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Tag:Jake Delhomme
Posted on: March 29, 2011 10:27 am
 

Please ignore the silly 'Favre to Panthers' rumor

Posted by Will Brinson

Yesterday, I could have sworn I heard something about Brett Favre going to the Panthers. However, because it was Monday morning, I simply chalked it up to "not enough coffee."

Turns out though, there was a brief mention of Favre heading to Charlotte yesterday, and it stemmed from a ridiculously casual blind-item mention by Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer-Press.

"Don't discount the possibility of Brett Favre, who turns 42 in October, returning next season, but not with the Vikings," Walters wrote. "Maybe Carolina."

Um, or perhaps not. Yes, the Panthers have employed Jake Delhomme, and yes, they've often been a safe haven for veteran quarterbacks because of Carolina's penchant for running the ball and simply managing possessions from the quarterback position, but this is just silly.

For starters, John Fox (the guy who brought in the vets) is no longer in Carolina. Secondly, Favre is over 40. Thirdly, he was involved in a seriously awkward off-the-field scandal, which is the type of thing that owner Jerry Richardson just doesn't go for.

Oh yes, and Darin Gantt of the Herald Online already spent his Monday debunking the possibility.

"In a word (OK, three words), that's not happening," Gantt wrote yesterday. "Ran it up the flagpole early this morning, and the response was swift and sure."

Of course, the really terrifying thing is that Gantt adds "maybe somewhere" to his report, which means that we might not quite be done with the saga of No. 4 just yet. Sigh.

Gracias, Shutdown Corner

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Posted on: March 14, 2011 10:58 pm
 

Holmgren on Delhomme returning: 'Absolutely'

Posted by Will Brinson

Logic stands to reason -- now that Seneca Wallace is already back with Cleveland -- that Jake Delhomme won't be coming back to the Browns.

But Mike Holmgren didn't rule out the possibility that Jake could come back when asked about it Monday.

"Absolutely," Holmgren said. "Again we aren’t going to talk too much specifics on the guys other than the things you already know until this thing gets ironed out. I wouldn’t say no to that possibility."

So he obviously didn't say "I'm bringing Jake back!" But he certainly left the door open, which means we could end up seeing Delhomme AND Wallace AND Colt McCoy on the roster when 2011 (eventually) starts.

Given the situation that Cleveland's in, though, it makes more sense to let Colt McCoy play the role of starter with Wallace backing him up, and then draft some sort of upside-riddled quarterback.

Just like for Delhomme, in his current situation, it might make more sense to try and make a run for starting for one of the 10 or 20 other teams that apparently need a quarterback, rather than settling for a backup role in Cleveland.

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Posted on: March 3, 2011 10:37 pm
 

Seneca Wallace signs 3-year deal with Browns

Posted by Will Brinson

Longtime Mike Holmgren fave Seneca Wallace is going to hang around with his boss a little bit longer -- the quarterback agreed to a three-year deal Thursday night.

Despite publicly stating that he'd like to start, Wallace will be backing up Colt McCoy in Cleveland, according to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

That's no huge surprise, however, and neither is the (likely) forthcoming cutting of Jake Delhomme from the roster, which is probably for the best for everyone involved.

Delhomme can blatantly get signed by John Fox in Denver shop himself around at a low price and the Browns have a backup for McCoy who's familiar with the Holmgren-likeoffense that Pat Shurmur will install in Cleveland.

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Posted on: December 13, 2010 2:25 am
Edited on: December 13, 2010 4:41 pm
 

10 stories worth your attention Week 14

Posted by Andy Benoit

Want more Week 14 review? Hit up our podcast

T. Brady (US Presswire)1.) Goodness!

For the second week in a row, the New England Patriots took center stage on the NFL’s headline game of the week and gave viewers an entire second half of garbage time. The garbage time is almost worth it, though, because watching the Patriots obliterate opponents in the first half has become like watching Picasso paint, Sinatra sing or Rosie O’Donnell eat. New England’s latest masterpiece took place at Soldier Field, where the Patriots were the only people who refused to be bothered by a little frozen rain. (You could almost hear the Bears saying down on the sidelines, “Hey what the hell? I thought we agreed beforehand that the weather was going to have a significant impact on this game!)

Tom Brady, the unquestioned MVP of 2010, has 19 touchdowns and 0 interceptions over his last eight games. Thanks in part to the frost-bitten fingers of the Bears linebackers, Brady has thrown 268 passes without an interception (18 behind Bernie Kosar’s all-time record). The last time Brady was this brilliant (2007), opponents at least knew where he wanted to go with the football (Randy Moss over the top; Wes Welker underneath). There’s no figuring out THIS version of Brady. A great illustration of this would be Deion Branch’s improbable 59-yard touchdown on the final play of the first half. Yes, that play was aided by the Bears’ coverage mistake, but Brady lulled the Bears into that mistake.

None of New England’s receivers or running backs would be surefire starters on a typical NFL team (not even slot master Wes Welker). But Brady has made viable weapons out of all of them. You already knew that, though. We all know that the Patriots are versatile and balanced. What we didn’t know is that a “versatile and balanced” formula can yield five straight games of 30 points-plus.

Even more surprising is that the Patriot defense has been nearly as dominant as the offense recently. The Pats have allowed just 10 points over their last two games. This season, the lineup has consisted of Vince Wilfork at nose tackle, Jerod Mayo at inside linebacker, Devin McCourty at cornerback and a mixture of players rotating at the other eight positions. The “fluidity” of the lineup made for ugly inconsistency at times early this season. But now Bill Belichick has broken-in his rookies and found niches for all his ancillary players. The Patriots rank near the bottom against the pass and on third down, but they also lead the AFC with 20 interceptions. Consider this proof that the best way to hide your weaknesses defensively is to play with a lead (something this club knows how to do).

