has learned anything the past 10 years, it’s that in whatever way globalization can happen, it will.

So start getting your minds wrapped around it, football fans: the NFL is only going to ingrain itself deeper in London. And, perhaps, other foreign markets. Maybe you’re cool with that. If you are, great. If you’re not (like me), Sunday was just another reminder that you’d better start getting used to it.



10.) Quick Hits

***Todd Haley went for it again on fourth down Sunday. This time the Chiefs had fourth-and-two and were deep in Buffalo territory. For the past few weeks, people have been commenting on Haley’s gutsy fourth down calls. But we’re discovering that this is just the way the man coaches. He’s attempted 11 fourth downs this season, tied for fourth most in the NFL. The difference is that very few of them have been of the desperation variety. Haley believes it’s a numbers game, and he usually makes the decision to go for it a few plays before reaching fourth down (to help the play-calling, he tell offensive coordinator Charlie Weiss ahead of time when it’s four-down territory). It’s an unusually aggressive approach.S. Smith (US Presswire)


***Interesting that the Jets had Darrelle Revis play left cornerback in the first half and then had him shadow Greg Jennings in the second half. Revis was effective in both cases – it was just fun watching Rex Ryan change up the game plan.


***Steve Tasker, who spent the entire overtime period between the Chiefs and Bills trying to add a soothing calm amidst the lovable screaming of Gus Johnson, had a great line about Ryan Succop’s first field goal attempt in OT. When Succop’s ball got caught in the wind and suddenly hooked sharply left, Tasker said “that ball had a left turn signal on it”.


***The Rams wore their blue and yellow throwback uniforms to honor the retirement of Isaac Bruce’s number 80. It’d probably be good if we started debating Bruce’s Hall of Fame credentials now. Given the length of the Art Monk trial, and the Andre Reed-Cris Carter-Tim Brown dilemmas, Bruce’s candidacy is going to be particularly complicated.


***Turns out cornerback Sean Smith didn’t fully regain his starting job for the Dolphins this week, but against the Bengals he played extremely well. Smith got some help from an erratic Carson Palmer on the game-sealing interception, but before that, he was very active covering receivers with underneath technique.


***I’m not affiliated with the San Diego Chargers, but even I felt a little awkward seeing Vincent Jackson standing on the sideline in street clothes Sunday.


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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com