 



2.) One game where the snow was too much

By now you’ve probably seen the footage of the snow crashing through the torn roof of the Metrodome. What’s the rule of political correctness with this one? Do we have to leave it at “Scary sight, lucky no one was hurt”? Or are we allowed to mention how cool it was? (Absolutely positively no pun intended.) Metrodome (US Presswire)

The Vikings may not be thrilled about the snow damage…right now. It turned their Week 13 home game into a glorified road contest. But in the big picture, you have to figure that a collapsed roof can’t hurt Zygi Wilf’s leverage for getting a new stadium.

When the history books are written, the Giants-Vikings game will probably be remembered for something other than the “awesome but only because nobody was hurt” Metrodome roof collapse: it’s entirely possible, maybe even likely, that Brett Favre’s consecutive starts streak is coming to an end. We include it in this piece – which is normally a review of Sunday’s action – because, predictably, during the hours of 7:00 am to 1:00 pm Sunday we got new Favre quotes and updates every three to four minutes. Even with no game being played, or perhaps because of no game being played, Favre was a dominant story Sunday. The last update was that Favre’s shoulder is a multi-week injury, and an extra 30 hours wouldn’t make that much of a difference in his recovery. Thus, it’s likely Favre sits. (Of course, Leslie Frazier refutes this, so perhaps yet another extensive Favre piece could be for naught.)

Obsessive compulsive Favre fans will find themselves dry-heaving if the legendary streak stops not on the nice round 300, but rather, on 297, which is not prime number but on first glance, sure looks like one. (If you’re counting playoffs, Favre’s streak is at 321.)
Whether you love Favre or love to ride around on your high horse and tell everyone how you can no longer stand the guy (even though you still watch all his games, perk up during the SportsCenter and Pardon the Interruption segments about him, listen to his press conferences and click on every Jenn Sterger story you Googler, errr, “happen to come across”), there’s no denying that the end of the streak is a big deal.

But you know what? It won’t be that big a deal for long. Peyton Manning, who at 34 years old has started all 205 regular season games of his career, needs to play six more years to pass Favre’s mark. No guarantees, certainly, but Manning will probably do that. If he does surpass Favre, the moment will feel like an enormous let down. Favre has battled bumps, bruises and full-on injuries his entire career. And, to everyone’s pleasure and chagrin, he’s always been very public about them (the Ed Werder reports throughout this past week confirm that). Manning, aside from a broken jaw in 2001 that most people don’t remember and a bursa sac issue late in the ’08 preseason, has never been hurt. That makes his streak far less sexy, even if its smoothness is yet another testament to his brilliance.



3.) Jags


The Jaguars-Raiders provided the best 60 minutes of action we got Sunday. The story of the game was once again the effectiveness of Maurice Jones-Drew and the Jaguars rushing attack. MJD had 101 yards on 23 carries (his sixth consecutive triple-digit-yard rushing performance); backup Rashard Jennings – who, if you haven’t seen him, is essentially the AFC’s version of Ryan Torain – came in and capitalized whenever the Raiders showed signs of fatigue. One instance of this was Jennings’s 74-yard touchdown run that was part of Jacksonville’s 21-point third quarter.

Two of Jacksonville’s touchdowns were set up by big plays on special teams: Montell Owens’ recovery of Jacoby Ford’s kick return fumble in the third quarter and rookie Deji Karim’s 65-yard return late in the fourth. Jacksonville needed to make plays on the third side of the ball Sunday because, aside from a few effective play-action passes and drag routes to blossoming tight end Marcedes Lewis, David Garrard and the passing game had no answer for Oakland’s vastly underrated defensive line.

At the end, however, the Raiders looked like the 6-7 team they are when Jason Campbell was forced to make plays in obvious throwing situations. It’s too bad Campbell, who was asked to hand the ball off and get out of the way at San Diego a week ago, struggled down the stretch. He had been fantastic early on, completing 11 of his first 14 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns. He evaded the rush and consistently hit his second and third reads. But when the Raiders were compelled to be one-dimensional, Campbell began staring at the pass-rush and gyrating unnecessarily in the pocket. He took an awful sack on the second to last play of the game and then somehow topped that mistake by throwing in the middle of the field to Jacoby Ford, which caused the game clock to expire.
M. Jones-Drew (US Presswire)
At the end of the day, the better team won this game. With this victory, the Jaguars ensure that they won’t reproduce last season’s disappointing collapse (0-4 finish after 7-5 start) and they put themselves in position to clinch the AFC South with a win over Indy next week.

But don’t get too giddy, Jags fans. Your team’s defense has a glaring weak spot that Peyton Manning will ruthlessly attack. That weakness is named Sean Considine. The backup safety who already lacks speed in the worst of ways put on a tackling-missing clinic Sunday. If regular starting safety Courtney Green does not return from a separated shoulder suffered against Tennessee, the Jags are in trouble.



4.) Following up on the run

Last week we talked about how, lately, teams have been winning games by dominating on the ground. Nine teams in Week 12 and five teams in Week 13 outrushed their opponents by 150 or so yards. It's an interesting trend, and we promised we’d check in on the running game again this week. So how’d it look?

After San Diego got underrated inside linebacker Stephen Cooper back and predictably stifled the Brodie Croyle-led Chiefs offense. The Chiefs were held to just 48 yards rushing. The Chargers, meanwhile, racked up 207.

Kansas City still has the No. 1 rushing offense in football, though the Jaguars are less than eight yards per game behind them now. Jacksonville gashed Oakland for 234 yards (the Raiders, spurred by Darren McFadden’s ability to accelerate, rushed for 153 yards).
The Panthers totaled 212 yards against the Falcons, but of course, only the Panthers would know how to convert 212 yards rushing into a 21-point loss. The Cardinals got 211 yards, 79 more than the Broncos.

Overall, teams are continuing to win on the ground. Again, this isn’t to say that a rushing attack is more important than a passing attack. But the data does seem to say that a rushing attack is more important this year than last year. Of the top 10 rushing offenses in 2009, five made the playoffs. Of the top 10 rushing offenses this season, seven are playoff bound (the three that aren’t are Oakland, Minnesota and Houston).



5.) Changes needed in Cincy

Another week, another loss for the Bengals. This time it was on the road to a Pittsburgh team that Cincy played close on a Monday night back in November and beat twice in 2009. Terrell Owens once again expressed his frustration in the postgame press conference. The 36-year-old has actually been one of the few bright spots on the Bengals this season, but there are questions about whether he’ll be back once his contract expires after the season. Ditto head coach Marvin Lewis.
C. Palmer (US Presswire)
But the man whose future in Cincy needs to seriously be questioned is Carson Palmer. He is not the same player he was prior to his ’08 elbow injury, and he’s certainly not the same player he was prior to his ’05 knee injury. Palmer threw two more pick-six’s Sunday – one to his close USC friend, Troy Polamalu, and another to LaMarr Woodley. Like Palmer’s three previous pick-six’s this year, these were gimme interceptions resulting from a blatant misread.

Palmer insists that he’s healthy; perhaps he is. But his bizarre accuracy issues and decisions from the pocket suggest something is awry. More troublesome is that the Bengals have become a team that expects – and is expected – to lose each week. That’s partly the product of ownership’s willingness – nay, eagerness – to bring in every underachiever and character-flag guy under the sun. But it’s also a product of poor leadership. As the immensely-compensated franchise quarterback, Palmer shoulders a chunk of the leadership burden.
 
Insiders around the league complain that Palmer is too nice – that he’s too willing to turn the other cheek and endure an earful of criticism from teammates (i.e. Chad Ochocinco). The dynamic of the quarterback-receiver relationship in Cincy has become the most defining aspect of this team’s identity. And now we’re talking about the identity of a team that’s lost 10 straight.

The problem is Palmer is under contract until 2015, and it’s doubtful that owner Mike Brown, who has a reputation for caring more about dollars than victories, will be willing to take the bath he’d need to take in order to make a change under center.



6.) The Jets are “struggle-ling”

From one struggling USC quarterback to another, what’s up with Mark Sanchez? He was awful against Miami – and that’s putting it kindly. Sanchez completed 17 of his 44 passes Sunday, threw an interception (along with a handful of “near interceptions”) and fumbled four times (losing just one). His two early turnovers led to Miami’s only 10 points. Ten points wound up being three more than what was needed to beat a Jets team that has now gone nine straight quarters without an offensive touchdown.

Time to panic in New York? Yes and no.

We’ll start with the “no” first. The Jets, at 9-4, are two games up in the AFC Wild Card race with three to play. They hit a slump last season, still got in at 9-7 and went on to the AFC Title Game.

But the “yes” part is that the ’09 slump came earlier in the year, and from Week 1 through Week 17, the ’09 Jets were one of the league’s best rushing teams. The ’10 Jets seem to be hitting a wall on the ground. LaDainian Tomlinson looks more like what we thought he’d look like all along: a savvy third-down back but not a 20-carry-a-game star. Shonn Greene has been little more than a flaky flirt this season. After 17 yards on eight carries againsM. Sanchez (US Presswire)t the Dolphins, Greene has averaged fewer than four yards per rushing attempt in four of his last five outings (granted, this could be in small part because the Jets prefer to use his bruising body in short-yardage situations).

It’s not just the offense. Coming into Sunday, there were concerns about New York’s pass defense. As the NFL Matchup Show pointed out, teams are max-protecting against Rex Ryan’s complex blitzes more this season and finding ways to exploit the safeties and linebackers in coverage. However, it’s hard to gripe about the pass defense this week, considering the Jets held Chad Henne to 5/18 for 55 yards (those are his final stats – not first, second, third or fourth quarter stats).

But defensive dominance is only valuable if you have an offense that can at least control tempo. The Jets controlled tempo last season by running the ball some 60 percent of the time. This season, they’re running less than 48 percent of the time. In other words, they’ve hitched their wagon to their second-year Trojan horse, and now that Trojan horse is showing iffy footwork, jittery pocket presence and questionable decision-making skills under pressure. Sanchez is capable of bouncing back, but it looks like it will take more than a well-publicized lunch meeting with the head coach to make that happen.



7.) P.S. from Jets-Fins game


The late window of games was surprisingly futile Sunday. The Bears got devoured by the Patriots. The Seahawks went to San Francisco and pulled another one of their maddening inept masterpieces out of their…ears. The Rams looked like an upstart but overmatched club facing the defending World Champions on the road. The Chiefs gave the type of performance that had to make Matt Cassel, who was watching at home, sick to his stomach all over again. And, out of principle, I boycotted the Broncos-Cardinals game (the poor Sunday Ticket-less folks in my hometown of Boise, ID got stuck with this as their CBS afternoon game). So I have no idea what happened there, though I heard the Cards won by a lot.

The only late-window contest that was close was the Jets-Dolphins. And, let’s be honest, that game was only close because neither team knew how to play offense in a driving rainstorm.

But we can’t be sour about an entire late afternoon of football. So, in an effort to give a toast with a glass that’s half full (half full for these next few paragraphs, anyway…can’t be half full too long because we still have an NFC West story on the way), I present to you Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake. The former CFL superstar entered Sunday’s game with an NFL-best 12 sacks. He secured a Dolphins victory by increasing that total to 14 on the final two plays of the game.

Everyone has been touting Clay Matthews as the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year. But until Sunday at Detroit, the Packers outside linebacker had been somewhat quiet the past month-and-a-half (quiet for DPOY standards, that is). Wake has been a beast week in and week out. As quick as he is off the edge, the 250-pounder takes on blocks remarkably well. This vast array of skills has made him one of the premiere run-defending outside linebackers in the game (did you see the fourth down stop he had on Shonn Greene in the second half?).

Consider this bit here an effort to get Wake’s name where it belongs: in the forefront of the DPOY discussion.



8.) The NFC West: You’re kidding, right?


It looks like the NFC really is going to have a sub-.500 team in the postseason this season. The Rams and Seahawks both got dismantled Sunday, falling to 6-7. St. Louis is a young team; Seattle is just downright irritating. When they lose, they sure like to get their money’s worth.

Both the Rams and Seahawks will be underdogs in Week 15. The two square off for what could be a “win and you’re in” game in Week 17. (The league wouldn’t dare make that the Sunday night game, would it?)

We could debate all day about the merits of a 7-9 playoff team. There are two sides to the debate: the side that says “division title or not, you can’t let a sub-.500 team in and screw over a likely 10-6 team” and the side that says “a division title is a division title, let ‘em in – even if it means screwing over a likely 10-6 team.” The problem here is that, both sides can agree, a 10-6 team, or ever a worthy 9-7 team, is going to get screwed over.

The NFL needs to use common sense and change the playoff regulations after this season (the suggestion here is only guarantee a playoff spot to ABOVE .500 teams AND re-seed all playoff teams by record). If the league can’t find the motivation to fix this soon-to-be embarrassing mess on its own, maybe FOX can provide encouragement. The playoff games represent a significant chunk of the NFL television package’s value. It’s not fair that FOX, which forks over the GDP of a small country for the right to broadcast NFC games, gets stuck with a pathetic Wild Card matchup simply because the NFL refuses to amend its outdated playoff system.



9.) The Real McCoy

How is it that LeSean McCoy plays for one of the most prominent franchises in professional sports, records over 120 yards in offense four straight games yet does not come up in most discussions involving the top echelon of running backs in the NFC? McCoy was quiet throughout most of the first two-and-a-half quarters against Dallas Sunday night. Then, midway through the third, he burst up the middle for a 56-yard run (left guard Todd Herremans was spectacular all night, and particularly in getting to the second level on this play). In the fourth quarter, McCoy had runs of 13, 6, 12, 19, 13 and 6 yards. He finished with 16 carries for 149 yards, leaving him with 972 yards rushing on the season. L. McCoy (US Presswire)

Because he has become arguably the best screen pass weapon in the game, McCoy leads the Eagles with 67 receptions on the season (534 yards). Prior to DeSean Jackson’s 210-yard outburst – highlighted by an NFL-long 91-yard touchdown catch that was nearly as stunning as his fall-into-the-end-zone celebration was clever – Philly’s leading receiver in terms of yardage was Jeremy Maclin. In short, the Eagles are rolling behind Michael Vick and three bona fide stars with a combined four years of experience coming into this season. The key is that all four players have lethal speed, which forces defenses to play more zone. Safe but simple zone looks has given these young Eagles easier reads to make.

Speaking of Vick, if Andy Reid was displeased about the amount of hits he was enduring prior to this game, he must now be downright irate. That’s one thing the Eagles must be concerned about moving forward.



10.) Quick Hits

***Donovan McNabb once again looked pretty good running that super complex two-minute offense in Washington. When the Redskins botched the extra point snap (actually, the Redskins didn’t botch the extra point snap – only long snapper Nick Sundberg and holder Hunter Smith did), it marked the second time this season that McNabb’s successful two-minute drive at the end of regulation was ruined by the field goal unit. (The other was against the Titans in Week 11.)

***The game in Buffalo managed to be as poor as the weather. Would you believe it was two Jake Delhomme turnovers in the fourth quarter that helped seal the loss for the Browns?

***Two defensive ends who stood out in the Jaguars-Raiders game: Jeremy Mincey for Jacksonville and Lamarr Houston for Oakland. Both can pressure the passer but also play the run.

***Raise your hand if you had Andre Whitworth, Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley in the touchdown pool for the Bengals-Steelers game.

***Did you see the way Dick LeBeau censured Polamalu after the safety inexplicably tried to pitch the ball back on his second interception? How many assistant coaches would grab a superstar by the pads like that and read him the riot act? And how many superstars would go up to that coach afterwards for an apology hug? It’s a special culture in Pittsburgh.

***I realize the Lions’ surprising win over the Packers probably deserves more than an afterthought mention in the quick hits like this, but really, what is there to say? I watched a majority of this game and I can tell you, in all honesty, nothing happened. Well, there was the Aaron Rodgers injury, of course. But we’ll be talking about that all week anyway. As far as everything else goes, this was a game in which neither team converted a third down until midway through the third quarter. The Packers lost because of unfortunate first half turnovers

***The Bucs front seven looked disinterested in run defense in the first quarter. Unable to shed blocks, the Bucs surrendered 121 yards to Ryan Torain (the most rushing yards in an NFL first quarter since Tiki Barber against the Raiders in 2005). Torain had just 51 yards the rest of the game, though.

***Somehow, the Redskins actually got more out of Albert Haynesworth this Sunday than they got in any other game since Halloween.

***The Saints got Pierre Thomas back after his nine-week absence with a left ankle injury. (Thomas had 39 yards on 12 carries against the Rams.) This team is rolling. Reggie Bush is once again healthy and in top form. Gregg Williams’ defense has been extra effective with safety blitzes in recent weeks. On Sunday, bourgeoning free safety Malcom Jenkins intercepted Sam Bradford (who, for a lot of this game, was rattled by New Orleans’ pass-rush) and returned it 96 yards for a game-swinging interception touchdown late in the first half. How is it that no one is really buzzing about the 10-3 defending World Champions?

***Good idea to paint the lines red on Chicago’s snowy field.

***The Chargers rediscovered their rushing attack Sunday (big time). Mike Tolbert had 66 yards on 16 carries. That was one more yard than rookie Ryan Mathews had on the same number of attempts. Darren Sproles, who came into the game with only 36 rushing attempts, produced 53 yards on six carries.

***Sean Smith is a somewhat limited cornerback in terms of fluidity and physicality, but he was tremendous Sunday. Smith was credited with four pass breakups, though it felt more like 12.


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Posted on: December 12, 2010 11:42 am
Edited on: December 12, 2010 11:45 am
 

AFC Inactives, Week 14

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

First, the players who ARE active today: Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham, Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Jaguars WR Mike Sims-Walker,

And those who are NOT active:

Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs:
This is not surprising, considering he had a mid-week appendectomy. Though the team originally gave the impression Cassel could play this week, there was never a chance he would be healthy enough. Brodie Croyle will get the start in his place.

Johnathan Joseph, CB, Bengals: There was some hope that Joseph – who’s been battling a bad ankle – could retake the field today. Instead, Jonathan Wade will start opposite Leon Hall.

Colt McCoy, QB, Browns: He's the emergency quarterback today for Cleveland, but he seems to be making progress from his ankle injury. Jake Delhomme will get the start.

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Posted on: December 1, 2010 12:04 pm
 

Delhomme to start; Dolphins D now fantasy gold

Posted by Andy Benoit

With Colt McCoy still nursing a high ankle sprain, Jake Delhomme will get the start under center for the Browns this week. Cleveland travels to Miami to face the Dolphins for what could be the most banal regular season game in NFL history.

Delhomme, who threw two picks in the win over Carolina last Sunday, was expected to take a bulk of the first team reps in practice Wednesday. Eric Mangini said backup Seneca Wallace would get some work, as well. McCoy is improving but still not practicing.

Remember, McCoy only got a chance to play because Delhomme and Wallace suffered high ankle sprains of their own earlier in the year. Has any team ever had three different quarterbacks all suffer the same injury within a two-month span?

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Posted on: November 29, 2010 4:15 am
Edited on: November 29, 2010 1:35 pm
 

10 stories worth your attention Week 12

Posted by Andy Benoit

1. Status quo in prime time


The Indianapolis Colts have always had trouble against 3-4 defenses. The crux of the problem has often been Indy’s shortcomings at the guard position. For years, the Colts fruitlessly attempted to block 3-4 outside linebackers by pulling their guards to the edges in pass protection. Those were the pre-Super Bowl days when Peyton Manning was derisively referred to as a great regular season quarterback. The Colts no longer pull their guards against 3-4 outside rushers, but that doesn’t mean Colts guards aren’t still are major liability against teams like New England, Pittsburgh or, as we saw Sunday night, San Diego. P. Manning (US Presswire)

How big of a bust is Mike Pollak? The ’08 second-round pick can’t even get on the field ahead of Jeffrey Linkenbach, an undrafted rookie tackle-turned-guard who, since you started reading this paragraph, has been driven into the backfield by Antonio Garay two more times. Mike DeVan, the starter on the left side, has been almost equally as inept.

Manning, as a consequence of a shaky offensive line, injuries at running back, receiver and tight end and a few uncharacteristic misreads of his own, has now posted back-to-back three-interception games for the first time since his ’98 rookie season. By the way, on Manning’s third interception, NBC coaxed the audience into believing that Eric Weddle’s pick was the result of an uncalled pass interference penalty. The reality is, Weddle got away with a bit of a hook, yes, but Reggie Wayne went to the ground on his own. It was a calculated gamble by a star receiver who had an unusually terrible night (three drops and the failed fall). That gamble simply backfired.
The headline above – “Status Quo in prime time” – does not apply strictly to the Colts’ issues against 3-4 defenses. It also applies to the fact that we’ve reached the holiday shopping season and Norv Turner’s Chargers are white hot. By now you’ve seen the graph depicting how San Diego’s winning percentage always climbs dramatically with each month of the regular season. The Chargers, with the league’s top-ranked offense AND defense (in terms of yardage) are winners of four straight and head into December as the clear team to beat in the AFC West.

Sunday night was supposed to mark the San Diego passing game’s return to full health. Instead, Antonio Gates remained hobbled by his ailing plantar fascia (Gates played but was not himself) and Vincent Jackson either hurt his calf or found a creative new way to holdout. In response, Philip Rivers morphed into a dink-and-dunk quarterback. Rivers was 19/23, with 10 of those completions going to running backs Mike Tolbert, Jacob Hester and Darren Sproles. It was just another example of Rivers’ malleability as a leader and Turner’s brilliance – yes, brilliance – as an offensive coach.

Colts fans, no need to worry. Your team is 6-5 but still atop the surprisingly mediocre AFC South. The Colts will only get healthier – assuming they don’t pay for stupid mistakes like trotting Manning and Wayne back on the field late in the fourth quarter after having already waved the white flag – and likely cruise to either 10-6 or 11-5. There won’t be the familiar late-season tank job, but that’s not all bad considering the last time this team had to actually play all 16 games was 2006, when it won a Super Bowl. The Colts will have to concoct a plan for those pesky 3-4 defenses though. They’re almost certain to host either the Jets, Patriots, Ravens or Steelers in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.



2. So maybe running does matter

A leading factor in the Colts’ three-out-of-four-game losing streak has been the offense’s utter inability to run the ball. The thinking – okay, MY thinking – has been that teams with superstar quarterbacks don’t need to run. The Colts ranked 32nd on the ground last season and nearly went undefeated on their way to a Super Bowl. The year before that, the Cardinals ranked 31st in rushing but won the NFC.

I still think running is overrated for teams with great passers. However, of the 12 lowest-ranked running offenses in the NFL this season, only the Colts, Packers and Saints are legitimate playoff contenders (the Seahawks, technically, are playoff contenders, but their standing membership in the NFC West violates the “legitimate” stipulation). The Colts and Packers both showed on Sunday that it’s one thing to be bad on the ground, while it’s another to be utterly inept. When you’re utterly inept, you become one dimensional.

Indy knew going into the game against San Diego that its run game would be stuffed. That turned out to be one of the few things that went according to plan, as Donald Brown and Javarris James combined for 24 yards on 13 carries. The one-dimensionality of the Colts allowed the Chargers to play downhill the entire night. That helped the pass-rusher unload on Manning, which sparked the turnovers that heavily influenced the game.

Earlier in the day, in the terrific Packers-Falcons game – which we’ll dive into in a moment – Packers running backs managed just 26 yards on 11 carries. (Quarterback Aaron Rodgers inflated the team’s rushing statistics with 12 runs for 51 yards, most of which were improvised scrambles). Green Bay’s ineptitude on the ground hindered Mike McCarthy’s play-calling on more than one occasion late in drives.
So often the offensive line gets blamed for a team’s poor run game. Indeed, the Colts front five is below average. The Packers’ front five is a tick above average, though it can be inconsistent. But in the case of these two teams, the run game problems derive mainly from the running backs themselves.

Both clubs are missing their starters (Joseph Addai has been out since October 17 with a neck injury; Ryan Grant was lost for the season in Week 1 with an ankle injury). The backups have been inadequate. Indy’s Donald Brown is an especially bad NFL runner. He’s indecisive, undersized and, aside from when he’s catching passes in the flats, he’s the opposite of quick. Brown appears destined to be the only first-round pick that Bill Polian has whiffed on. For Green Bay, Brandon Jackson is equally limited. The former second-round pick is decent in the passing game, but as a traditional first-and second-down back, he’s far too lethargic.

Contrary to popular opinion, a running back influences an offensive line more than an offensive line influences a running back. The Colts and Packers are being painfully reminded of this.



3. Time to start talkin’ Dirty Bird

What an absolutely fantastic football game we had in the Georgia Dome Sunday afteM. Turner (US Presswire)rnoon. Just take a look at the drive charts. The Packers had five drives that went either nine-plus plays or 80-plus yards. The Falcons had three such drives, including a pair of 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drives.

Aaron Rodgers made a litany of spectacular individual plays down the stretch, as he was able to buy time against Atlanta’s three-man rush/eight-man zone. It was surprising that Atlanta leaned on this conservative defensive concept. Those who watch ESPN’s brilliant NFL Matchup Show learned Sunday Morning that the Packers love to give Rodgers ample time to throw in the pocket, even if it means employing a six-or seven-man protection scheme. Thus, one figures, a three-man pass-rush is a tactic that plays right into Green Bay’s hands. Indeed, Rodgers spent much of Sunday holding the ball for eternity before lasering passes to his third or fourth read or scrambling to move the chains.

The only negative about Rodgers’ game-tying fourth down touchdown strike to Jordy Nelson was that it came with 56 seconds still left on the clock. That was enough time for Matt Ryan to complete four consecutive passes for a total of 20 yards to set up Matt Bryant’s game-winning 47-yard field goal. (The Falcons began that drive on the 50 after Eric Weems’ 40-yard kick return was buttressed by a 15-yard facemasking penalty.)

Ryan was as efficient as a Google search Sunday, but the hero for Atlanta was Michael Turner. The thundering Pro Bowler went over 100 yards for the sixth time this season and fourth time in five games. Turner carried the ball at least 23 times in all four of those 100-yard games. (Surprisingly, Jason Snelling has slid from being the “two” of a 1-2 punch to being a scantly-used backup.)

The Falcons seem intent on hitching their wagon to a true workhorse running back. This 1990’s mentality suits Mike Mularkey and his tight end/fullback-heavy offense well. Turner has responded in large part because, unlike a lot of teams that rely heavily on a power runner, the Falcons are not handcuffed by mediocrity in the passing game. Roddy White has been the best wide receiver in the NFC this season (he easily leads the conference in both receptions and yards) and Tony Gonzalez (six catches, 51 yards and a touchdown Sunday) remains of Hall of Fame caliber.

There’s still a long ways to go, but the Falcons, at 9-2, are on track for homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs. That’s significant considering Ryan is 19-1 in the Georgia Dome.



4. Da Bears

Who would have guessed that a “homefield advantage” mention would be an appropriate segue to the Chicago Bears? The heater beneath Lovie Smith’s seat was officially switched off after the Bears held off the electrifying Eagles and improved to an NFC North-best 8-3. How’d they do it? The same way they did it the previous three weeks: by running the ball effectively enough to give the offense the necessary balance to execute Mike Martz’s scheme.
E. Bennett (US Presswire)
Early in the season, Jay Cutler was dropping back to throw on every down, and teams were able to tee off against Chicago’s unathletic front five. In the past month, however, Martz has taken more to calling Matt Forte’s number. Forte, averaging 18.5 carries per game his past four outings, has been 80 percent stellar, 20 percent spectacular (he had 117 yards on 14 carries against the Eagles).

The running game itself has not propelled Chicago – the THREAT of the running game has. Having just enough balance to keep defenses guessing is what has allowed the Bears to successfully usher in two new starting tackles (Frank Omiyale on the left side and rookie JaMarcus Webb on the right side).

It helps that Jay Cutler is playing well. Cutler’s career-high four touchdowns against the Eagles were a showcase of the quarterback’s arm strength and of the now clearly-defined roles of Chicago’s receivers. Earl Bennett and Greg Olsen have become the preferred red zone targets (Bennett found the end zone twice; Olsen found the end zone for a second time in three games). Johnny Knox is the explosive speedster between the 20’s. Devin Hester – finally! – is being used the gadget weapon in the slot. (By the way, why did the Bears replace Hester at kick returner a few times with Daniel Manning on Sunday? Manning glides with scintillating speed, but we’ve been over this with Chicago: Hester is the greatest return ace of all-time. Watching the Bears re-insert him at kick returner one week but de-insert him a few times the following week is like watching someone trying to quit smoking. Old stupid habits die hard; the Bears still have not completely broken their old stupid habit of inexplicably removing Hester from special teams.)

The Bear defense has been as impressive as the offense, thanks to the familiar excellence of the linebackers and the emergence of Julius Peppers (he’s been far more valuable than his six sacks on the season suggest). Offense, defense and special teams are all clicking in Chicago. Unlike September, this wave of success is a product of continuity. Get used to the Bears – you’ll be seeing a lot of them in a few weeks. They have a trap game at Detroit in Week 13 but then a matchup with the Patriots that could get flexed into primetime in Week 14. After that, it’s their annual Monday night showdown against the Vikings.

Speaking of the Vikings…



5. Minnesota sticks it to Brad Childress

Did you see the way the players serenaded Leslie Frazier after their win at Washington Sunday? There was the Gatorade shower (imagine Chilly getting one of those. Seriously, just imagine it. You can’t, can you?). There were the handshakes and smiles. And there was Brett Favre handing Frazier the game ball. Nice touch, Brett.

The Vikings-Redskins game itself wasn’t much to write home about. Both teams had strapping opening drives (Minnesota seven plays, 71 yards for a touchdown; Washington 13 plays, 83 yards for a touchdown) but did little after that. Both quarterbacks posted pedestrian numbers. Adrian Peterson left in the first half with an ankle injury (he wanted to go back in but instead got scheduled for an MRI Monday). There weren’t many defensive plays of note, aside from E.J. Henderson’s diving interception off a bad Santana Moss deflection.

At the end of the day, this was an uneventful contest between what are now two non-playoff contenders. So why is it one of 10 stories worth your attention? Because it still gave us a chance to refer to the Childress-Favre drama again.



6. Poor Stevie

Who knows why Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson dropped that surefire game-winning touchdown against the Steelers in overtime. Perhaps Johnson was thinking somewhere in the back of his mind about his four previous drops on the afternoon. Perhaps he succumbed to the incredulity about his sudden emergence that everyone else has experienced at some point this season (it’s still hard to believe that this unknown Kentucky product has been as good as he has). Or, perhaps the Steelers secondary put in a special little request to their buddy upstairs during one of those prayer circles that they frequently conduct on the sideline during games (you know, those prayer circles that cameras always catch but that no broadcaster has had the gall to acknowledge yet?) S. Johnson (US Presswire)

If you asked Johnson to pick one of those three, he’d probably pick the prayer circle. He seemed to have a rift with God after the game. Check out the 24-year-old’s tweet: “I PRAISE YOU 24/7!!!!!! AND THIS HOW YOU DO ME!!!!! YOU EXPECT ME TO LEARN FROM THIS??? HOW???!!! ILL NEVER FORGET THIS!! EVER!!! THX THO...”

Since God has already been dragged into this, has anyone from the Bills considered asking Him for a hand in run defense? As heartbreaking as the Bills’ most recent overtime loss was, the cold reality is the outcome was a result of Pittsburgh ramming the ball down their throats. The game began with the Steelers marching 78 yards on 13 plays, nine of which were runs, for a score. The game ended with the Steelers marching 58 yards on 13 plays, nine of which were, again, runs, for a score.

The Bills came into Sunday allowing a league-worst 167.4 yards on the ground. The Steelers rushed for 206 yards on 45 carries. Rashard Mendenhall, who is fast becoming the premiere fourth quarter closer in the NFL, had a jarring 36 carries for 151 yards (how’s that for getting ready to face a physical Ravens defense in Week 13?).

One other note from this game: the magnificence of Troy Polamalu. After missing practice all week with a muscle strain near his Achilles, the superstar safety made a game-saving interception near the goal-line late in regulation and unloaded several open field tackles in overtime.




7. The Bucs are who we thought they were

Look, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not an elite team. Their loss at Baltimore dropped them to 0-4 against teams with a winning record. It was a fairly convincing loss that followed the script. In fact, instead of reading a recap of the game, go ahead and read the Key Matchup breakdown from Friday – it’s all the same.

So the Bucs are not an elite team. And their outcomes are predictable. Okay, fine. But you know what else they are? They’re a young upstart club that’s 7-4 because they know how to take advantage of inferior opponents. The loss at Baltimore was similar to the loss at Atlanta in that the Bucs came to play but ran into a better team. They get a crack at the Falcons again next week. It’s likely they’ll drop to 7-5. But after that, the Bucs face the Redskins, Lions and Seahawks. From a pure mathematical standpoint – and seriously, that’s all this is here – this team’s patterns in 2010 suggests that a 10-win season is still in order.



8. Suspend them both

The Andre Johnson and Cortland Finnegan fight: Whoa! Fines are on the way. If the league is wise, so are suspensions. Johnson was throwing genuine haymakers at a player on the ground who was wearing no helmet. True, the normally reserved receiver has a clean track record. But if those punches were thrown in the NBA or in MLB, there’d be a multiple-game suspension. The violent nature of football casts a different light on fighting in the NFL, but that wasn’t a football fight – it was a FIGHT fight. Sit him down a game.
A. Johnson (US Presswire)
Finnegan should be suspended, too, on the grounds of being a repeat jackass. Not joking here. Just like multiple misdemeanors can eventually equal a felony in our justice system, Finnegan’s continuously chippy play needs to be curtailed with a felonious punishment. Every week the guy is drawing flags or small fines for various personal fouls. He’s not even a superstar yet we all recognize his face simply because he loses his helmet in a scuffle seemingly at least twice a game.

Finnegan’s antics after the fight were just as appalling. He was grinning and jabbering at the Texans bench. When he left the field, he raised his arms to mockingly pump up the Houston crowd. It would have been cute if not for the fact that Titans were getting thumped 17-0 at that point. Who does Finnegan think he is, Vince Young?

Because Finnegan was an unheralded seventh-round draft pick, we’ve all championed his behavior as feistiness and scrappiness. We praise him for having one of those chips on the shoulders. But Finnegan’s actions have gotten to the point of bush-league.
Back in October, the league issued the cornerback a warning about his dirty hits and behavior. The league now has a chance to act harshly on that warning.




9. Dwayne Bowe

I’ve been holding out on a Dwayne Bowe feature these past few weeks. I haven’t been able to shake the fear that the second I step in this guy’s corner, he’ll pull the rug out from under me. But after his 13-catch, 170-yard, three-touchdown performance at Seattle (convincing win on the road for the Chiefs, by the way), I’m willing to take the risk and trumpet the fourth-year pro’s maturation.

Bowe no longer pays rent in Todd Haley’s doghouse. And he no longer drops passes with regularity. He’s gone over 100 yards receiving in each of his last three games, and he’s caught a touchdown pass in a team-record seven straight outings. (Even more remarkable is that he’s had multiple touchdowns in six of those outings.)

Bowe is sculpted like a possession receiver, though he’s become a downfield target as well. All the more impressive is that he’s doing this even though the Chiefs don’t have an authentic No. 2 wideout (Chris Chambers has less than 200 yards receiving on the season).

Bowe will have plenty of chances to prove – or, I guess now, verify – his merits during Kansas City’s playoff push these final weeks. He faces Champ Bailey next week, Quintin Jammer in Week 14, the formerly scrappy but currently bush-league Cortland Finnegan in Week 16 and Nnamdi Asomugha in Week 17.



10. Quick Hits

***Sam Bradford took advantage of a Broncos defense that refused to rush the passer by logging his first 300-yard game as a pro. The Rams, 5-6, are now in first place of the sickening NFC West.

***It was just like old times Sunday: Jake Delhomme threw two interceptions (including an inexcusable pick-six to Captain Munnerlyn) and managed to give the Panthers a loss.

***What are the odds that Chris Johnson’s worst game as a pro (sevenD. Garrard (US Presswire) carries for five yards) would come in sixth-round rookie quarterback Rusty Smith’s starting debut? The Titans ran just 44 plays Sunday (32 less than the Texans).

***Arian Foster carried the ball 30 times for 143 yards. He’s been by far the best running back in the AFC this season.

***The best part about Shaun Smith’s touchdown run for the Chiefs was Pete Carroll’s dumbfound expression after it.

***Speaking of Carroll, what the hell was he doing calling timeouts as the Chiefs were extending the courtesy of kneeling on the ball with a 42-24 lead?

***Don’t know how I got all the way to Quick Hits before mentioning the Jaguars-Giants game….I watched virtually this entire contest and loved every minute of it. The game, in a nutshell, was this: Jaguars dominated on the ground in the first half and David Garrard played well because of it. In the second half, the Giants forced the Jags to play more through the air. Garrard suddenly became shaky in protecting the football, and ultimately New York’s dynamic front four was too much for Jacksonville. That’s the game in a nutshell. And, come to think of it, that’s probably the 2010 Jaguars in a nutshell, too.

***The best one-on-one matchup Sunday may have been Ravens wideout Derrick Mason against Bucs corner Aqib Talib. On the mano-a-mano front, I’d say the youngster got the better of this one (how about Talib’s interception between the knees, huh?). But from an all-encompassing standpoint, the nod obviously goes to Mason. He led all players with 87 yards on eight catches, including an important touchdown out of the slot in front of coverage liability Sean Jones.

***If the Raiders weren’t blacked out all the time, everyone would be talking about rookie receiver/kick returner Jacoby Ford. He’s one of the most explosive big-play creators in the NFL. He had his second kick return for a touchdown Sunday, and he added another score in going over 100 yards receiving.

***The best part about Sunday was that there were six early window games and five late window games. Why can’t we get that kind of scheduling balance every week?


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Posted on: November 29, 2010 3:48 am
Edited on: November 29, 2010 4:20 am
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